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Reaching Up That Peak

Like the millions of Netflix subscribers, I was excited when I heard that the latest season of Stranger Things finally arrived at the end of May 2022. This penultimate season is split into two volumes – just to tease those who follow the adventures of Mike, Dustin, Will, Lucas, and Eleven. Although the episodes feel a tad drawn out and bloated, they still provide the entertainment and chills comparable to the previous seasons. Rather than battling Demogorgons or the Mind Flayer, the protagonists are dealing with a terrifying creature – Vecna – who feeds and kills those who are depressed and dealing with their personal demons.

I’m not writing a review of Season 4 of Stranger Things, though.

I thought it would be interesting to discuss through the lens of marketing science – how a 1985 song by Kate Bush suddenly exploded all over the world, courtesy of this phenomenal series. Thanks to the song taking a central stage in the fourth episode (“Dear Billy”), Running Up That Hill is now in the music charts all over the world. When it came out in 1985, it was the days of Sony Walkman, cassettes, and music stores. Those who still remember when the song originally came out, are probably the parents, aunts, or uncles to those who are playing, downloading, or streaming the single in recent days.

Let’s start with Stranger Things, Season 4 Volume 1 as the vehicle for this phenomenon.

Netflix reported that the first installment of Season 4 broke the record for the biggest-ever premiere weekend of an English-language series, which was previously held by Season 2 of Bridgerton. By May 30, 2002, it had been viewed more than 287 million hours. So it is no surprise that the song, that is central to the series, gets a worldwide exposure – and a resurrection after 37 years.

I did some digging.

Within a week, TikTok videos carrying the #runningupthehill hashtag had racked up around 200M views. I analysed tweets in the last nine days that mentioned Kate Bush or the track (either spelled in full or in a hashtag format). On both cases, there were also an impressive increase in tweets around the release of this series in Netflix.

On Google, there was a sudden jump of people searching for “Kate Bush” or “Running Up That Hill” around May 31 and June 1 – presumably around the time when viewers watched the fourth episode. It’s not just merely an increase of mental availability. The interest was also activated by viewers who then listened, streamed, downloaded, or purchased the track. In the same period, Running Up That Hill reached an impressive #4 spot on the Weekly Top Song Global chart in Spotify – and got to the #1 spot in the US. Spotify observed a 87x increase in global streams of the song – a jump that was more pronounced in the US with a 99x increase. There was also a 16x increase in global streams of Kate Bush’s entire music catalogue.

Running Up That Hill also reached the Daily Top 100 in 112 countries worldwide from May 28 through May 31. By the end of May, the track had reached the top 10 in 34 countries worldwide, including the US, Germany, Belgium, and Norway. In Apple iTunes chart, the song currently sits in the top 10 on the Top 100 USA chart.

Not bad for a song that was originally released in the ’80s!

Research at the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute shows numerous evidence of sustainable brand growth through growing penetration. Even with all the compelling proof, there are always those who adamantly believe that growth can only be obtained through targeting a narrow segment and by relying on their loyalty. If not for Stranger Things, would Kate Bush or the record company have achieved this lift in popularity? Probably not. Kate Bush has around 702K followers in Facebook, 108K followers in Twitter, and 374K followers in Youtube. Even if Kate Bush herself would push her followers to listen to her songs even more, she wouldn’t have achieved this revival globally. Not just among those who were around in the 1980s when the song was originally released, but also among the Gen-Z and the TikTok generation.

With the second installment of Season 4 due in July 1, I’m sure that this track and Kate Bush would get another boost in popularity. With a nudge in mental availability, there is also a likely effect in consumption through available channels as new and lapsed listeners would be drawn to enjoy her music.

The sudden resurrection of Running Up That Hill across the younger generations gives a wonderful example of the important role of mental availability and physical availability for brand growth. The (re-)awakened salience of this song is also translated to the increase in downloads, purchases, and streams – through whatever channels that provide the track for consumption. For brands, this is an ongoing strategy: how to continuously reach new and lapsed buyers – over the course of the year and beyond. You can’t just rely on one burst or a lift in popularity and then relax for the rest of the year. The Twitter charts above show that interests on Running Up That Hill and Kate Bush were already trending down a week afterward.

The phenomenon highlight the better path for brand growth. Investments in mental and physical availability should be aimed to reach more consumers – rather than channeling the budget only for the ‘chosen few’.

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