A short analysis of the Bonnaroo Lineup Announcement Megathon (B.L.A.M.)
I’m not sure if you felt it, but you might have detected a shockwave in the air as heads exploded at the thought of a reverse-procedure, modern-day telethon, held on the internet, using actual phones, conveying sensitive information the opposite direction while, of all people, Weird Al Yankovic pulled a list of musician’s names out of the butt of a paper mâché donkey. Okay, maybe that was all a lot to take in at once. But trust me, there was some method, some madness and actually some brilliance in the breaking down of true public relations and actual social media at work within an incredibly traditionally structured live event. But let me explain…
Bonnaroo Lineup Announcement Megathon (B.L.A.M.)
For a few weeks prior Bonnaroo had teased that they would announce this year’s lineup to their 12th annual four-day music and arts festival (held in June on farmland in central Tennessee, we’re fans) and telegraphed that comedian and song parody king Weird Al Yankovic would be a part of the big reveal. Bonnaroo was no stranger to unusual or gimmicky lineup announcements. In 2010 Bonnaroo unraveled the lineup slowly throughout a whole day via a cartoonish clock hosted on MySpace (of all places). But this year’s plan began to coalesce with the announcement of an hour-long internet TV-special on YouTube called B.L.A.M., hosted by Yankovic.
Nevermind whatever you think of Weird Al, who, with the help of other comedians like Chris Gethard and a vaudevillian lineup of stunts, live music (Portugal The Man), jokes, tubs of meat and more managed to at least captivate if not actually entertain during the special event. Some found Weird Al’s humor painfully annoying while others were at least charmed in the same way they were when Al used to do a takeover of MTV for a Saturday (or indeed his whole movie on a TV takeover, the classic UHF).
No, the real magic was in the clever and casual use of social and traditional – and not in the same staid “one promotes the other” cheap imitation of integration. In fact some of the ideas were so forehead-slappingly easy to pull off the real feat was that it all didn’t fall apart under the weight of what is a big news day for one of the bigger U.S. festivals.
After a montage of videos depicting what bands some people were hoping Bonnaroo to announce (which confused a few online who joined late into thinking these were the actual updates), B.L.A.M. hosted a mother-son duo who were chatted up and then given, presumably in the chat window below their private VOIP call, the names of the bands they could be the first to announce. This happened a few times during the event, putting a human face on the fans and allowing real surprise to show on the faces of fans also communicating a lineup to viewers.
But by far the most unique, and frankly brilliant in my opinion, move by Bonnaroo was this unusual reverse-telethon they hosted. After a number had flashed on the screen several times early on, viewers were encouraged to call in and talk (presumably) to one of eight phone operators, which included comedians such as Eugene Mirman). When calls did manage to get through the caller was given a name of a Bonnaroo artist in the lineup that had yet to be announced. That’s it. And yet, it’s brilliant. No embargo, no requirements to share. You could do whatever you wanted with that information – you could just be privately excited. You could just tell your friends by phone, email, Facebook, whatever. Or you could be the first person to tell the whole world an unrevealed nugget of news. If you wanted to reach the most people you’d use the #BLAM hashtag on Twitter – where you would no doubt be met with gaggles of new followers, hundreds of ReTweets. It was up to the caller. The truth would be revealed eventually whether you told anyone or not and so the onus was truly on the caller to make the most of the information. And the gem of news you were given was yours to do with as you please. It was a fantastic blend of the private hand-to-hand gossip world of social media and the opposite public desire to be a source to be recognized.
Love (and Information) Will Find a Way
Sure the whole, “let our audience announce it” bit has been done before, from white board photoshopped photos to even video clips – but Bonnaroo’s B.L.A.M. took it one crucial step further: they not only gave bits of info to fans directly but they gave them the freedom to use it too.
Timing was also on their side, theirs to mangle and play with like play-doh for the hour. No matter what happened, the Bonnaroo lineup would be revealed by 2pm. Countless media were no doubt ready to publish the list or at the very least would be sent it instantly. For an entire hour Bonnaroo (and Weird Al) could just screw with us. From a PR perspective the greatest weight was lifted with the concept that at 1:01pm EST if the whole thing unraveled it just didn’t matter. It didn’t matter if Paul McCartney was unveiled first in some ways (he wasn’t). It was a communications stress that lifted the moment the show started. It was play, it was fun, it was freeing. Yes, they wanted B.L.A.M. to be a success and be an entertaining hour but if the whole thing felt like a giant experimental theatre project that was perfectly okay. They had let the lunatics run the asylum and handle all the good china. In fact it was the best china Bonnaroo had: their precious and manically protected lineup before tickets would go on sale.
(At one point they had the internet live-vote through hashtag use to determine which envelope hidden in a poster would be open for the next reveal – one was Mumford and Sons, the other that Weird Al himself would be at Bonnaroo.)
The lineup content, or basic information in this case, was incredibly easy to separate and compartmentalize. Certainly some announcements were bigger than others, but not knowing how big a name was about to be revealed was part of the excitement (especially since, by many standards, Bonnaroo had managed to compile a relatively top-heavy lineup comprised of many other summer festival’s headliners and several unique ones all their own). There was more to B.L.A.M. than just reverse-telethons and you can watch the whole thing for yourself below.
Perhaps most refreshingly the B.L.A.M. stunt broke down the silos of not just “traditional” versus “new media” – but also the silos between channels. They had official channels that were all humming, but they didn’t try and make anyone use any channel they didn’t want to. With the exception of the live stream hosting exclusively on YouTube, fans of Bonnaroo could find out about the lineup a myriad of ways. The almost lackadaisical variety was nice to see – they weren’t getting worked up over how you revealed what whenever you wanted to. All control would still be theirs by the end. (Meanwhile I’m sure the entire endeavor would make many classically trained public relations professionals clutch their pearls.)
In the end, the important thing to take away from this isn’t how they utilized both channels and behavior to their advantage. No, it’s how they didn’t let a need for control get in the way of a number of smart ideas. Did everyone love every part? No. But as a series of tricks they managed to do more interesting things in 45 minutes than I’ve seen some brands do with an “integrated” strategy in an entire year.