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A new "truth" in advertising

Last month, music super-couple, Beyoncé and Jay-Z once again aired their dirty laundry.  Fans were thrilled to see bad-boy Jay-Z come clean with his – what had been until now – rumoured poor performance as a husband to Beyoncé.

Many lauded the couple’s transparency regarding their marital difficulties.  And branding specialists say it was in response to millennials – “the most sophisticated, media-savvy generation of all time” who “crave authenticity.”

But was it really authentic?  Or just was a thinly disguised marketing ploy?

Rumour mills have been churning for years about turmoil in the relationship.  Then last year, Beyoncé released her album, Lemonade, which became an anthem to scorned women in general and black women in particular.  Despite the lack of a No. 1 single on a Billboard airplay chart or even the R&B/Hip-Hop rankings, industry buzz grew as questions arose about the seemingly autobiographical nature of the songs.

Beyoncé preferred to let her music to speak for itself.  Or perhaps, preferred to let people buy and listen for themselves.  And buy they did.  Lemonade was the highest selling album in 2016 worldwide.

Now a year later, Jay-Z is responding with the release of his own autobiographical mea culpa album, 4:44, acknowledging in music that yes, he had done our beloved Beyoncé wrong.

And it’s all because millennials were too smart to believe their “perfect family” image anymore?

Marketing is about manipulating the message to get a required outcome.  So while music fans and social media are revelling in their own shrewdness to finally force the super-couple to tell the truth, Beyoncé and Jay-Z are simply marketing their brand with the newest fad: honesty.

After the initial release of Jay-Z’s album, he came out with a series of videos, “Footnotes on 4:44,” in which he and various celebrity friends discussed relationships, love, and the publicity that ensues.  More honesty?  Or just a new way to use video to promote your album?

As consumers in an information age, we like to think we’re smart enough to ferret out every deception.  We firmly believe we can tell the difference between honesty and simply pandering to the cameras.

So it was quite shrewd of Beyoncé and Jay-Z to go with the ugliest of truths.  Why risk public condemnation with a lie?  And nothing builds greater hero status than acknowledging – and learning – from one’s failures.

I’m sure there was real trouble in the relationship at one time.  But how long and how bad, only Beyoncé and Jay-Z know.  Right now, they’re building their brand through honesty, growth, and excellent timing.  And they’ve spent 15 months promoting two blockbuster albums focusing on how awful things were – all while she’s been gestating and delivering twin babies.

So from the depths of despair comes the birth of a stronger marriage. … And a bigger family.  (Cue the angels singing.)

Today’s audience thinks it’s too smart to be manipulated by a brand.  But maybe that’s the greatest marketing trick of all: making us think we’re smarter than we are.  A great way to build brand loyalty.


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