In this excerpt from this week’s cover story on Eminem and his just-released “Marshall Mathers LP 2,” Reggie Ugwu takes a look at the positioning and strategizing behind the launch of Eminem’s first record in six years blockbuster new album, including a far-reaching agreement with Activision for its “Call of Duty” series, as well as “Saturday Night Football” and much more. Be the first to read our in-depth coverage each week by subscribing.
Eminem’s new album “The Marshall Mathers LP 2” (released Tuesday, Nov. 5 on Aftermath/Interscope) is on track to sell an estimated 700-750K units. Billboard looked at the innovative branding partnerships that helped the record reach what may likely have the year’s second-biggest opening week.
Eminem’s manager Paul Rosenberg and his label Interscope faced the task of marketing the rap superstar’s sequel to the 14th-best-selling album in the history of SoundScan, “The Marshall Mathers LP,” in a radically changed industry environment. To approximate the omnipresence that Eminem enjoyed in the era of “Total Request Live” and Tower Records, his team crafted an aggressive and forward-looking campaign that relied heavily on strategic partnerships.
The most important of those was with Activision, the videogame producer whose “Call of Duty” line of first-person-shooters — the most recent of which, “Call of Duty: Ghosts,” brought in $1 billion on its first day of release — has become one of the most lucrative entertainment franchises in the world. The company had licensed music from Eminem for previous installments of the game, and Rosenberg approached it in the spring with the prospect of a partnership that would go much deeper.
As part of a multifaceted deal, the terms of which weren’t disclosed, Eminem and Interscope licensed the Marshall Mathers LP 2 song “Survival” for use in Activision’s holiday tent-pole “Call of Duty: Ghosts” and relevant marketing materials. The song had its world premiere, before any details about the album were announced, at a “Call of Duty” event in Los Angeles in August. A video for the track, financed by Activision and featuring Eminem in front of a backdrop of in-game footage, was released the following month.
“We know from our own research that our fans have a really strong affinity for Eminem — there’s a lot of overlap there,” Activision chief marketing officer Tim Ellis says. “Aligning the two brands is something we think will continue to serve us well into the future.”
Beyond the “Survival” deal, Interscope and Activision conspired to unite their formidable forces at retail. The two parties coordinated the release of the album and the game for Nov. 5 and have arranged nationwide midnight sale campaigns at Walmart and Best Buy.
The partnership’s biggest coup, though, is at Game Stop, where all copies of “Call of Duty: Ghosts” will come with a code to download “The Marshall Mathers LP 2” and an exclusive song at $8.99 — three dollars off the standard-edition iTunes price. The previous installment in the “Call of Duty” series, 2012’s “Black Ops II,” set a record with $500 million in first-day sales, and with more than 4,000 stores nationwide, first-week foot traffic for “Ghosts” at Game Stop alone is estimated to be in the millions.
“People in the music industry ask me all the time, ‘How do we get into Game Stop?’” Activision VP of music affairs Tim Riley says. “We know that people who buy a lot of games are the same people who buy a lot of music, but this is the first time we’ve been able to get a deal like this done.”
With the record’s official first single, the Rick Rubin-produced “Berzerk,” Rosenberg and Interscope turned to another pair of partners to maximize the song’s exposure. The track was featured in a Beats headphones commercial that aired during MTV’s Video Music Awards in August that included snippets of the official music video. The ad, in addition to serving as the world premiere of “Berzerk,” also marked the official announcement of the album, revealing its title, release date and the involvement of executive producers Rubin and Dr. Dre for the first time.
“Keeping that a secret was a modern miracle,” Rosenberg says of the ad. “Pulling it off meant telling a lot of people ‘no,’ which doesn’t always make your partners happy, but we really believe in the element of surprise. That we were able to give people all of that information in a 15-second spot like that really helped us make a big splash.”
In addition to the deal with Beats — in which Eminem’s label bosses and longtime co-conspirators Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre have an ownership stake — “Berzerk” was named the official song of ESPN’s “Saturday Night Football” (broadcast on ABC) for the duration of the season. Eminem made a rare live TV appearance on the program in September to premiere the video for the song during the matchup between Michigan and Notre Dame. His slack-jawed interview with Kirk Herbstreit and Brent Musburger caused a social media sensation, and sparked arguments about whether his nervousness was an act or not. (“I feel awkward,” Eminem told Musburger.) Viewership that night totaled 8.6 million, according to Nielsen, more than doubling the season average.
Digitally, marketing efforts surrounding “The Marshall Mathers LP 2” have been equally aggressive. A newly relaunched Eminem.com offered exclusive pre-order bundles more than a month before the iTunes presale. A bundle of the deluxe CD and a lithograph signed by Eminem priced at $500 sold out in a limited edition of 500. So did bundles that included a CD and hoodie ($76) and a CD, T-shirt and unsigned lithograph ($68). Driven largely by Eminem’s 77 million Facebook fans and nearly 16 million Twitter followers, Rosenberg says pre-orders for the album from Eminem.com alone were up to 10,000 units eight days before release date.
“We’ve really figured out how to engage the fan base online in a way that seems to be working,” he says. “If you have the right people coordinating it and you plan everything out, the steps that you make toward a record can be very powerful.”
A less likely, but reportedly effective contributor to the presale figure was Waze, the fast-growing traffic and navigation startup that Google acquired for $1 billion in June. Interscope used the app to place virtual ads called “pins” at the locations of music retailers nationwide. Whenever one of Waze’s 30 million users drives by an Eminem pin, clicking on it displays a full-screen ad for the album including a link to the pre-order.
“One of the things we wanted to do for this campaign was ‘never-been-done-befores,’” Interscope head of digital marketing Brooke Michael says. “Most people may not think of music when they think of Waze, but we saw it as an opportunity to engage with millions of captive users in a unique way.”