Content Marketing

Magna Carta Holy Fail? A Samsung/Jay-Z Release Postmortem

There’s a saying that all publicity is good publicity, but Samsung somehow managed to turn its best publicity in months into the worst four-letter word of the social media world: Fail.

This past holiday weekend, the South Korean consumer electronics giant fell on its face trying to use an app to hand out a million free copies of Jay-Z’s new album, Magna Carta Holy Grail, on a first-come-first-serve basis, and three days before the rest of the country could pay for it. Samsung’s error was so comical that the launch is now more memorable for their goof (which saw the trending twitter hashtag #SamsungFail) than the the album itself.

Despite Samsung’s inability to properly distribute the album, this new content distribution strategy is only growing in popularity for mobile marketers. In the U.S. market, smartphones are so ubiquitous that sales are slowing, and features that were once unique to a specific device are now commonplace. So brands are turning to content to set themselves apart. Pairing exclusive content to a downloadable app is only the latest evolution of deals we’ve seen for years; just look at how American Express has offered cardholders everything from travel booking services to early concert ticket access over the years.

In a Samsung-bankrolled ad for this partnership, Jay-Z describes the situation that musicians face on the internet as “the Wild West.” Coming almost six years after Radiohead’s In Rainbows experiment of pay-what-you-want, that’s an almost Dad-Jeans level observation, but it acknowledges that even 15 years after Napster’s rise, there’s still a lot of lawlessness in doing anything to drastically change the ownership and distribution of music, movies, and other digital content. But pulling off the MCHG + Galaxy stunt saw Jay-Z and Samsung throwing out the laws that govern the record industry by replacing countless individual sales with a single purchase. Rumor has it that $5 million alone was spent by Samsung just to purchase the one million copies for the giveaway. Billboard magazine valued the total deal at $30 million. Magna Carta Holy Grail had gone multiplatinum before it was even released.

Magna Carta Holy Grail had gone multiplatinum before it was even released.

All rumors and fails aside, this deal is still about elevating Samsung and its Galaxy brand. Thanks to the 2-year contracts that govern how and when U.S. consumers buy their smartphones, and the short lead time with which its deal with Jay-Z was announced, Samsung could not have expected that this deal would create a spike in sales. Instead, Samsung’s victory was that it got to spend weeks being mentioned in the same sentence as a cultural icon like Jay-Z. Facing an Apple that’s finally starting to punch back legally, and BlackBerry’s staunch refusal to quit, Samsung is likely to go forward with promoting the Galaxy brand as one of access and exclusivity through content. There’s only so far that attack ads trashing their competitors’ products & customers can go.

Even though the app’s purpose was to distribute Jay-Z’s latest album, it also gave Samsung the power to directly deliver a variety of content to the customer. In this test run, Samsung wisely kept the focus on Jay-Z, with little attention given to Samsung’s product line or any targeted advertizing of products that would be relevant to this (presumably) hip, young, and captive audience. In the buildup to MCHG’s release, that content consisted mostly of the lyrics to the album’s songs and videos discussing the different songs. This content was propagated breathlessly around music blogs, acting as Samsung’s ad blitz outside of its own app.

This model of content-release deals and distribution can continue into the near future. DC Comics could, say, put out an exclusive app on Apple’s iOS platform that, actor-by-actor, reveals the cast for their much-anticipatedJustice League film, each reveal accompanied by interviews with the actor and writers who work on that character’s comics. Miley Cyrus and Spotify could ink a deal where her upcoming album is released one song per week over the summer, exclusively through Spotify’s mobile app. Funny or Die could get talked into a Windows Mobile-only app focusing on its upcoming tour which features Dave Chappelle’s return to the spotlight.

But the caveat with all this is that a technology platform isn’t just branding itself as “cool” when it offers its users exclusive access to new content through apps or streams. It’s also showcasing its own technology in the process, and it can’t expect to be able to hide behind a celebrity or entertainment brand (even one as big as Jay-Z) if an edgy branded content strategy fails to execute as planned. Particularly with mobile platforms, where users have been living with on-demand, real-time expectations, there’s a risk. After this inaugural event, future partners may push Samsung & anybody else offering such a deal to guarantee that their servers can handle a feverish demand.

There’s a reason why Twitter rang out with cries of #SamsungFail, and not #JayZfail, after all.

Image by Adam J. Sablich

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