Even Ziggy Stardust’s most ardent fans never saw it coming as David Bowie celebrated his 66th birthday with the release of a new single, 'Where Are We Now?' (Most men in their sixties would settle for a new set of gardening gloves or a nice Malt as a present.)
What it confirmed, though, was that in this ever changing world that we live in, public relations retains its unique ability to inspire, shock and, importantly, sell.
Make no mistake, David Bowie and his management team have played this to perfection with a PR campaign designed for maximum impact – without a single penny spent on paid for media advertising.
It’s brilliant because it couldn’t work for One Direction! Bowie has cultivated an image of playing by his own rules since the ‘70s and this stunt allows him to be on the one hand mysterious and shocking, while on the other hand precise, thrusting the song and new album at the front of mind for millions.
If you want proof of this then a quick online search shows that the editorial keeps coming a day later and Bowie's forthcoming album 'The Next Day' is already top of the iTunes album chart in 17 countries despite not being released until March.
It’s appropriate to praise Bowie for a PR campaign well played. For years now, PR has suffered from an identity crisis in some marketing circles and has seen more of ‘the big ideas’ led by paid for marketing.
Launched at 5am, the single was assured airplay on every breakfast show, historically the most listened to slot of the day. It certainly was the talk of our Manchester PR agency and will no doubt have been in every office across the UK.
This word of mouth adds to the excitement and debate created by the editorial coverage across print, broadcast and online and engages old Bowie fans, as well as interesting new ones too.
Is it any good? Well, comments in the office ranged from 'Emperor's new clothes, it's rubbish' to 'I saw him in the 70s in Stretford, you know' to 'Never heard of him!'
Whatever one's point of view, here’s a big round of applause to Mr Bowie for reminding us all that PR retains its place at the top of the marketing table. Just don’t ask him for a comment, even an off the record one...
Jonathan Welsh is associate director at Havas PR UK