Rihanna released a new single this week. In other shock news: the stars of TOWIE stayed late at a nightclub and Nicole Scherzinger used her "serious face" when listening to a contestant on X-Factor. Unless you're a pop music fanatic you'll be forgiven for thinking that she only had a record out a few months ago. That's pretty accurate, Diamonds will be Rihanna's 38th single in the last 5 years. In November Rihanna will release another album - alongside another pop icon - Lady Gaga.
While they exist in the same charts Gaga and Rihanna are experimenting with completely different models of how to be a popstar. Gaga comes from a long tradition of running 'campaigns'. Hitting fans with waves of new content, then calculated lulls of quietness. "Here's Lady Gaga in an amazing new hat - she's got a new single out next week". Rihanna is a proud flag-bearer for the new revolution of being 'Always On'.
The Always On thing is starting to take hold. Calvin Harris is Always On, David Guetta is Always On. These artists are killing it in the charts at the moment. Owning the top ten in a way that indolent guitar-brandishing oafs in the past could never dream. Rihanna is the Landlady of The Always On, she's called time on the campaign kids.
Rihanna is releasing ANOTHER album in November. However hard you work just remember Rihanna works harder
— example (@example) September 12, 2012
Lady Gaga delivered her last record, Born This Way, as part of a campaign. Like the last Britney campaign. And the Madonna one. All of them were disappointments. The campaign style normally involves an intense explosion of noise. Everywhere you look it's Gaga. Lady Gaga lunchboxes, Lady Gaga dolls, Lady Gaga nail extensions. The contrasting approach of Rihanna is perfectly evoked by her gigs at the O2 last year. She turns up. Late. On the tube. Downs a tequila onstage. Then bangs out two hours of amazing hits. It's about a non-stop flow of hits.
She's Always On. When she's not releasing something herself, she's got someone kipping down in the spare room recording a collaboration. In the last two years aside from Coldplay she has released singles with David Guetta, Drake, Kanye, Jay-Z and Chris Brown (boo, hiss).
I went to see Gaga last month. The stage production of her Monster's Ball was beyond extraordinary. A vast theme park Haunted House hinged open on the Twickenham stage to reveal a show which went a galaxy beyond what any music artist has ever constructed before. Scooby Doo would have bricked himself. There can never have been an artist who strives as hard to create and innovate like Gaga. But watching her she felt utterly irrelevant. Like someone who was already on the downward swing of her career. How come? Her album Born This Way only came out 15 months ago.
This is more than just about the quality of the work. While Rihanna has given us some anthems that would have your granddad with his top off on the kitchen table, a lot of her songs have been merely ok (what was she thinking with that Coldplay song?). This is more than just the hits. This is about a fundamental change in the way that our attention spans are changing. It's about how we see things as being relevant. Rihanna's relevance is defined by the volume of her output and her ubiquity.
For marketers since the arrival of search advertising 14 years ago there has been a slowly evolving school of thought that ads shouldn't be in bursts. They should be like Rihanna - Always On. Like point of sale presence in stores, unless brands' marketing is permanently around then it loses its relevance. If you're in any doubt look at the pop charts. Rihanna's Always On approach recently passed 20m UK records sold. At 24 years of age, she is the 10th highest selling singles artist in UK chart history. She's sold more than Kylie, The Rolling Stones, Take That, Spice Girls, Eminem. How did she do it? She did it by delivering a massive volume of output. Not for RiRi the disappearing act of going away and coming back in a new glove puppet costume.
This is about our attention spans. Out of sight in 2012 is truly to be out of mind. Some marketing bods are still not getting this. There remains a massive divide. Getting messages to people used to involve campaigns being planned ahead for a big reveal. Now success is about getting a campaign live and adapting it in real time.
If you're a company thinking of your next campaign have a serious rethink. When it comes to backing a winner, my money is those aspiring to be Rihanna and Calvin every time.