For Beyonce, No Marketing Was the Right Marketing

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- As a sort of perfect bookend to early 2013's sudden resurrection of David Bowie comes Beyonce Knowles' album, a package of songs and videos called simply Beyonce that created a sensation upon its release Friday night.

It is the fastest-selling album ever on iTunes, topping 800,000 over the weekend according to iTunes and the artist's label, Columbia Records. And as of Wednesday, it is officially No. 1 on Billboard 200, not five days after its release and making her the first woman to have five studio albums reach that spot.

What is most remarkable about that achievement was its lack of attendant hoopla. Friday night, the star posted a video in Instagram with the one-word caption, "Surprise!"

That was it. An entire video album with no advance notice whatsoever. Fans got it instantly, of course. A storm of action whipped into a Twitter frenzy that has yet to fully subside.

The understated announcement is a welcome relief after a year of "leaks" ahead of artists' official album release dates, a seemingly di rigueur strategy to drum up increased chatter and amp first-week sales. Media are marveling at how her team was able to keep a secret, a phenomenon much less remarkable a year ago.

Meanwhile, audiences are swooning over the personal touch and the humility evident in a promotional video available on her Web site.

"There's so much that gets between the music, the artist and the fans," Beyonce said in the statement. "I felt like I didn't want anybody to give the message when my record is coming out. I just want this to come out when it's ready and from me to my fans."

My daughter, a lifelong (literally) fan of Beyonce and her one-time band Destiny's Child, posted Sunday on Facebook,

Beyonce dropped her album without any promotion and still is selling more then anyone who recently released something. YAAAAAS. - listening to Beyonce - Mine.

She is stretching the point, of course. Bey has plenty of marketing, just nothing ahead of the release. And most of the others who have recently released albums would kill to have Beyonce's many millions of deeply loyal fans, each ready in a moment's notice to pounce on whatever release comes.

Still, my daughter's post illustrates an important point. Bey's strategy of a low-key release, the entire album at once with no run-up, appealed to her following. It cast her as a hero, put her above the fray, raised the Queen Bey pedestal just a little bit higher.

That is even more true this year than it would be any other. In 2013 we had Daft Punk's album supposedly lifted and posted in a low-fidelity version on social media a week in advance of its official release date. That prompted the band, so the reports go, to immediately put the whole thing up as a free stream on iTunes. Media interest ran amok and the word "leaks" -- still laden with potency on the heels of Edward Snowden headlines -- was used and misused in every article.

Others quickly followed suit. Katy Perry and Lady Gaga both claimed their singles were leaked, on the same day, and spent a lot of time tweeting about it. The Miley Cyrus and Britney Spears collaboration SMS Bangerz was leaked -- many other artists, big names, small names. The word "leaked" became synonymous with promotion and the media, loving the reader-allure of the word, latched onto it, not particularly caring whether the material was actually leaked or not.

In that climate, avoiding any pre-release marketing strategy was probably the best, most timely and wisest marketing strategy available to Beyonce's team. Sales records in the rear-view mirror, it seems now like a stroke of genius.

But maybe it's just good sense.

When David Bowie released his first album in 10 years, The Next Day, in March, it marked a surprise comeback that very few fans saw coming. He did something very similar, keeping the project secret until it was complete and ready for release.

Bowie didn't go as far as Beyonce and land the album fully formed on an unsuspecting market. He released a single and a few days later, he offered the rest of the album as a free complete stream on iTunes for a limited time, during which it could be pre-ordered.

Still, there was very little hoopla, very little hype. Nothing at all prior to the release of the single.

When your work is gigantic, when you are already a superstar and you know you've done your best on an album and you're proud of it, simply letting everyone hear it might just be enough. Emphasize the quality of the music; leave no room for mistaken expectations; risk no compromise of your integrity.

By contrast, I give you (drum roll, please): Lady Gaga. Whatever you may think of ARTPOP, the laughable hype preceding it almost overshadowed the project. Seeking to raise the status of her work to the level of pop art, she instead ran the subject down and cheapened that whole post-Warhol world.

To be sure, there are downsides to Beyonce's music and how she presents herself, particularly her use of her sexuality. While calling herself as a "modern-day feminist," she has found that many other feminists don't agree.

She makes such criticisms hard by being an ideal role model in other ways, wisely using her international diva status to stump for political and charitable causes, donating money, using concerts as a focus for food donation drives, etc. She was this year voted one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people.

And she is definitely a good role model from a pure business perspective. Beyonce vs. Lady Gaga in a marketing smackdown? Well let's see: The former spent nothing on promotion until the day the album dropped, outsold the latter in the first week by a wide margin and broke a few sales records in the process. The former increased her respectability with fans and critics alike.

Not that anyone had any doubt, but I have to say it: The win goes to Beyonce.

--Written by Carlton Wilkinson in New York

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