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Home > Articles > Music journalism > Promoting your music > Viral marketing

January 2009

Learning from Lily Allen's Flash Game: Viral Marketing for Musicians

Sean McManus shares Lily Allen's Mario Bros clone and offers some tips on viral marketing.

Word of mouth has always been an important part of music promotion - music forms communities of fans, and people like to listen to the same bands that their friends are listening to. Many major acts are using the internet to spread word of mouth, through so-called 'viral marketing'.

Typically, fans can embed widgets into their blog or Facebook page that stream videos or album tracks, but sometimes bands come up with something new. AC/DC has released an ASCII art video of "Rock N Roll Train" (no longer online as at June 2011) to promote the band's new album. It's an impressive effect. Even established bands can get lost in the amount of free music online today, so this video is a neat way to stimulate word of mouth and encourage fans to spread the word about the new album. (More on how this video works)

Screengrab of AC/DC Excel viral video

Screengrab of AC/DC Excel viral video

Sometimes the video itself is compelling enough for people to want to share it with everyone they know, without any technical trickery, as with this classic from OK Go, which has been watched over 42 million times on Youtube. (Before playing this video, I recommend you mute the volume on the Lily Allen game below.)

Coming up is a great example of a viral marketing game, created by EMI to promote Lily Allen's new album. Unlike many promotional Flash games, this one has great gameplay and has a plot on a par with the typical retro game. By the time you complete it, you'll have 'The Fear' looping in your head all day, and if you do complete it, you get a free MP3 sampler of the forthcoming album.

Many bands spend a lot of time building a funky Flash website. I wonder how much more effective they would be if they used those skills to create a simple game that tied in with their lyrics, and played their music to the captive audience of gameplayers.

You don't have to be a Flash wizard to begin viral marketing, though. Seth Godin makes the point that the best viral marketing happens when the product itself is viral, rather than just a promotional gimmick. Musicians have perhaps the greatest viral product: the music itself. Give away an MP3, but encourage fans to share it with others, to put it on their websites, and to include it on their MySpace profiles. That way, you can give a gift to your fans and your prospective fans and in exchange, they'll share the cost of promoting your work. You can download Godin's book 'The Idea Virus' for more ideas on using viral marketing. It's free, of course.

In the meantime, can you help Lily escape The Fear?

More music promotion tips...
More games...

Lily Allen 'Escape The Fear' Flash Game

Lily Allen music


Book cover: EarwormSean McManus's novel 'Earworm' is a satire of the music industry, based around a major record label and all those who invest their hopes and dreams in it. The book is independently published and can be bought online now.

"Raising a number of surprisingly sophisticated issues, this book is enjoyably cynical about the seemingly cold-hearted and impenetrable nature of the record industry and peppered with a number of highly comical cameos from the cream of rock'n'roll, which ensures that it never feels like heavy going."
- Record Collector Magazine. More great reviews!