Universal Music Group

Alessia Cara: Talent, not show

Quick Summary: Alessia Cara, a 19-year old Canadian singer has hit the North American market with a flurry, but her story has humble beginnings. Between 2011 and 2013, she recorded covers and simple songs and uploaded them to YouTube where, in part through the magic of the internet, her work took off. In 2014, she was signed by Def Jam, where she earned the opportunity to keep growing and a shot to make it big. Def Jam is one of many labels managed by Universal Music Group and its internal production department, UMG Advanced Media – more on them later. Now on the cusp of mainstream stardom, Cara’s choices over the next few years will be extremely important to the trajectory of her career.



The Challenge: 

  • To design a long term campaign model to effectively establish a new act appealing to a youthful market segment without the appearance of over-commercialization
  • To put a new method to the breaking of an artist, through an innovative and integrated approach
  • To establish trust and integrity for Advanced Media’s role within UMG and other labels

The Music Industry’s Formula and the New Wave:

  • An old, imperialist model

  • The new, dynamic model

Alessia’s Target Audience: Gen Z

14-19 year olds, living in urban/suburban areas, mostly in high school or freshmen/sophomores in college. Gen Z’s are independent, curious and driven, and tend to possess a realistic mindset about the world. They want to take an active role in their communities and future, with a responsibility to change the status quo. 

Our survey:

We surveyed about 300 people between the ages of 18 and 24 to gauge their habits on music consumption and attitudes about musicians.

An enormous majority of respondents (69%) stated talent alone is the most important factor in learning about a new artist, compared to other qualities like authenticity, popularity, and endorsements of other artists. This signified to us that fans are less reliant on exterior factors of popularity or endorsement, instead making their own determinations on subjective categories based on personal taste.

There were other helpful revelations from our survey. Our audience didn’t care for live streaming, or for paying outrageous ticket prices to attend concerts. They also spent a majority of leisure time on social media, choosing to consume online videos on YouTube over other platforms like Facebook and Vimeo.

How it helped us

The data from our survey, as well as other research, led our group to  several decisions about where to take our campaign.

  • Teenagers want real connections through genuine engagement (NYTimes).
  • YouTube Stars are more popular than mainstream celebs among U.S. teens (Variety).
  • PewDiePie has the world’s most subscribed channel on YouTube.
  • 73% of commercially successful songs from 1960-2009 had the same 7 themes (Warc, 2014).
  • Music is becoming increasingly formulaic, with low variety and musicians with less skill (Percino, Klimek, Thurner, 2014).
  • Generation Z embraces authenticity, not fabricated perfection (Mintel).

The music industry is a “star factory,” manufacturing the standard we’re forced to consume – a big turn off to many Gen-Zers. Hype gets in the way of honest, intimate engagement, and Alessia challenges this by confronting the very foundation of “star-culture” through open connection with her audience.

The Media decisions

Our key insight led us to utilize two main forms of media: out of home stunt executions with digital support.

Metrics for Success

The biggest goal was achieving resonance not only with our target audience of Gen Z’ers but also the larger music community. Our first metric will be through YouTube views, subscriptions, shares, and overall impressions among the target demographic throughout all three campaigns as content is shared and the storyline builds. Snapchat impressions will also be key to our metrics, as we will measure the live reaction to the Busk Tour and Cara-Oke. Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook activity around the Busk Tour and Popstar Products will also comprise a majority of the key performance indicators at this stage.

Overall, we anticipated roughly 83% of our budget going to digital media, with the remaining 17% spent on ancillary out of home and executional support.

Key Takeaways

I don’t listen to a whole lot of new music, in fact, most of my iTunes library is made up of stuff from the 1970s and 1980s – I’m very much an old soul when it comes to music. But this was a fascinating exercise for me to be a part of as I was able to be fully invested in the research that helped our group build a case for a successful campaign. Through our quantitative, qualitative, and secondary research I really felt like we were able to pinpoint the music industry’s problem: a culture of overly manufactured, inauthentic “artists” churning out shiny turds that last, at most, a few months before being forgotten for something else glimmering and new. Having the opportunity to discover an artist like Alessia Cara whose core values shun the Hollywood stereotypes while delivering good music was incredibly rewarding.