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MARKETING

The Marketing Genius of Led Zeppelin IV

Why Led Zeppelin's untitled, unbranded fourth album is a marketing masterstroke worth studying 40 years later.

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The most remarkable thing about Led Zeppelin's fourth studio album is not its 32 million copies sold worldwide, its 15-plus months parked at the top of the charts, or even its lineup of incomprehensibly epic rock standards ("Stairway to Heaven," "Black Dog," and "Going to California," just to name a few).

No, the album's most noteworthy trait is its name: It doesn't have one. Nor does the most legendary work of Jimmy Page and Robert Plant mention the band's name or record label. In fact, it's almost totally devoid of text, and certainly has no Twitter handle or URL.

"Imagine if Apple unveiled the latest iPhone without a logo or if Lady Gaga had released Born This Way without her name, face, or album title on the cover," writes David Deal on his SuperHype blog. "That's what Led Zeppelin did 40 years ago... and, in doing so, it committed a masterstroke of marketing brilliance that still resonates today."

You have doubts. We did, too. But Deal, vice president of marketing at iCrossing, lays out a solid argument for why the album unofficially known as Led Zeppelin IV offers lessons for today's marketers.

1. Substance over style.

Atlantic Records protested mightily, but the band insisted its goal was not commercial suicide but rather a total emphasis on the music--not the blokes who created it.

"Essentially, Jimmy Page was saying that Led Zeppelin had created music so special that conventional labels were inadequate," writes Deal.

2. Passionate dialog.

Inside the album, fans found four symbols--each one representing a band member--totally devoid of explanation or context. This 'totum' instantly sparked conversation and conjecture among fans who still debate its meaning today.

"Led Zeppelin IV is a lesson in creating brand mystique by not over-explaining and instead revealing a few well-chosen clues that provoke discussion," writes Deal. "The act of essentially offering up the symbols for discussion created a viral sensation that continues today."

3. No unbundling.

"Stairway to Heaven" caught fire upon impact, but the band refused to release it as a single. If you wanted to hear it, you had to buy the entire album.

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IMAGE: Photograph by Neal Preston/Corbis
Last updated: Jun 20, 2013

THE BUILD NETWORK STAFF curates provocative, actionable leadership advice for executive teams running sustained-growth companies.
@TheBuildNetwork




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