Daft Punk – 5 Reasons Why ‘Random Access Memories’ Was Overrated
5. It’s A Masterpiece! (Of Marketing and PR)
When the dust settles on 2013 and ‘Get Lucky’ is fondly remembered as the year’s equivalent of ‘The Macarena’ – destined to be a staple in the sets of Yates’ Wine Lodge resident DJs for years to come – what many will remember most vividly about RAM is not the souped-up, nostalgic take on disco, west-coast soft rock, smooth jazz, prog and show tunes which constitutes its music, but rather the behemoth of a marketing campaign which powered it.
From the record’s inception in 2008 through to its release five years later, Daft Punk – French duo Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Cristo – not forgetting their manager Paul Hahn, record label Columbia and the PR firm Biz 3, developed a promotional campaign owing more to the gradual rollout strategies employed by Hollywood majors in handling a summer blockbuster than a conventional album release.
Unsurprisingly, for two men who have not been publicly photographed ‘sans casques’ since the mid-90s, the project was initially shrouded in mystery, with information strategically withheld and then gradually drip-fed to the world via a plethora of sources. Strong visual branding was central to the campaign, with the duo’s iconic robot helmets appearing first on their Facebook page and website in March, before permeating the skylines of various US and western European cities in the form of enormous billboards.
Teasing video adverts were subsequently screened during the TV show ‘Saturday Night Live’ before a full trailer for the record appeared at the Coachella festival, greeted with the kind of ecstatic response normally reserved for an evangelical baptism. Next up was ‘The Collaborators’ – an eight part video series produced by the Vice/Intel initiative The Creators Project and featuring interviews with ‘RAM’ guest stars Nile Rodgers, Pharrell Williams, Giorgio Moroder and the guy who co-wrote the theme song from ‘The Love Boat’.
On April 16th the album’s name and track-list was revealed on Vine, before finally, a few days later, the world got to hear some actual music in the shape of ‘Get Lucky’. The potential of Vevo and Spotify was maximised as the album’s release date grew closer, with many fans and music journalists salivating at the prospect of a full album in the vein of the infectious robot-disco of the Rodgers/Pharrell-fronted lead single. On May 17th RAM had its exclusive, high-tech global premiere in the rural Australian town Wee Waa, prior to being unveiled to the wider world via iTunes a few hours later. (Though naturally, a clutch of privileged UK journalists and celebrities got to hear it at the top of The Shard).
Via their utilisation of drip-feed promotion techniques, multimedia platforms, ancillary markets, guest-stars and a high profile launch, Daft Punk and their collaborators ensured that RAM was not merely a collection of recorded music, but a major, not to be missed cultural event. Of course, none of the above detracts from the merits of RAM’s music. It does, however, illustrate the context into which the album was born and explain, at least in part, how the record was the focus of so much critical attention in the first place.
Accordingly, it will be interesting to see how the record is viewed when the propaganda machine finally goes into hibernation. Did RAM’s astute marketing influence its overwhelmingly positive reception? I would argue that the answer is yes, and that within a year or two, people aren’t going to be kicking back to listen to the 74 minute, 24 second vanity project which it ultimately turned out to be. Instead they’ll be scouring YouTube for footage of two French dudes in helmets cycling round Amsterdam with Ron Burgundy.