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Published February 29th 2024

The Swift Effect: What Brands Can Learn from Taylor Swift

Brands can learn a thing or two from Taylor Swift.

Taylor Swift is probably the biggest celebrity on the planet right now. Her impressive reputation is growing rapidly thanks to her new music releases, dating life, and ongoing tour. 

She’s causing shockwaves (literally – she started an actual earthquake thanks to fans dancing at her shows). Taylor’s fans are eagle-eyed and enchanted by her every move, and the Taylor Swift effect means that anything she touches goes viral.

There’s a lot that brands can learn from Taylor. From how she releases new albums to her methods to engage with her fans, she can teach us how to generate hype in unprecedented ways.

Let’s take a look at what’s causing Taylor’s latest popularity surge and discover how brands are catching ripples from the Taylor Swift effect.

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What’s causing Taylor’s popularity surge?

Over the last month, mentions of Taylor Swift on social media have skyrocketed to new heights.

Let’s get to it.

We used Brandwatch Consumer Research to track these mentions, and as you can see, sparks are flying. February was Taylor’s biggest month yet, counting over 7 million online mentions of her name.

Initially, you might think that this increase in mentions might simply be the same fans posting about Taylor more frequently. But when we dive deeper into this data, we can see that the number of unique authors getting involved has also seen an impressive peak this year.

She’s not only creating hype with her existing fans, but her fanbase – or at least the number of people talking about her – is growing.

So, what prompted such a boost in Taylor’s mention numbers? The combination of award season, her dating life, and her current Eras Tour all seem to contribute to her rising reputation.

There were over 1.15 million mentions of Taylor on February 4, 2024 – the day of the Grammy Awards. And while it’s typical for award winners to experience a peak in online mentions, Taylor’s mentions were on another level. And we’ll talk about why a little later in this bulletin.

Just a week later, Taylor’s name had over 900,000 online mentions during the Super Bowl. While she didn’t have much to do with the event, her presence alone conjured up an impressive amount of hype. Forbes explains the phenomenon as “Taylor Swift’s unbelievable ability to boost sales and engagement… just by showing up.”

So, how has Taylor fostered such a dedicated fan base? Let’s take a closer look at how she utilized the Grammys to create such a massive boost in online mentions.

How to launch a product, the Taylor way

Taylor has a reputation for being cunning. She loves leaving hidden messages and subtle Easter eggs for her fans to find, which is certainly a cause for her rising stardom. And the Grammys were her latest Easter egg hunt.

If you haven’t heard, Taylor Swift announced a new album at the Grammy Awards this year. After winning Best Pop Vocal Album for her album Midnights, Taylor took to the stage to tell fans about the new release due in April.

Before the announcement, Swifties knew all too well that something was coming. Taylor had changed her profile picture to black-and-white prior to the event, and fans had speculated that she was set to release Reputation (Taylor's Version), a forthcoming re-recording of her sixth studio album.

It may seem like a small thing, but fans noticed. For example, this post about the change garnered over 9 million views. 

The profile picture change wasn’t the only Easter egg. Before the Grammys, Swift's website also seemed faulty, reporting an unusual non-standard HTTP status code and error code "hneriergrd." Fans deciphered the error code to be an anagram for the term "red herring." Plus, the website’s source code seemed to contain cryptic messages. And this was all related to the album announcement.

After the Grammys, she shared the album artwork on her social media accounts, along with a photograph of a handwritten note, which incorporated some of the words from the source code of her website.

Her mastermind of a marketing team knew that something as subtle as changing her profile picture would get the conversation started, preparing the Swifties for the announcement. 

But how much hype does planting these hidden messages create for Taylor? Is it really worth it?

Undoubtedly, it is. In the first hour of the album’s announcement, there were over 250,000 online mentions of the album title, The Tortured Poets Department. Her Instagram announcement reached over 2 million likes in less than 5 minutes. And Taylor released a preorder of a collector's edition deluxe CD for the album, which sold out on her website in under two hours.

So, it’s safe to say Taylor’s methods work. But why?

