Behind #BieberIsland: How one of the biggest marketing events of 2015 came together

Justin Bieber’s concert on Cockatoo Island brought together media companies and brands for one of the largest marketing exercises of the year. Nic Christensen looks at how the whole collaboration was activated in three weeks. 

There’s nothing that can adequately summarise the piercing sounds the “Beliebers” – in this case a group of 1,000 teenage girls – make when they scream in unison.
#BIEBERISLAND - iHeartRadio LIVE - Justin Bieber reaches out to fans while performingNeedless to say Bieber fans are exceptionally loud, but on the plus side there’s no public rioting – this time.

The public safety concern is clearly something that the companies behind this carefully stage managed event – Universal Music, iHeartRadio, Optus, Sunrise, the Kiis radio network – have all thought about (particularly after a 2010 incident saw fans cause chaos in the streets of Sydney after a Bieber concert at Circular Quay got cancelled.)

This time around nothing is left to chance. The concert is carefully stage managed, with access restricted to just 1,200 ticket holders plus sponsors, guests and, of course, key media partnerships that brings the event to millions of Australians.

#BIEBERISLAND - full stage“Safety was a huge concern,” explains Darren Aboud managing director of Universal Music Group, “taking over the island was about making it easier for us to control the situation and prevent things from going wrong.

“But there is also a certain romance about ‘Bieber Island’ and for the last three weeks – especially in Sydney – you couldn’t escape the term,” he explains, with no small hint of satisfaction.

“I mean, I have friends in all different demographics who were asking me about it and that’s when I really knew we were starting to do our job.”

Welcome to Bieber Island 

According to media monitoring service iSentia, there have been 1,034 media mentions of the phrase “Bieber Island” in the last four weeks.

Yesterday alone the term generated 365 mentions.Bieber Island sponsors

On one level Bieber Island is a traditional public relations stunt aimed at promoting Justin Bieber’s new single and upcoming album, his first since 2012.

“Over the course of the last 18 months we knew Justin was coming back with some new music,” says music boss Aboud.

“And when he launched his single What Do You Mean – which immediately became a worldwide smash – it made perfect sense to get him here as quick as possible.

“To get an artist as hot as he is, around the world, within three weeks was a pretty incredible feat.”

Bieber is clearly marketing gold by connecting brands associated with him with those hard to reach millenials, but the scale of the event means it must have been in the planning process for some time.

Indeed the Australian Radio Network’s iHeartRadio, which organised the event, concedes it was the culmination of six months of planning, with sponsors and location broadly finalised early on.

The final piece of the puzzle was waiting for the right music talent.

Once Universal knew Bieber was coming to Australia the various partners then had three weeks to mobilise and execute.

The media event 

Bieber fansThe numbers associated with the event stagger even head of iHeart Radio Geraint Davies.

“We had 1.7m phone calls which is phenomenal,” says Davis. “This is what people want – to get closer to their favourite artists.”

It also saw tens of thousands online entries and a huge social media response after a competition to win tickets to Bieber Island launched on September 7.

The venue and nature of the event meant tickets were strictly limited to 1,200, split across the four event partners ARN, Universal Music, Optus and Channel Seven’s Sunrise.

The breakfast show’s executive producer Michael Pell notes the scale of this concert was almost unprecedented.

“This is probably the biggest we have done and because we were working together it brings costs down when you are sharing,” explains Pell.

Screen Shot 2015-10-01 at 9.19.15 amSunrise has had a long association with Justin Bieber.

There was the controversial 2010 appearance which garnered global publicity for both Sunrise and Bieber and then another appearance at the Overseas Passenger terminal in 2012.

“For us we wanted to come back with a big show, big production etc,” says Pell.

“The Sunrise audience isn’t just an audience that likes specific artists. I think it is an audience that likes event television and I think with something like this it goes beyond the specific artist and actually becomes more about watching the event play out on live television.

“These types of shows can be unpredictable and that can be really compelling television.”

