Forget Gamification. Consider the Gaga-fication of the Entertainment Industry


Proving her hand at comedy in the “Liquorville” sketch and other funny bits this past weekend on Saturday Night Live with Justin Timberlake and Lady Gaga was just one of the highlights of the season finale of the venerable NBC comedy series – and one more jewel in the crown for the New York-born pop, whose cultural influence is matched only by her business acumen.

This week’s release of her second album, Born This Way, is certainly one for the record books, as much for a potentially record-breaking run to one million sales in its first week, as for the unprecedented, well-oiled promotional machine surrounding it.[more]

Following her success on SNL (she’s already been asked back to host next season), the singer spent part of Sunday evening, waiting for the album to go live online, answering questions from fans and commenting on the meaning of some of the new album tracks:

She tweeted a hashtag to her fans (#PawsUpBornThisWay) along with the link to some fans waiting outside Best Buy to purchase the album. And then as soon as the album went live on Amazon, she tweeted the link to her fans, along with retweeting the iTunes link to download the album:

Amazon, Best Buy and Starbucks all offered deals – and the sheer number of her fans (known as” Little Monsters”) nearly toppled the ecosystem where even Apple’s iTunes store slowed to a crawl.

Born This Way was heavily promoted at Zynga/GagaVille partner Best Buy (which bundled the album with the purchase of a phone); 99 cents for the first 24 hours at Amazon, whose servers were overwhelmed by the response; and streamed for free at, which offered a free (for keeps) download of her single, The Edge of Glory.

The build-up to the album release also helped the partner brands. For instance, to tease its offer, Starbucks offered a QR code-enabled search (related to its Frappucino push) ahead of the album release. Amazon welcomed the crush of Gaga fans with its 99 cent offer to help promote the e-commerce site’s Android-powered cloud-based service, with Apple paying the bill, in anticipation of their new music service.

That’s all besides an appearance at a Best Buy store in New York, and a day-long media blitz that stretched from a platform-soled appearance (with her mother in the audience) on ABC’s The View to a joking interview on CBS’s The Late Show with David Letterman.

The album is also being heralded by veteran media writer Johnnie L. Roberts as a model on which “The rebirth of the music industry could also rest on its success.” Roberts argues in a three-part series for that Born This Way epitomizes the current music industry 360-deal model, where record companies share in all of a star’s earnings, not just music sales.

In Gaga’s case, it’s Universal Music Group’s Interscope Records that stands to reap the benefits, along with her brand endorsement partners including Polaroid, Estee Lauder’s MAC, Virgin Mobile, fragrance giant Coty, and Zynga, which launched GagaVille within FarmVille and tied in its other social gaming sites.

Also benefiting: Google, which released a commercial for its Chrome browser during the Saturday Night Live season finale, is also (Roberts says) in talks to use Gaga as the face of its upcoming Google Chrome laptop, a deal for which she could net $10 million.

Gaga has generated nearly $200 million for Interscope so far, and only 50% of that from music sales according to Roberts in his extensive article. 

Gaga’s 2008 debut album, The Fame, has sold 12 million copies plus worldwide; at 5.8 million copies, her second major release,  The Fame Monster, in 2009 sold 5.8 million copies; her Monster Ball Tour had earned $227.4 million to date, reaching an audience of 2.5 million. Gaga herself has taken home $92 million since May 1, 2010.

“We have it all with Lady Gaga,” Jimmy Iovine, chairman of Universal Music Group’s Interscope-Geffen-A&M label, said after signing her in 2007, when “360 deals” were on trend to replace lost revenue from digital piracy and soft CD sales.

Gaga told Harper’s Bazaar in the May cover story issue, “What means something to me is my music. I don’t want to make money; I want to make a difference.”

Perhaps even outstripping her idol (Madonna), this album launch demonstrates why Gaga’s mix of self-promotion, marketing moxie, social savvy and zeitgeist zingers led her to bump Oprah and claim top spot in Forbes‘s new ranking of the world’s most powerful celebrities.