Taylor’s hidden Easter eggs strategically leverage FOMO (the fear of missing out) among fans – no one wants to be left behind. Swifties love knowing what’s going on. They follow her movements closely, pay extra attention to the small details, and try to solve Easter eggs as a team. The subtle messages lean into this, cultivating an eager, receptive fanbase.

There’s something to be said about developing a sense of community among fans. And this is something brands can benefit from, too. Just like Taylor plants Easter eggs to spark conversations among her fans, companies that foster a community among customers benefit from greater brand awareness and improved customer loyalty.

Generating excitement before a positive announcement is usually a good idea, so why not take a leaf from Taylor’s book next time you have a product release?

Now, let’s look at some brands benefiting from the Taylor effect.

The perks of reactive marketing

The Taylor effect gives us some amazing examples of how brands can benefit from reactive marketing. Here are some cool ways companies are getting involved. 

Heinz’s “seemingly ranch” release

Back in September, a Swiftie went viral after sharing this post commenting on Taylor’s latest meal. The account posted a picture of Taylor with a fan, with the caption: “Taylor Swift was eating a piece of chicken with ketchup and seemingly ranch!” 

The post received millions of views, with many finding the phrase “seemingly ranch” funny. The phrase quickly picked up steam and was posted a subsequent 40,000 times in the days following the post.

Heinz was quick to jump on this trend, creating a limited edition sauce called “Ketchup and Seemingly Ranch.” To boost engagement, the brand gave fans a chance to win a bottle on their Instagram.

Heinz’s swift marketing earned them plenty of engagement on Instagram, and the ploy even gathered news coverage across channels like CNN, Fox Business, and CBS.

American Airlines shakes it up

More recently, American Airlines landed plenty of news coverage around Taylor and American football player Travis Kelce, who are currently dating. Travis’ football team was playing at the Super Bowl, and in the lead-up to the event, American Airlines wanted in on the action. 

The brand changed a flight scheduled from Kansas (Travis plays for Kansas City) to Las Vegas (where the Super Bowl was held) to “1989,” which is the name of one of Taylor’s albums. They also changed the return flight to number 87 – Travis Kelce’s jersey number.

This post about the flight number change received over 1.5 million views, proving that small, easy wins can have huge ripple effects for brands.

Cetaphil’s tear-jerking Super Bowl commercial

This year, skincare brand Cetaphil crafted a Taylor-inspired commercial for the Super Bowl. The ad features a football-loving father and Swiftie daughter bonding over the event, with the tagline, “This season, dads and daughters found a new way to connect.”

Knowing Travis’s team was playing at the Super Bowl, Cetaphil leaned into Taylor and Travis’ dating life. The brand knew Swifies would be paying attention, and wanted to showcase how the two of them bring families together.

Aussie Tattoo artists get involved

A couple of tattoo parlors in Melbourne knew that Taylor would be touring locally and, in response, offered Swift-inspired tattoos for a discounted price. Swifties jumped at the chance to fill in blank spaces on their skin with Taylor-inspired tattoo designs.

VC Ink translated some of this hype into Instagram engagement, running a competition for two free tattoos. The tactic was a hit, with some fearless fans patiently waiting in line to get theirs.

Other examples of Taylor-related reactive marketing include everything from Chipotle changing its branding to highlight one of Travis Kelce’s old tweets to convenience store QuikTrip releasing billboards leaning into Taylor’s Eras Tour

There are plenty of brands benefiting from reactive marketing. And fans are loving it.

Why should we care?

While you might be indifferent to Taylor’s music, there’s no denying that paying attention to her is vital if you’re trying to appeal to her demographic. And watching how brands interact with her fans proves the importance of reactive marketing in a receptive social landscape.

Taylor’s Easter egg tactics demonstrate that leveraging FOMO among an audience can boost engagement. She continues to develop a strong bond with her fanbase, too – and has even been known to send personalized, hand-picked gifts to fans. Being recognized for their loyalty urges fans to be even more engaged in the Swift universe.

Brands that lean into Taylor’s latest antics and incorporate her community-driven tactics in their own marketing strategy stand to benefit from a responsive, committed customer base.

The internet is in its Taylor era. Are you?

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