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News & Views

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  • 18 May 2016
  • Mitchell Holmes

How to Disappear Completely: why Radiohead's Recent Album Launch Was a Great Lesson in PR

At 7pm last Sunday, I along with many people across the world rushed onto iTunes to download Radiohead’s ninth studio album, A Moon Shaped Pool. For those of you that haven’t listened to it yet, it’s an absolute masterpiece that manages to stay melodic and ethereal, while having the sinister and foreboding undertones that Radiohead is famous for. But before I go into full amateur music journalist mode, one of the most impressive aspects of the album, was the level of excitement that had been drummed up before anyone had even pressed play.Listening to the record felt like a genuine event, with Facebook and Twitter lighting up with comments, and BBC Radio 6 even hosting a live listening party with presenters commenting on the tracks. As well as being a personal experience, this had a similar feeling to a live sports event, with the knowledge that there were thousands of people doing exactly the same thing at the same time. Of course, the consistently excellent albums released by the band played a major role in the its anticipation, but with numerous bands having the same level of diehard support that Radiohead has, why did A Moon Shaped Pool get the attention that it did?

Primarily, the success of the campaign can be pinned down to the fact that it was perfectly engineered for social and online media. If we roll back to the 1st May, Radiohead made the first noise about their imminent new album by paradoxically not making one. In a world where everyone is perfectly aware of the difficulty of being heard, they simply deleted their entire online presence, including their website, and all of the content on their Facebook and Twitter accounts. Within hours, the realisation of this went from social chatter to rafts of media coverage spanning the national and music press, as journalists speculated on what was about to happen. Two days later, after all of the online debate, all we got was a looping video of the above bird on Instagram, which again spawned endless online discussion from packed comment sections on media sites, to new videos from music bloggers.What’s more, when the first two singles began to appear, this was accompanied by two stunning, and just as importantly, shareable videos on YouTube, released a few days apart. The first, for Burn The Witch, used a perfectly executed stop motion film that referenced both The Wickerman and 1960s kids’ TV, while Daydreaming came packaged with a haunting video directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, (Magnolia and Inherent Vice) that was shown in a number of US cinemas. By the time the album finally came, anyone who was following it was already engrossed in the narrative of the launch regardless of how the rest of it sounded. By announcing the time of the launch as 7pm on Sunday 8th May two days before it was released, the band had set up a scenario that ensured people would be waiting eagerly at their computers, waiting to click download.Overall, the genius of the campaign was the way it sustained discussion across almost all media channels. All of the communication, from the disappearing online accounts to the tweeting bird, resulted in coverage in a host of publications, while creating shareable and engaging content that spanned Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, iTunes and YouTube. Of course, not all brands have the same level of advocacy that Radiohead can call upon, however this does not mean that similar tactics can’t be applied outside of the music industry. For anyone looking to get heard in an overcrowded world, this campaign is a great example of what the right mix of content and channels, when perfectly timed, can achieve.