Rage Against The (X Factor) Machine

As you’ll have seen if you’ve been near a TV, radio, Twitter or Facebook, sweary activist rock group Rage Against The Machine have pipped the X Factor’s Joe McElderry to this year’s Christmas number one.

Like many people, I’m pretty pleased about this. And I’m also a bit suprised, because had you asked me a week ago, I’d have said the Facebook campaign to get the song to the top of the charts had about as much chance of success as the Monster Raving Loonies have of winning the next general election.

Why the scepticism? Well, joining a group on Facebook only takes a couple of seconds but it’s getting people to do more that has always seemed like the tricky bit. There are thousands of well-meaning Facebook groups and online petitions that have plenty of supporters but achieved nothing else of note.

So why did this campaign succeed – and make such a big impact – where others have failed?

  • It tapped into something people feel strongly about: frustration at the X Factor’s dominance of the Christmas number one slot.
  • It went huge on Facebook and Twitter. The sheer amount of support indicated that maybe it could actually happen.
  • Mainstream media picked it up in a big way. That lent credibility to the grass roots campaign and fostered a real belief it could work.
  • It wasn’t asking for a huge commitment. Sure, downloading the track cost a few pence, but it was easy and cheap to make a difference.

I think a lot of it came down to credibility. It wasn’t until Thursday, when Rage performed live on 5 Live’s breakfast show (swear words and all), that I seriously thought there was a possibility we’d see them at number one. And it was only at that point that I was willing to purchase the single myself.

Call it jumping on the bandwagon or wanting to back a winner. Whatever, I bet lots of other people were in the same situation – they’d heard of the campaign much earlier, but were only convinced to support it once coverage reached a certainly level. It was getting to that tipping point that ensured the success.

Like it or not, there are parallels between promoting a cause you believe in and marketing a product. So if you’re trying to do either one of those things, here’s what you can learn from the success of RATM:

  • Pick your proposition carefully. Maybe it was more luck than judgement, but the “I won’t do what you tell me” philosophy of RATM’s music made them the ideal band to pitch against the sanitised gloss of the X Factor winner. Even if both are on the same record label.
  • Choose a simple call to action. The RATM campaign would have had zero chance of success if people hadn’t been able to buy online, and the track wasn’t so cheap. So make sure it’s easy for people to do the thing you’re asking them to do.
  • Don’t neglect traditional media. Yes, this campaign started on Facebook and lots of people (like me) first heard about it through Twitter. But getting on the radio, on telly and in the papers gives you a credibility that Facebook can’t match. Not yet, anyway.
  • Be honest. Misleading methods aren’t going to cut it online, where there are thousands of people just waiting to check up on you. If you don’t really believe in the cause you’re promoting (or the product you’re selling), don’t expect anyone else to either.

Oh – and congratulations to Rage Against The Machine. Let’s hope they make good on their promise of a free celebratory gig. Merry Christmas!

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