Words by Andrea Ebdane & Rachel Ogsimer
Art by Joshua Co
Dropping a surprise album is one thing, but dropping two in the same year is a completely different story.
Taylor Swift has built up a reputation for meticulously planning out her album eras via easter eggs, cryptic countdowns, and subtle social media posts — Folklore and Evermore are the only exceptions to this. Yet somehow, Folklore became the top best-selling album of 2020, and less than half a year later, Evermore became her eighth consecutive number one debut on the Billboard 200, earning itself a Grammy nomination for Album of the Year.
As we celebrate Evermore’s first birthday, we’re going to take a look at how Taylor Swift flawlessly pulled off two surprise album drops within mere months apart. While we’re at it, let’s talk about how she broke massive chart records on both occasions, used subtle yet clever ways to refresh her content, and kept her legions of fans on their toes with her trademark easter eggs. Sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? We’re not complaining. After all, wherever Blondie strays, we follow.
Gold rush, gold rush
Cancel your plans just in case she calls, ‘cause Taylor Swift sure knows how to get people buzzing. The unexpectedness of Folklore and Evermore got everyone talking — from die-hard fans to casual listeners, even people who were indifferent or unengaged with her music. When Folklore first dropped, for example, the memes and viral posts were everywhere. Wherever you scrolled on social media, you’d find users tweeting the lyrics in all-caps, sharing their interpretations of each song, and even jokingly blaming Taylor for making them reconnect with their exes. The sheer impact of Folklore was so strong, excitement spread like wildfire — almost instantly, popular social media accounts took advantage of the frenzy by making their own content based on the album, be it through TikToks, reaction videos, listicles, etc., which inevitably helped widen Folklore’s reach. Likewise, the same excitement was parroted by its sister album (and our birthday girl!) Evermore.
So what does this teach us about marketing? That it pays to catch people by surprise. Everyone’s always on the lookout for something new, and Taylor shows us time and time again that she knows how to take advantage of that. It doesn’t matter whether she’s executing a rollercoaster of a promotional period or dropping sudden releases out of the blue — she’s constantly exploring different sounds, experiences, images, and feelings to share with the world, and fans are more than happy to enjoy the ride.
So what does this teach us about marketing? That it pays to catch people by surprise.
This doesn’t just apply to her promotional strategies, of course. After all, Taylor Swift is well-known for changing her aesthetic with each album, marked by what fans call “eras”. For example, the Folklore/Evermore era is about all things “cottagecore” — the escapism and vivid imagery behind her lyrics evoke notions of hiding out in a cabin in the woods, or dancing by a willow tree in the moonlight. Along with the aesthetic change also comes a complete genre shift in Taylor’s music, with songs that have a more relaxed, indie-folk musical style. Plus, the lyricism is on a whole other level, and takes on a distinct and (dare we say?) incandescent glow. While Taylor’s previous songs on her past albums were confessional, autobiographical, and rife with insights into her personal life, we got to see more narrative and character-driven tracks on Folklore and Evermore.
Plus, Taylor also shows us that collaboration is key. As she explores different sounds, she constantly welcomes both new and familiar faces in her creative pursuits — after all, who could ever forget the Jack Antonoff main pop girl memes? And Folklore and Evermore gave us the dream team that is Taylor Swift and Aaron Dessner, who should never ever stop writing songs together, in our humble opinion. Because she collaborates with different people each time she reinvents her sound, Taylor is able to tap into fan bases and audiences outside her usual following.
Her picture in your wallet
When Taylor Swift said “use my best colors for your portrait,” we felt that — another important marketing strategy is how she provides fans with content that can be screenshotted, shared, and reposted. She understands the impact that visuals hold, and uses these to heighten the aesthetics of her different eras. We see this through her picturesque lyric videos, for example, or through the video clips of her that loop while listeners play the tracks on Spotify. Basically, it helps to have shareable aesthetic images that fans can screenshot and post because it makes the world come alive more vividly in the minds of your audience. Plus, when fans share such content on social media, they also drive up engagement from friends and family members who interact with them; in other words, when it comes to Taylor, Swifties will do the marketing for her.
...it helps to have shareable aesthetic images that fans can screenshot and post because it makes the world come alive more vividly in the minds of your audience.
Besides the obligatory social media posts, what would an album marketing campaign be without merch? Taylor’s merch line is updated for each release, and the products range from hoodies and t-shirts to hourglasses and cassette tapes. But Taylor doesn’t stop at producing appealing designs; just like her music, she finds ways to switch up the beat and make the merch exciting. She didn’t just sell a cardigan, she sold the cardigan — the very same design she wore in her music video, and according to her UK store, you could have your very own for £49.00! Easter eggs are sprinkled everywhere, even in her merch — a code for accessing a Folklore merch sale turned out to be a lyric for “willow” from Evermore, which hadn’t even been released at the time. No bait-and-switch here, but the merch promotions are definitely a work of art.
A queen selling dreams
It’s a simple strategy, but it’s effective: Taylor knows what she loves, and she knows what her audience loves about her. It sounds easy enough, but building up a big reputation, big reputation requires more tact than one would think, especially when that reputation is one of being an authentic, creative, and trustworthy artist.
Over the course of her 16-year career, Taylor Swift has been called many things: a country singer, a pop star, the artist of the decade — but what remains consistent is the name she’s made for herself as a captivating storyteller and a charismatic person. Adding a personal element to marketing isn’t just pathos; the appeal to emotion only lasts so long. It’s the ethos that keeps fans loyal. Taylor’s music is brilliant, but her reliability as an artist who can keep moving forward creatively is almost unparalleled, and it leaves audiences wanting more from her each time. This is especially true for Folklore and Evermore. The two albums were released less than five months apart, and they only continued to prove that Taylor Swift is the kind of artist who genuinely loves creating, and she’s amassed an audience that genuinely loves hearing what she has to say.
Adding a personal element to marketing isn’t just pathos; the appeal to emotion only lasts so long. It’s the ethos that keeps fans loyal.
Taylor’s reputation doesn’t stop at being a skilled songwriter and performer. Her fans relate to her music, but they also feel a connection with Taylor herself, and she constantly finds new ways to connect with them. Taylor Swift is a master at driving her fans crazy in the best ways possible. She’s known for sneaking easter eggs into lyrics and posts — little surprises for the loyal listeners who keep up with her music enough to recognize them. It’s a small thing, but it’s enough to foster good artist-fan engagement. Dropping in simple but fun elements — for example, writing three different songs that could be pieced together into the story of one love triangle — is almost like a gift to the fans, and Swifties love every bit of it. People value being able to relate to artists, but they especially value artists who make the effort to engage them.
Conclusion….or should we say …….closure
After all she’s achieved, why stop at Artist of the Decade? If a Marketer of the Decade award existed, there would be no competition — Taylor Swift is the 1 for us. From the gold rush of her surprise drops to the musical dreams she sells, Taylor is a superstar at writing hooks and a professional at hooking in listeners. Each of her albums has brought something new to the table not just thematically but also in terms of marketing strategy, and Folklore and Evermore are prime examples of Taylor’s publicity prowess. She made the most of the isolation caused by the pandemic, surprised her audience, and ventured into new territory as a singer-songwriter. In a disheartening year of cancelled tours and limited performances, she kept her eyes full of stars and hustled for the good life.
Long story short, it looks like we’ll be looking forward to Taylor Swift’s music and marketing for evermore.
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Magner, D. (2020, December 11). 9 Marketing Tips from Taylor Swift. Linkedin. Retrieved from https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/9-marketing-tips-from-taylor-swift-danielle-magner/