Weeks ago, we were pitched an interview with Tannis Wright, a social media and marketing strategist employed by something called the Everything Now Corporation. Wright, according to his publicist John Miller, was a rising star in the marketing world, having recently landed a job working on the new album by the Grammy-winning Canadian band Arcade Fire. At first it seemed like a great story: Wright had built the band a much bigger Twitter following in just a few weeks, gotten them placed in the types of publications that had ignored them in the past, and even taken the unusual step of finding them sponsorship opportunities. It was an amazing amount of work, made even more amazing by the fact that Wright was just an intern.
But often what seems to good to be true is exactly that. The Twitter followers were largely bots, paid for by Wright (or his employer). The media placements frequently turned out to be simply made up. And the partnerships with big companies were easily debunked: A simple phone call to Ben & Jerry’s was able to disprove the existence of the band’s own ice cream flavor, My Body Is A Cone. No beverage distributor we contacted had heard of the band’s Chemistry energy drink. There were no lawsuits we could find against other bands for stealing Arcade Fire’s so-called “Millennial Whoop”. Other claims were more difficult to disprove, but it’s safe to assume that pretty much everything associated with Mr. Wright will turn out to be false. For their part, the band has remained curiously silent throughout this campaign. They declined to be interviewed for this story, but promised a public statement “when the time is right.”
So here is our interview with Tannis Wright, edited only lightly for clarity. We did warn Mr. Wright that we would have some tough questions, but he assured us he was ready to talk.
The Shareables: Let’s start with a background question or two. How did you come to work for Everything Now, and then Arcade Fire?
Mr. Wright: Sure, thanks for interviewing me, first of all, and for this honor. I’ve been a marketing intern for Everything Now for about 18 months. When they acquired an interest in Arcade Fire, they asked me to lead their social media efforts. I wasn’t really familiar with the band, or music marketing in general, but it sounded cooler than what I was doing, which was a lot of pharma and durable goods. At first they just wanted me to do Twitter, really basic stuff like tour dates and the occasional contest, but I think I proved myself more valuable than that pretty quickly.
The Shareables: How so?
Mr. Wright: I took the initiative in a bunch of areas. I thought their press folks weren’t doing a great job, so I did some work there. I interacted with the fans a lot, which boosted the social following immediately. It had a meteoric, record-breaking effect, as a matter of fact. I reached out to a lot of companies who had never sponsored a band before, and got some great reactions. I commissioned a ton of remixes with really big names and guests, everybody from Lil Uzi Vert to The Chainsmokers to Calvin Harris. Midas Mufflers came onboard to sponsor that last one.
The Shareables: I haven’t been able to find any of those remixes, just your mentions on Twitter.
Mr. Wright: Are you one of the top 25 DJs in the world who received the only copies? You don’t look like one—no offense. Those things get played in the coolest clubs in the world, the kind of places neither you or I would ever get into. But those influencers hear the remix, and they ‘Gram about it, and that moves some Arcade Fire records, gets the right people talking about Everything Now, which is the whole goal. It’s better to have 25 A-level guys spreading word of mouth than a thousand regular Joes who are just going to spin the thing once on Spotify. But those remixes are amazing; they’ll come out eventually for regular people to hear.
The Shareables: What about this Ben And Jerry’s flavor?
Mr. Wright: Yes! I’m very proud of how that turned out.
The Shareables: But it’s not real.
Mr. Wright: What do you mean by that? You saw the design, you saw the Twitter fan poll that helped choose the name. I taste-tested it, it’s amazing.
The Shareables: I spoke to a rep at Ben And Jerry’s, and they say that they’ve heard of the band, but they’ve never discussed anything about an Arcade Fire flavor.
Mr. Wright: Huh, well, I had some great conversations over there, and obviously the response to the poll was huge, and consumers are very, very excited about My Body Is A Cone. It’s going to happen.
The Shareables: But in point of fact, there is no deal on the table with Ben And Jerry’s or with Target, correct? I’m not trying to call you out, but…
Mr. Wright: Like I said, it’s going to happen. [Inaudible]… aspirational marketing. Let’s leave it at that. What’s next?
The Shareables: Somebody from inside the organization told us that you wrote your own Pitchfork review and published it briefly before the band forced you to take it down.
