Below is the story "Seeing Red" from this week's BIllboard cover story package on Taylor Swift examining how the branding mega-deals surrounding her new album "Red" -- including Walgreens, Keds, Papa John's and many more -- could make the album impossible to miss . Also in this issue: features on Kendrick Lamar's major-label debut, the CBGB film, branding the Rock Hall and Opry, Xbox Music and much more. You can pick-up a copy of the issue here, and subscribe here.
The last artist to break the 1 million mark in first-week sales was Lady Gaga and her album Born This Way, with a little help from Zynga, Starbucks, HBO, iTunes, Best Buy, Gilt Groupe and particularly Amazon, whose controversial 99 cent sale of the album crashed the site's servers and resulted in 40% of her sales. (Billboard has since revised chart policy to exclude albums priced below $3.49 during the first four weeks of release.) Can Taylor Swift, who sold 1.1 million copies of Speak Now in 2010, do it again with Red? She just might, with a little help from her brands.
Last time out, Swift had a heavily promoted partnership with Target (an exclusive deluxe edition with three bonus tracks), an ad campaign with Sony Electronics' Cyber Shot cameras and her own line of cards for American Greetings to help get the word out about Speak Now. But for Red, she's aiming even higher, with a list of marketing partners that leaves virtually no category unturned: a branded store in Walgreens, an album-and-pizza promotion with Papa John's, her own line of shoes for Keds and a music-college contest with VH1 and textbook rental service Chegg. Not to mention a continuation of her deals with Target (a deluxe exclusive with three bonus tracks and three remixes, plus a Swift mini-store), American Greetings and Sony, in addition to a new fragrance for Elizabeth Arden, Enchanted, that follows up the huge success of Wonderstruck, the No. 2 women's scent launch during the holiday 2011 season.
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"The first step was to look at where we wanted the record to go. A worldwide release, really-we made that a priority," Swift says of the album's initial marketing strategy. "To me, the answer to every question of 'Will you do this to promote the album?' was 'yes.' My team has come up with brilliant ways to market this record, to expand the retail footprint. Selling an album in Walgreens, selling it at Papa John's-these are all different ways that have so far been unexplored, so we'll see what happens."
Walgreens has a particular advantage in helping Swift move product. More than 1,600 24-hour locations will open at 12:01 a.m. on Oct. 22, giving the retailer a leg up on Best Buy, Target and others, which aren't planning a midnight sale for the album. However, Target will sell its deluxe edition of Red at all of its 1,781 locations. "Expanding the electronics selection enables us to further strengthen engagement among shoppers, and the Taylor Swift offering is a great example of this," says Joe Magnacca, president of daily living products and solutions for Walgreens.
"We're always looking at, 'How can we create more doors? How can we make it as easy as possible to get this?'" Big Machine Label Group president/CEO Scott Borchetta says. "We've had music in Walgreens before, and it's not unusual to have a CD release in Walgreens. What's unusual is the buy-in that we have from Walgreens, and that came from conversations with her dad, Scott. Through an interesting series of phone calls that Scott had, it led to us going up to Chicago together and meeting with the [Walgreens] team, and now we've got this incredible in-store opportunity."
Still, Target is hoping its exclusive deluxe edition of Red and accompanying custom store of Swift-related merchandise can help the retailer top its own one-week sales record. In 2010, Target accounted for more than 350,000 of the 1 million-plus first-week sales of Speak Now, a nine-year-record for the store, which also maintained a 12-month exclusive on the deluxe edition's bonus tracks before iTunes and others could sell them. Target is also promoting the album with a TV-heavy campaign.
"We have so many different tricks up our sleeve to surprise and delight guests and fans of Taylor," Target VP of entertainment John Butcher says. "We're excited to partner with Taylor again and have big expectations for this album."
Not all of Swift's brand deals are tied to album sales, however. Elizabeth Arden, American Greetings and CoverGirl are all long-term relationships. The new Keds partnership will kick off with custom shoes for release week and extend to more Swift-designed products down the road. Swift's personal love of the shoe (she was photographed wearing them out on the town with her boyfriend, Conor Kennedy, this summer, for example) helped broker the relationship.
"Keds has been a really iconic shoe, and whether it was Audrey Hepburn or Jackie Kennedy, you'd always see them wearing their Keds in their downtime, not in their stage presence," Keds VP of marketing Stephanie Brocum says.
But if all the marketing seems a little noisy (the marketers' combined Red-related ad spend should easily surpass $15 million, according to Billboard estimates, on top of an active Macy's TV campaign that also features Swift), Borchetta promises to pull back the reins soon. "Sometimes we have a tendency to get really loud," he says, "so after we get loud, we need to get quiet to let people take a break."