Viral Campaign Looks Like Another Radiohead Hit

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Capitol Records Inc.'s viral marketing approach seems to have paid dividends again for alternative rock group Radiohead.


The band released its new album, "Amnesiac," on June 4. Though sales figures were not available, the band's single "I Might Be Wrong" had climbed into Billboard's Modern Rock Top 30.


Last fall, Capitol used e-mail and other interactive features to push Radiohead's album "Kid A" to the top of U.S. sales charts. The e-mail campaign tested the idea of offering the entire album online for free -- a method repeated with the new record.


Most of the 200,000 people who received the e-mail promoting "Amnesiac" received it prior to June 4, offering a sneak preview of the songs as well as upcoming MTV.com video content.


The sales impact Capitol saw with "Kid A" made duplicating the free offer a no-brainer, said Robin Bechtel, head of new media at the record label.


"You have to understand that the packaging that comes with the CD -- like the inserts -- are extremely important to Radiohead fans," she said. "So they are going to buy the CD anyway just to get their hands on those things. Plus, the sound quality of CDs is a lot better than what you get from your computer."


The "Amnesiac" e-mails were sent to Radiohead.com members and modern rock enthusiasts registered at Capitol's www.hollywoodandvine.com. Bechtel said 250,000 people have viewed content located either in the e-mail, at Radiohead.com or at Hollywoodandvine.com, primarily because of the campaign.


Within the subject line and body text, the e-mails encouraged people to forward the messages to friends.


The e-mails featured an interactive image of GooglyMinotaur, which is a darkly drawn character in the album's artwork. The character is part of the "Buddy" instant messaging program, which Capitol launched with the technology of ActiveBuddy Inc., Sunnyvale, CA.


The program lets participants send band-related questions via text chat. GooglyMinotaur is programmed to answer queries about tour dates, song lists, artist bios, purchasing information and album credits.


Yahoo Inc., American Online and Microsoft also are using the technology at their sites. The Radiohead effort marks Capitol's first test with the program.


GooglyMinotaur, which gets its name from its bouncy eyes, is available in four different versions.


Capitol, Los Angeles, also is using technologies called iBlip 2.0 and Desktop Proctor for "Amnesiac."


Desktop Proctor, which was made by Tech 21, Salinas, CA, can be used as a hard-drive file for Radiohead music and videos. Users will see the GooglyMinotaur character along with a drawing of a man -- more album artwork -- on their desktops.


Both characters can be programmed to show a variety of movements. For instance, the man can be automated so he sometimes nearly loses his hairpiece in a gust of wind.


By clicking on either of the two images, the user will see a drop-down menu for various options, including updated band news and a link to Capitol's site.


On the other hand, iBlip lets Web sites clip and paste a line of code to make an ad button for Radiohead.com appear at their destinations. Bechtel said 1,200 music retail, radio, lifestyle and fan Web sites have signed up to use the service.


Bechtel said GooglyMinotaur, Desktop Proctor and iBlip were designed for word-of-mouth marketing. She added that Capitol handled creative for the ad content with the help of selected Radiohead fans.


"One of our biggest priorities is to utilize fans like partners who distribute the [online] album," Bechtel said.


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