On May 3, 1983, Weird Al Yankovic released his first album which topped out at number 139 on the Billboard 200. 31 years later, on July 15, 2014, Yankovic released his fourteenth album, which debuted at number one. How does a family-friendly comedic parody musician (a niche market if there ever was one) reach heights only dreamed of by even some of the most popular musicians? To find the answer, we’ll look in depth at the Yankovic’s career, as well as the release of Yankovic’s Mandatory Fun, one of the most brilliant product launches of recent history.
Making Savvy Connections — And Making Good Use Of Them
In his early career, Yankovic made extensive use of his connections. When famed novelty radio host Dr. Demento gave a speech at his high school, Yankovic passed him a demo tape of parody songs. Demento liked the parodies so much, he ended up broadcasting them over national radio, encouraging Yankovic to continue with his songwriting, and eventually landing him a record deal.
Through connections at his record label, Yankovic was able to land a deal for a special with MTV. With a running time of four hours(!), AlTV ran parody videos, interviews, news, and commercials, broadcasting Yankovic’s music into the homes of millions. The success of AlTV made it a regular feature whenever Yankovic released a new album, and also prompted MuchMusic in Canada to make a deal with Yankovic for a similar feature called AlMusic.
Establishing a Brand Image
One thing that’s not immediately apparent about the Weird Al brand is that the music is all family friendly. Yankovic never swears in his songs (although the end of Another Tattoo, parody of Nothin’ On You by B.o.B., features a curse cut short). Additionally, almost of his parodies are extremely faithful recreations that show Yankovic’s appreciation for the original work. Combined with Yankovic’s insistence on asking for permission from the original artist before releasing the parody, this helped establish Yankovic’s reputation as one of the nicest people to work with in the music industry.
Return to the Spotlight
Yankovic kept Mandatory Fun under wraps almost right up until its release. But in the year preceding the release date, he began using his many connections in the music and comedy industries to line up appearances that would bring him back into the spotlight just before the album’s release. Yankovic appeared on Comedy Central’s Drunk History, then on Hulu’s Hotwives of Orlando. Closer to the release date, he appeared as Isaac Newton on the popular YouTube channel Epic Rap Battles of History.
The Release Strategy
Yankovic’s release strategy was nothing short of brilliant. Since MTV and MuchMusic were no longer focused on playing music videos, he needed a new outlet for promotion. Turning to the internet, he made deals with eight major content providers to pay for eight videos in return for limited-time exclusive rights to said videos. The videos were released, one at a time, over an eight day period, beginning the day before the album’s release. Each video debuted on a different website, ranging from FunnyOrDie to College Humour to The Wall Street Journal.
Landing an exclusive video from Weird Al Yankovic was huge for each of the eight sites, so they all promoted the video on their front pages. Having his music videos appear on the front page of eight of the biggest websites in the world was huge for Yankovic as well. It was the perfect win-win situation.
But the strategy didn’t end there. Yankovic also granted interviews to multiple news outlets targeting different demographics. The interviews appeared on VICE, NPR, AVClub, and even Fox News. Additionally, Yankovic appeared on Reddit for an AMA (Ask Me Anything) on the day of the album’s release, interacting directly with his fans.
This is all, of course, in addition to the promotion of Mandatory Fun that Yankovic did over his own Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube channel.
The End Result
His embrace of multiple media outlets and savvy use of professional connections returned Yankovic to the spotlight for his long-time fans and his embrace of the internet as a promotional tool has introduced him to a whole new generation of fans.
Mandatory Fun debuted at number one on the Billboard 200, making it Yankovic’s most successful album to date by a wide margin.