Sunrise host Sam Armytage drew headlines for her grilling of the global popstar, after he acknowledged mistakes in his past but then noted: “I would not take anything back.”

Bieber Island program

Bieber Island program

“It all worked really well,” says Pell. “The reason I think it worked is that the timings were so precise and we all kept to our times,” he says noting how Bieber would move between Sunrise and ARN’s Kyle and Jackie O Show on Kiis.

“Even though it looked like it was free flowing it was all very scheduled even down to the second.

“We had worked out how we were going to introduce songs, they worked out how they were going to introduce songs and then we work out how they would sync up so that both could take the same product live on-air or on television.”

For ARN content boss Duncan Campbell there is also a huge benefit for his traditional radio business.

“I think from a radio perspective it really enhances the Kiis brand,” says Campbell, who is ‎ARN’s national content director. #BIEBERISLAND - iHeartRadio LIVE - KIIS Broadcast studio - Kyle & Jackie O with Justin Bieber

“Part of the radio experience today is more than just playing music and more than just the personalities on the air. It is the holistic approach that we take and creating money can’t buy experiences for listeners is part of what we do. And today is a big part of that.”

The commercial model 

Campbell deflects a question about whether the event itself is profitable or whether it is about the publicity it generates. “Profit is not the first priority,” says Campbell. “The priority is to create the experience for the listener and to amplify that out through all the channels we have got – iHeart plays a big role in that.”

Screen Shot 2015-10-01 at 8.34.37 am iHeartRadio branding is everywhere on Bieber Island as is the presence of sponsor Optus.

That commercial partnership is one created by content marketing business Emotive, a sister company to ARN under the APN News & Media stable, and one that has already already been making headlines for Optus this year with its highly successful campaign for Optus featuring Ricky Gervais.

“iHeartRadio is a client of Emotive and our role is to ultimately grow the business, commercialise it, position it,” says Simon Joyce, CEO of Emotive Content. “The key differentiator for iHeart is that it is very much is as an experience platform.”

Asked about Optus’ involvement Joyce is reluctant to comment but notes: “For Optus they are literally injected into the entertainment and clearly they are using entertainment as a differentiator for them as a business.”

Joyce notes that in the wake of the Bieber event there will be a rollout of online iHeartRadio video content from the aimed at Bieber’s young audience.

“From here the performance content will be cut into five individual pieces, there will be behind the scenes pieces, sizzle pieces etc. that will be played out through iHeartRadio and through Optus’s social – Facebook, Instagram etc.

“You start to have this conversation where Optus is enabling entertainment in this particular demographic that love this content.”

Optus declined to comment on their sponsorship of the event but industry experts suggest their involvement would have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Joyce won’t be drawn on this but notes: “Optus is a partner here but there are many metrics here in terms of what it does for our brand, our brand partners, how it grows the iHeart platform overall, what it does for the broader ARN business, for Kiis etc.

“There are many, many measures.”

Music streaming and radio app iHeartRadio is clear this is the first of many events it will be rolling out.

#BIEBERISLAND - iHeartRadio LIVE - Justin Bieber performs - fans with phones

“We can use iHeart radio to extend beyond the Kiis listener and we can use the Kiis listener to get them into iHeartRadio,” says Davis. “It is the beautiful match of a very very strong brand and an emerging brand.

“iHeart is not a music streaming service. Rather we are trying to take the app to the stage where it is more about the experiential engagement.

“We will do 14 of these a year,” he adds, before noting “obviously not all as big as this one.”

Joyce agrees noting: “You will see a lot of this sort of stuff where bespoke content will be created and using it to create great radio for the digital world which is a key part of our unique selling proposition.

“It hasn’t been done too many times before where they were live on Seven, live on Kiis and live on iHeart for VOD and you have multiple media partners coming together at one to really blow this thing out to the entire nation.

“It definitely captured the public’s imagination.”

  • Nic Christensen is the deputy editor of Mumbrella and was a guest of ARN on Bieber Island

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