Commentary

Dad Follows Gaga

Lady Gaga appears to be testing the limits of media overexposure this week. Her near-total ownership of "Saturday Night Live" last weekend was followed yesterday by a 99-cent album deal at Amazon that actually brought the top e-tailer's servers to their knees. She was media-ubiquitous in preparation for her new album release, even bantering with Letterman last night. And here I am, a fifty-something old fart who is far outside her target demo writing about her two days in a row.

My family is not amused. "You like her?" my wife asked as the star vamped Dave. "This might have been something we covered before the wedding." 

My daughter is no help. "I really don't like her music," she told me. "I give her credit for a daring wardrobe. That's about it."

Is "no-fun Dad" really hipper than his family? Or just a sucker for Gaga's pop-surrealism? Google Chrome is leveraging (effectively, I think) the "express yourself" vibe from Gaga in a new TV and online video spot. Her relationship to her fan base is pretty remarkable and dovetails well with Chrome's "the web is what you make of it" messaging.  

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The association between Gaga and the Starbucks brand seems a bit more oblique by comparison. Gaga welcomes visitors to the Starbucks Digital Network when they log on via the retailer's free WiFi. Store signage lets them QR code in to the very creative "SRCH" scavenger hunt program. Through early June and every few days Starbucks' Frappuccino.com site on mobile and the web is hosting a new clue that is designed to send the user off on a hunt for a gift card or other Starbucks prize. In the first video clue last week, Gaga quotes from one of her new songs and opens her signature monster claw (the "monsters" are her fellow expressive youth fans) to show a Shazam logo.

I am impressed by the mobile savvy this campaign leverages. I guess you needed to be a Gaga fan to get the song quote, which is supposed to be a rudimentary opening clue. But I am embarrassed to admit I didn't put the two pieces together to understand that I was supposed to tag the song she quoted ("Born This Way") with Shazam to find the next clue, which aims you to find the lyrics at @SRCH. This in turn serves a twitpic that showed the Starbucks.com home page with "Lady Gaga" in the search box. According to the blog recap (because I didn't make it to square one myself, anyway) running the query back on the site led to a blog post that showed the SRCH icon you are supposed to be hunting for, which in turn gave the first set of arrivals their gift card. Well after years of chasing down QR codes into dumbass video clips, movie trailers I had already seen 10 times and ridiculously long opt-in forms, it was nice to had a code actually initiate a genuine head-scratching scavenger hunt.  

Say what you will about the Gaga onslaught. I am just starting to take serious notice of her myself, but I gather there are a lot of detractors, from the bile in the commentary I see. At the risk of alienating my wife just a week into the marriage and just convince my daughter further that Dad is "hopelessly stange," I find her refreshing.  Although I am still not sure I get the Starbucks/Gaga brand alignment here.  

But here is a mobile QR code rabbit hole worth falling into. There is real content here, an entertainment value that is not pounding you over the head with brand messaging. Sure, the aim here is to highlight the summer Starbucks push for its icy Frappuccino. And Gaga gets her populist persona and new tracks highlighted. But both brands are sponsoring a bit of novel fun, brainteasers with a payoff. The PR hits have been notable so far, and not just because it is Starbucks and Gaga, but because there is real content here and not just another mobile campaign that "pays you off" with a branded video. I may be too much of a puzzle dullard to figure out the most basic challenge, but I like the fact that it was a trail that required a certain mobile culture awareness to pursue. Like some of the alternative reality games launched for Halo and Dark Knight, the campaign is not afraid to leave the less adventurous and dedicated users behind because it works even at the most superficial encounter of reading a clue.  

We need more mobile campaigns that start with the quality and creativity of the consumer experience and then track back to brand benefits.   

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