NEW YORK (Billboard) - A starlet having lunch at the Ivy is not a rare sight in Los Angeles; it’s common knowledge that the restaurant is the place to see and be seen by the paparazzi.
So when a very pregnant Ashlee Simpson waddled up to the eatery August 19, it wasn’t the fact that the singer-songwriter was headed inside for a sandwich that caused a frenzy of Internet buzz. Rather, it was a pamphlet she held, bearing the name of a group called Citizens for Our Betterment.
Some speculated she had joined a cult or been bitten by the political bug, but a quick Web search revealed the truth: The fake group was part of a viral campaign set up by Simpson’s husband, Fall Out Boy bassist Pete Wentz, to announce the impending release of a new album by the pop-punk band.
In retrospect, the stunt now looks like a carefully orchestrated and well-played move by Wentz to winkingly parlay his cover-of-People-level fame into a promotion for his band’s new album -- and, according to Wentz, his wife was more than willing to help him out. But this in-joke is only the start; from here, the band will branch out with a marketing campaign that caters to super-fans as well as new converts, thanks to a combination of selective song leaks, mobile initiatives and traditional promotional schemes.
“Fall Out Boy are the quintessential direct-to-consumer band,” Island Def Jam Music Group (IDJMG) director of marketing Gabriela Schwartz says. “They were the ones who came up with the Citizens for Our Betterment site, and it has already gotten over a million impressions.”
Even though the site looked like a rudimentary Web 1.0 version of a strange special-interest group, FOB fans are tech-savvy enough to recognize a viral marketing campaign, and many guessed that it had something to do with a new album or tour. Within a few days (and after surviving a strange mixup that involved a Florida band called Copeland creating a mirror site, posting the address on FOB fan blogs and sending users to its own site) Citizens for Our Betterment officially went out of business.
But in its place, the band offered a download of a mix tape comprising snippets of five songs from the forthcoming album, as well as tracks from bands signed to Wentz’s label, Decaydance, and shout-outs to “get familiar” with the band’s new material.
“They were the ones who had been really passionate about doing the mix tape, and they made sure they hid some secret clues in there to set up the next piece of the puzzle,” Schwartz says.
The next step? After playing at the Democratic National Convention, the band announced that its new Island album, “Folie a Deux,” would be hitting stores November 4, a date that also happens to be Election Day in the United States.
Between the viral rollout and the political tie-ins, observers might wonder: Has FOB taken the Rage Against the Machine exit off the highway of rock stardom?
“On some level, yes, this is a political record,” singer/guitarist Patrick Stump says. “But it’s a political record only insofar as anyone making music and paying attention to what’s happening will make a record tinged with politics. You can’t ignore it.”
As for his participation in the DNC, Stump says the band kept its official comments nonpartisan, only encouraging people to register and vote. But, he adds, his enthusiasm for Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama “is the most excited I’ve been about a candidate.”
FOB is teaming up with Rock the Vote for the duration of the campaign. “Rock the Vote is a huge marketing driver,” Schwartz says. “They have a young, active fan base, and it gives the band a chance to deliver a positive message. They will be featured in Rock the Vote commercials, and we are hoping to do a Rock the Vote show on election night to celebrate the release of the album, too.”
Wentz says the record contains more “outside perspectives” and “fictionalized accounts” than previous efforts, but he declined to reveal any specifics on “Folie a Deux.” “I’d rather let the listener interpret them,” he says. “Every time you think we’re talking about a girl, we’re not, and every time you think we’re not talking about a girl, we are.”
Based on tracks played for Billboard and songs on the mix tape, the album isn’t a radical departure from the band’s last one, 2007’s “Infinity on High.” First single “I Don’t Care” has the same witty lyrical wordplay but is a much more muscular rock song -- the guitars are still catchy, but they’re also a lot louder. Other cuts have the same bouncy beat and hummable hooks.
Stump says Fall Out Boy aimed to emphasize the music. “I felt frustrated with the last record because my voice was the focal point for many of the songs,” he says. “When we were writing this one, we wanted it to be about all the parts coming together to form a whole.”
Wentz and Stump agree that creativity, whether expressed through music or viral Web sites, is their highest priority.
“The campaign is like an art project for us; we only refer to it as ‘marketing’ when it shows up on Island finance statements,” Stump says.
Wentz concurs: “I wanted to stick with the concept that the campaign was just another part of the record. I think we’re so far beyond the days when a record was just a series of songs.”