A lesson in marketing

I hope you will excuse this indulgence, but I am fascinated by the Janet Jackson "event", though for different reasons than most. (okay, this is your cue to click on your next RSS feed if you are one of those "hey this is supposed to be a technology blog - don't discuss anything else" types...)

However, this isn't a commentary on morality, values or hypocrisy. I'm interested in it purely from a marketing perspective.

All of us, at some stage in our career, has to advertise/market our wares - either our own personal skills or the products/services of our employer/company. Here is a lesson on what is perhaps the greatest PR swindle in recent memory. Not only did she get more press than the paying advertisers - but can I assume she was paid to perform? I can't seem to find confirmation of that online, and I don't know how it works with the Super Bowl (where I assume it is an honour to be booked to perform during half-time), but if she was, you can't beat that deal. Getting paid to advertise your product! Even if she wasn't paid, I will assume she didn't pay to perform, so she got the advertising for free. And lots of it. Thank you very much. Virgin, her record company, must love her. And, of course, Richard Branson is the MASTER of getting free media coverage. Anyone want to guess who the real mastermind was behind Janet's stunt?

Not only was it watched by millions of Americans and millions more around the world now (thanks to the controversy and the willingness of the mainstream media to give her prime-time news coverage), but according to Rollingstone, "The thirty-seven-year-old pop star's label, Virgin Records, released a new single, "Just a Little While," on February 2nd, the day after the Super Bowl. More than 120 radio stations immediately picked it up. The same day, there were more Web searches for "Janet Jackson" than anything else on a single day in Internet history."

Now, as Rollingstone also points out, controversy doesn't necessarily sell records, but I don't think it often hurts either. Unless you are the other Jackson sibling who still makes music... I don't think his controversy is really the right kind.

My conspiracy-theorist brain asks other (probably dumb) questions, for example:

- was this also an act of sisterly love? Her more notorious sibling seems to have gained some media peace since his sister's incident.

- is it a co-incidence that, in a week when governments of certain western countries were admitting certain lapses in "intelligence" and announcing federal inquiries, the mainstream media outlets gave so much coverage to something which seems so boring, mundane and self-promoting?

okay... I know those are probably over-the-top, but hey... it's the only brain I've got. Maybe I've been reading too much Chomsky and stuff like this from the New York Review of Books.

Anyway, back to PR and marketing. I'm a huge fan of the "get the media to give you free coverage" school of thought. I remember a few months ago when Krispy Kreme opened for business in Australia. They sent hundreds of free donuts to hosts of morning breakfast shows. How many do you think ate them on air, licked their sticky lips, and profusely thanked their corporate sponsor? Plenty.

UPDATE: I've been thinking - considering the minuscule marketing budget we have to promote products like BizTalk Server, what kind of Janet-style stunt could we pull to get some free media coverage? I'd be happy to expose a pec for free PR. What do you think Ms Bond? ;-)