Pre-release involves letting radio stations have a single before it actually goes on sale. In marketing terms it sounds like madness - you play radio listeners your track for a fortnight, giving them time to get interested in it, record it, pirate it and potentially even get tired of it before you ever try to sell them a copy.
There is (or was) a logic to pre-release. Chart position is (was) an incredibly strong form of marketing that leads in turn to more radio airplay, so you build up as much interest as possible over the pre-release period and trigger it all in a single week. Then you cross your fingers for a number one hit and a snowball effect as that chart position leads to more and more airplay and an extended chart run.
My gratuitious bracket use is a hint to the problem with this strategy. Twenty years ago it was probably quite sensible - if a little too clever for its own good - but fast forward to 2011 and it's a disaster.
- Regardless of whether the label says a single is on sale or not, if the album's out then you can buy the track on iTunes. Do you really want the b-side that much? Come to that, what's a b-side in 2011?
In 2011, you've just got a strategy that makes a mess of your marketing timing between iTunes and Radio.
- If you play people music they like and tell them they can't have it, what do you think they're going to do? Wait patiently for two weeks and then rush to HMV, or pirate it right now? No prizes for the right answer, it's too easy.
At least that one was probably a sensible strategy once. I was reminded of it this morning by the news that Heinz are going to pre-release a ketchup flavour on Facebook.
Why on earth would you do that?
Apparently they expect the 3000 bottle run to sell out in days and it probably will, but then what have you achieved?
Let's assume a best case. Facebook is a well targeted advertising channel for the housewives (that's media targeting housewives - they don't have to be women) who are typically responsible for ketchup shopping. Yeah, right, but moving swiftly on...
You generate loads of interest in the page and shift your 3000 bottles in less than 24 hours. We're obviously pretending here that most of the PR coverage isn't going to be the marketing industry taking to itself.
You've got 3000 happy Facebookers and lots more who couldn't try your tasty new condiment but really, really want to.
Now they've got a few weeks to forget all about ketchup before they visit Sainsbury's. Perfect.
As a strategy, it's over-complicated and inefficient. Pre-release music was an example of an industry obsessed with the music charts assuming that everybody else was still obsessed with them too.
Ketchup on Facebook sounds like an ad industry that is obsessed with Facebook assuming that everybody else is just as obsessed as them and will want to buy everything there.