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Kanye West: Content Genius, Marketing Failure

Date published: November 20, 2013
Last updated: November 20, 2013

Kanye West often refers to himself as hip hop’s creative genius. He’s certainly musically talented (and few would argue this point), but it takes more than just talent to reach the pinnacle of stardom that he’s attained since his career began as a producer in 1996. His challenging music, edgy videos, and pompous personality have earned him a reputation worldwide that he continues to live up to—but his newest shock and awe campaign will leave you wondering whether he still understands his target audience.

Yesterday morning, West released the music video for his new single “Bound 2”—and how he did it was unconventional, even by his own standards. West appeared on Ellen for what could be considered one of the weirdest promotional partnerships of all time.

Why it was weird

The video starts off with fast-paced time-lapses of beautiful landscapes—nothing too peculiar. It cuts away to wild horses racing through a desert field with a backdrop of colorful rock formations. Still pretty normal. Then, West enters and begins rapping in front of a green screen. After a quick cut-away, he’s riding a motorcycle. The natural setting is clearly fake, but it’s still a fairly typical music video.

Then, WHAM—viewers get blindsided by a nude silhouette of Kim Kardashian lying on top of a motorcycle—and it’s all downhill from there. The viewer spends the next three and a half minutes choking on bleeped out language while watching a topless, pouty-faced Kardashian straddling Kanye on a bouncy motorcycle while riding through a flagrantly green-screened desert backdrop.

Did I mention this was on Ellen?

Ellen is currently the #1 daytime talk show in America and averages about 4 million viewers per episode. Ellen’s target audience is women aged 18 to 54. That deserves to be said again—but this time with an emphasis on the 54. (This is the part where most people reading this post realize that their moms, and maybe even their grandmas, were just scarred for life while watching Ellen).

And this is how the newest Kanye West experiment becomes a business lesson in knowing your audience.

Or, not knowing your audience

I don’t doubt that some viewers out there will shower West with critical acclaim—in fact, it’s already begun. But if you weed through the thicket of general acceptance and still find yourself at a loss for words, you come to where I stand on the issue: confused as to why this was a tactically smart move for either Kanye or Ellen.

West’s portfolio of endorsements and musical style speaks to his primary target audience: males aged 16 to 24. I doubt you will find many of those at home watching Ellen at 3 p.m. on a Tuesday. So is Kanye trying to expand his target market to include women in their 40s? And is Ellen trying to expand her target audience to include males from 16 to 24? Not likely.

So why did they do it?

In this “Wrecking Ball”-friendly era, in which anything outrageous can yield you millions of views on your Vevo or YouTube channel, it’s hard to argue against the effectiveness of strategies like West’s. To make matters worse, there is also the fact that West believes the entire world is his target audience. According to ABC News, the rapper “ignores the idea of having a “target audience.” He compares his music to McDonald’s. He’s trying to reach everyone. All ages. All walks of life.”

Tell that to my grandma.

Pride goes before the fall

Some may say that music is just music—it exists to provide enjoyment and enlightenment. But at the end of the day, everything is business—music included—and businesses need target markets. Even McDonald’s can’t satisfy the needs of the whole world. That’s why it’s so important to define your target market and tailor messaging to them specifically. Whether you’re Kanye West, Ellen DeGeneres, or a local dry cleaner named Ralph, knowing your audience is the name of the game. Don’t be too proud to carve out a niche. Pride goes before the fall.

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