by Magnus Shaw.
It doesn't matter if Sky TV project their logo onto the moon for three months. If Tesco book Al Pacino to front their 2013 campaign, it will make no difference. Should Galaxy build a scale model of the Hoover Dam from solid milk chocolate, they'll still be lagging. Because the most impressive marketing campaign of the year is already with us.
In the run up to the release of David Bowie's 'Where Are We Now', the phones on the desks of the nation's music magazines lay silent; the churn of press releases from the world's entertainment PRs carried not a word; the burble of the web and social media bore nothing so much as a whisper. Perhaps the most innovative and creative pop star of the rock era was about to break a ten year silence and we had no idea. This then was Bowie's anti-marketing masterstroke and its brilliant audacity was breathtaking.
Of course, we should expect no less from the erstwhile David Jones. Who else would be capable of ignoring every shred of received wisdom, turning the advertising model inside out and coolly achieving a result lesser mortals can only dream about? It's the sort of startlingly brazen act that has marked Bowie out as supernaturally gifted performer for four decades.
His strategy for the launch of the single was this: release it with a suitably odd video. And relax.
We can be fairly certain his 'people' would have been suggesting the usual explosion of press work, announcements, TV spots, interviews and radio tie-ins. In his wisdom, David figured 'But that's what everyone's doing. Why run with the pack?' And of course he's right. We now live in a world where the noise of communication has never been more intense. Every brand, band, tweeter and bleater has something to say and hundreds of outlets through which to say it. Advertiser, politician, broadcaster and artist - all vying for their fifteenth of a second of attention, all hoping to convince, persuade and coerce, all desperate to penetrate our darting consciousness. Bowie simply bypassed this seething melee, delivered his song and, consequently, set the world ablaze for the last four days. His tool wasn't the sprawling network of global media, it was the element of surprise.
We may not have known it, but we were waiting for this record long before it emerged. This was apparent to Bowie, which is the genius of his approach. He may have been taking a risk, but it was a very calculated risk.
So is this the new marketing paradigm? To avoid all the complex strategy and inconvenient competition by just putting stuff out there? If only it was that simple. Unfortunately, very few branded products or services inspire the same anticipation as the possibility of new work from the Thin White Duke. Nor deserve it. Bowie is in an almost unique position. He is also smart enough to both realise it and capitalise on it. That's the Â handy thing about being David Bowie, you can do things a little differently because that is your calling card.
About eighteen months ago, I appeared on a podcast to discuss, amongst other things, whether Bowie had retired. The general consensus was that he almost certainly had. No official statement had been issued to confirm or deny this status, but eight and half years silence was enough to convince us. He'd had some problems with his health (including being speared in the eye with a lolly pop). He'd also had a daughter with his wife Iman, and seemed content to be a father and husband in his Swiss home, only breaking out to guest in 'Extras'. But we should have known better. Once his girl had grown a little, why wouldn't he be drawn to the artistry for which he is so revered? Why wouldn't he write some songs?
Well, he has. We now know there is an album on its way - 'The Next Day'. And just to prove the impact of the stealthy single was no fluke, the album's cover art already has every commentator in a royal flap. Needless to say, there has been no traditional marketing to accompany it.
Welcome back Mr. Bowie. We've missed you more than we knew.