In our pixel-washed world, where most of our interactions with the media we consume -- not to mention the people we love -- take place within the blue haze of screens big and small, it's never been more difficult for artists of any medium to make their digital outreach both personable and memorable. But Little Dragon did last week with a phone call (or four).
The ease and ubiquity of our digital communications have made those conversations largely disposable and immemorable, especially if we don't know the people trying to talk to us -- bands and brands and spambots alike. "I'm slowly starting to realize what it is that i was trying to say by building this . . . maybe it's my cry for help to like, break out of the internet, as a marketer. I broke that wall down and now I'm in your cell phone and I feel so much better, and relieved a little bit?" That's Lee Martin, the developer behind the promo that Little Dragon and its team unveiled last Thursday night.
When you visit the site, you see Little Dragon singer Yukimi in the band's home studio. You are then asked to input your telephone number (and country code -- "We bought phone numbers in 49 countries," says Adam Farrell, creative director at Little Dragon's label Loma Vista). Yukimi then picks up her pink phone and . . . calls you. As you watch your screen, you hear the singer greeting you through your phone. "Hi, this is Yukimi! I just called to tell you that we have a new album coming on May 12 in the UK and May 13 in the US. It's called 'Nabuma Rubberband.'" It's a tech mediation that feels more like an invitation.
"How do you add intimacy and scale to an idea when talking to your fans? I'm not saying that I fucking figured it out, because I surely didn't," says a humble Martins from his office in New Orleans. "[But] the idea that this smoke-and-mirrors effect did affect fans on a personal level to a incredible scale -- almost 17,000 calls now -- is pretty significant."
The initial effect is, indeed, at least a little magical, very impressive, and strangely anachronistic. It sticks in your head. Each member of the band calls the user, stressing the importance of watering plants, showing you clips of their new video and, finally, performing the single "Klapp Klapp" in their studio (featuring a last-minute 'wow' moment).
A large reason why the presentation is so effective is how well it suits the band and its general approach to promotional work. "We've got this new label relationship [with Loma Vista], so for the first time we've got all these resources available to the band," says Andy Valdez, the band's U.S. co-manager. "It would have been easy to do something heavy-handed if we wanted to because now we can, but it was important to keep it in line with what the band has always done. They've never done anything super heavy-handed or overly marketed, it's always been very creative and natural."
"Yeah it was awkward -- but that's the charming thing, because we're kinda bad at it," Yukimi tells Billboard.
The project's roots, strangely, stretch all the way to Tom Petty. "I had been sitting on a concept for a really long time, for about a year, that I had written for Tom Petty, actually," Martin says. "In my original proposal the artist, Tom, was standing in a phone booth in a video on loop. I think it would've worked with Tom, but it would've felt more like a commercial, versus what they were able to achieve." And so, a hefty proposal for a legacy artist was distilled into a single camera on a tripod with a four musicians largely improvising entirely. "What they sent me was like, four uncut scenes that were hilarious -- because every time they finished a take they would just bust out laughing. They thought it was the funniest shit ever."
There is, of course, a business angle to the proceedings. Asked about whether they keep the phone numbers people are entering -- something not made clear on the site -- Adam Farrell told us: "We do keep them. That's kind of an interesting follow on to this -- [now we] have this phone number database. There's all sorts of cool things you could do -- announce a remix or the next single only to the fans who called up. It's all nice and good when we did this initially, but there is a marketing sensibility to it."
It's a shocking, retro-futuristic example of how inspiration and creativity can be as effective a marketing tool as employing dollars and chasing attention via attrition -- a game of diminishing returns and boredom that customers and fans seem less and less likely to respond to. Or remember.