How Sony Australia Engineered the John Farnham/Olivia Newton-John Album to Christmas #1

by Paul Cashmere, Noise11

It wasn’t coincidence or luck that put the John Farnham & Olivia Newton-John Christmas album at the top ARIA chart this week. It was a carefully planned marketing strategy and the plan was game-changing.

In recent years the ARIA chart has been in a state of flux, struggling to keep up with the changing consumer habits of the music fan.

The three digital charts, Shazam, Spotify and iTunes give the industry a much faster read on audience behaviors. That has left the slow-to-react ARIA chart behind.

Radio programmers look to the three digital charts to track what their audience is doing today as opposed to studying the ARIA chart, which tells them what the audience was reacting to a week or two ago. In competitive radio, that is too slow.

Years ago, ARIA started to include download sales with its physical sales data. That bought the chart back to reflecting current consumer reactions. After all, a sale is a sale, the format was irrelevant. Then a year ago ARIA added streaming to the data and the whole thing went pear-shaped.

A consumer sale is a cash commitment to a song and the artist by the fan. A consumer stream is a non-committal. If it doesn’t eventually lead to a sale then it is more about curiosity than commitment.

Sony planned for the Farnham & Newton-John album to be number one from day one. When the album was conceived, it was built to be Christmas chart-topper; however, for the two heritage artists, that posed a challenge.

Reaching the fan-base to tell them a release like this was out is not easy. Farnham and Newton-John’s fans generally listen to talk radio or oldies stations, neither of which would play their new music.

Farnham and Newton-John would need to make themselves available to talk up this release and promotion Farnham is reluctant to do. Sony got them to commit to face-to-face promotion to drive the sales.

Sony then devised a cunning stunt to mass market the word. 6000 copies of the album were funneled though a Sunday tabloid marketing campaign but instead of giving the CDs away, the fans bought them for $2 a pop.

Because the discs were sold, not given away, they counted towards the chart. The profile from the campaign also lifted awareness of the release leading to further sales. In the same week, Farnham & Newton-John were taxied from radio station to radio station and television station to television station to talk up the release during the active sales week of the coupon campaign. It was the most promotion either act had done for a new release in decades.

The saturation campaign worked and the album reached the number one spot with a gap of more than the 6000 cheapies and with a few hundred to spare making it a bonafide chart-topper.

That one exercise has redefined what the ARIA can be. Instead of being last week’s news this week, FONJie’s Friends for Christmas has reflected the best marketing campaign of the week via its ARIA chart presence and that is something unique to the music industry.

The iTunes chart reflects commitment. The Spotify chart reflects listening habits. The Shazam chart reflects interest. If more labels, artists and managers adopt Sony’s brilliant, out-of-the box strategy, the ARIA chart could once again rule as a fresh reflection of the industries creative thinking.

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