Mr. Wright: Who told you that? When I took this job, I read a ton of theory about show business: P.T. Barnum, Richard Branson, a lot of other great guys. There’s an artifice to the whole thing, right? And keep in mind that it wasn’t Pitchfork.com, it was Pitch4k.com. I wasn’t trying to fool anybody.
The Shareables: So you weren’t trying to fool people into thinking Pitchfork gave the record a glowing review? The screen shot I saw looks just like Pitchfork, and the rating was a 17.0.
Mr. Wright: Not at all. If anything, they should be thanking me for bringing attention to their site. It’s free pageviews!
The Shareables: But on a fake site, not theirs.
Mr. Wright: You’re kind of splitting hairs again. A rising tide lifts all boats. I didn’t do anything illegal, I’ll just leave it at that.
The Shareables: One confusing aspect of this campaign involved fidget spinners, particularly a version of the album that came on a combination USB drive/fidget spinner. Does that even exist?
Mr. Wright: Look… [Pauses.] That was a particularly frustrating thing for me, because when I first came up with the idea, it seemed like everybody was on board. They laughed, they loved it. Their fans loved it, too, when we started putting the word out. I spent money advertising them on Pitchfork. We spent money having a prototype made. Then they just turned against the idea when they found out how much we’d have to sell them for.
The Shareables: How much?
Mr. Wright: $109, plus shipping. But you’re not just getting the music, you’re getting a snapshot of pop culture in 2017. And I was trying to convince them to add bonus tracks to make it a better value proposition… That thing would have taken us into a whole new market, and it’s a market that’s not mature yet, so it would have paid dividends down the line. I’m still upset about that
The Shareables: And these articles about Win Butler’s muscles, the band’s luxurious lifestyles, etc.—those websites don’t even exist.
Mr. Wright: I think we have different definitions of the word “exist.” You clearly saw and read them on the internet. You didn’t imagine them.
The Shareables: So do any of these products cited in various articles even exist? The energy drink, the wine, the condoms...
Mr. Wright: Again, define “exist.” I brought you a cereal box. You’ve seen the band themselves holding Chemistry, the energy drink. If you mean, “Can I buy a case of Arcade Fire wine in Wal-Mart tomorrow?” The answer is no, not yet. I’m starting to feel like this is becoming an attack on me, when all I’ve tried to do here is help what people seem to think is a good band take things to the next level. The idea of those products came from the band, I just tried—and will continue to try—to make them a reality. Again, aspirational marketing. Look it up.
The Shareables: Were you aware of the confusion you were causing? A lot of people were totally mystified by what you did.
Mr. Wright: Well, I will say that I was very pleased with the massive response. Intellectually, I’d known that social media was powerful—but I hadn’t really believed it would be possible to change the conversation so much with just a handful of articles and a few weeks of tweeting! Honestly, it was kind of intoxicating to tap into the emotions of millions of people. And, of course, it was all for a good cause: the goal was to start a conversation about the band’s new album.
The Shareables: The concern is more about the methods, I think, than the goal
Mr. Wright: Look, I’ve been reading a lot of rock and roll biographies since taking over this account, and a recent one about Van Halen featured a story about how they fake-parachuted into a huge gig. Like, they hired real parachute guys to jump, and then switched places with them when they hit the ground, and a hundred thousand people thought it was Van Halen jumping out of that airplane.
The Shareables: I’m not sure what that has to do with our conversation, I’m sorry.
Mr. Wright: I’m sorry you don’t get it. It’s show business.
The Shareables: But there’s a difference between a harmless publicity stunt that the band is in on and someone in your position sort of “going rogue.”
Mr. Wright: I don’t agree with you. Did they jump or were they pushed? It doesn’t matter in the end, what matters is gravity, right?
The Shareables: Again, I don’t really follow.
Mr. Wright: Okay. I think I’m done discussing this. I’ll let the work speak for itself. Now where do I pick up my plaque or whatever it is? And is the photo session right after this?
The Shareables: I’m not sure what you mean.
Mr. Wright: I’m one of the “30 Under 30” marketing pros, right?
The Shareables: If someone told you that, they were mistaken.
Mr. Wright: Great.
Arcade Fire’s Everything Now is available now.