How Pharrell Williams’ Hat Inspired This Year’s Grammy Awards Campaign

Musician Pharrell Williams and wife, Helen Lasichanh, arrive at the 56th annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles, California January 26, 2014.     REUTERS/Danny Moloshok (UNITED STATES TAGS: ENTERTAINMENT) (GRAMMYS-ARRIVALS)

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It's cultural phenomenons like this that the Recording Academy, the non-profit behind the Grammy Awards, is trying to capture in its latest marketing campaign for the awards show.


It was the hat seen around the world. When pop star Pharrell Williams appeared on the Grammy stage in 2014 wearing a Vivienne Westwood hat, the Twittersphere exploded. The hat got its own Twitter handle and comparisons were made to Smokey the Bear’s hat.

Then Arby’s got in on the action, demanding Williams return its hat. The conversation that ensued between Mr. Williams and the fast-food chain was just as popular (if not more so) than the actual awards show. Arby’s initial tweet received more than 80,000 retweets and nearly 50,000 favorites.

It didn’t end there. Arby’s paid $44,000 to own the hat, with the money going to charity, and in August, the Newseum in Washington, D.C. added it to its exhibit on pop culture history. The hat is now on its way to the Grammy Museum, where it will be on display starting Jan. 15. That date also happens to be National Hat Day.

It’s cultural phenomenons like this that the Recording Academy, the non-profit behind the Grammy Awards, is trying to capture in its latest marketing campaign for the awards show. In his more than 10 years as chief marketing officer at the Recording Academy, Evan Greene has made it his mission to expand the brand’s reach with storytelling and to connect with viewers beyond the one-night event.

“One of the things we have seen and has been reinforced year, after year, is the Grammy Awards’ effect on pop culture,” Greene said. At the most basic level, there is often a several hundred percent growth in record sales for artists that perform, present or win a Grammy Award, according to Greene.

The hat hoopla, coupled with the watercooler chatter that has become the norm on social media for live TV events, led Greene to pursue a new marketing approach. “This year when we were putting the campaign together we decided to focus on the experience of the fan; we wanted to take a bulls-eye look at the show itself and what it inspires,” Greene said.

The latest spot in the “Grammy Effect” campaign from TBWAChiat/Day, which will debut this weekend, touches on the impact Williams’ hat has had on pop culture. In the commercial, a woman is at a nearly empty movie theater, excited to not have to crane her neck to see the screen, when a man saunters in to Williams’ “Happy” wearing the infamous hat. Of course, he sits right in front of the woman, blocking her view.
The campaign also includes spots that feature Taylor Swift’s head-banging moment from last year (see above) and Lorde’s performance of “Royals.”

Brand in decline

The Grammy Awards has seen a resurgence in popularity in recent years. Before 2010, the Grammy brand had been in decline. “Our relevance was questioned,” Greene said, noting the group thought of itself as a not-for-profit trade organization that happened to produce a TV show once a year.

That’s when the Academy started to look at itself more as a brand and developed a 365-day strategy that extended beyond the award show. The Academy ramped up its presence at concerts and other events involving music through the year, and built a two-way dialog with music lovers on social media. Mr. Greene said that’s boosted the show’s appeal with millennials, in particular.

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