Unbeknown to the act and its label, eOne Music, the song was the soundtrack for a user-generated video posted July 9 on Vine, a video blogging platform that has a six-second limit. The clip shows five young women dressed in bikinis dancing provocatively to “Don’t Drop That Thun Thun.”
The video was tagged “Twerk Team,” piggybacking off another hip-hop phenomenon, twerking, a dance mashup of twitching and jerking. A search for “twerking” on YouTube uncovers nearly 2.4 million results, including a video featuring Miley Cyrus twerking to “Wop” by J. Dash that got 1.7 million views.
Launched by Twitter in January, Vine has so far been mainly used by hobbyists to make clever visual clips but hasn’t had a major role in music promotion, given the shortness of its clips. But like GIF files, the growing popularity is being driven by fans rather than labels and artists.
“It really took us by surprise,” eOne Music head of digital marketing Chris Herche says.
The effect on sales was immediate. The week before the initial video went up, the group sold 4,000 copies of “Don’t Drop That.” The week after, sales spiked to 34,000. Last week, it sold 77,000 and moved to No. 5 on Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop Digital Songs, up from No. 12 the week before. Through the week ending July 7, the song sold a total of 214,000 downloads in 14 months. In the last two weeks alone, it sold an additional 111,000.
Until recently, music marketers have regarded short-form videos largely as a promotional way to engage fans. Warner Bros. Records artist Jason Derulo is encouraging his followers to make Vine videos, giving away free six-second snippets of his songs just for that purpose. Most marketers didn’t see them as a direct route to monetization, especially since there are no ads currently on Vine or Instagram, two of the most popular apps for recording and publishing micro-videos.
Herche thinks it’s best not to try to engineer viral micro-videos as a way to bump sales. “More often than not, these things happen organically,” he says. “You can attempt to start something yourself. But predominantly, the thing that makes them special is that they’re real and not forced.”
Instead, Herche feels music marketers should be on the alert for these grass-roots, socially-driven conflagrations in order to take advantage of them. “It’s our responsibility as music marketers to make sure we’re aware of what our fans do on social media and help amplify it.”
Video has been used for years by artists to record behind-the-scenes glimpses or making-of videos to share with fans. The difference between such micro-video platforms as Vine, Viddy or Instagram Video, however, is speed.
“Before, there was at least a few hours’ to a few days’ time-lapse between recording and publishing,” Herche says. “These apps have cut that time period down to where fans want to feel that they are in the moment with artists.”
That means instant response is required to take advantage of the ultra-short-form social media platforms, which can dissipate as quickly as they pop up. “You have to be prepared to seize it when it happens,” Herche says.