Marketers, take note: Lessons from the launch of Cowboy Carter

Marketers, take note: Lessons from the launch of Cowboy Carter

Read Latest

“Cowboy Carter, time to strike a match and light up this juke joint.”

Product Marketing

‍Written by Carolyn Rogers, Head of Marketing

It was probably 2008 when I considered myself a “Beyhive” member. I watched “Single Ladies” on repeat and practiced the iconic hand-flipping choreo with my friends in a tiny college dorm room. Since then, I’ve eagerly awaited and devoured every album, from 2013’s surprise drop of the self-titled Beyoncé that famously broke the internet to 2016’s stunning visual and musical masterpiece Lemonade, to 2022’s much-needed dance music album Renaissance, the first act of a three-part opus. On March 29, 2024, Beyoncé graced us with “act ii,” her eighth studio album, Cowboy Carter. And though I’m still not physically capable of listening to any other music at the moment, the marketer in me has had enough time to recover and reflect on what an expertly crafted marketing launch this was. Here are a few of my biggest takeaways. 

Hook a captive audience

The marketing push around Cowboy Carter started on February 11th during Super Bowl LVIII, during which over 120 million viewers were tuned in. Beyoncé has a history of connections with the Super Bowl, including her high-powered halftime performance in 2013 at the Superdome, so it was delightful but not too surprising to see her in a major Verizon ad during this year’s game. Referencing her many internet-imploding moments over the years, the ad's premise was “Beyoncé can break the internet, but can she break Verizon?” The ad playfully goes through scenario after scenario of what should be “internet-breaking” moments (such as Beyoncé introducing a robot Beyonc-AI version of herself or running for “Beyoncé of the United States”). After the Verizon network apparently goes through all this, she finally orders, “Drop the new music.” This was the moment when two new singles from her album were actually dropped, TEXAS HOLD’EM and 16 CARRIAGES, and the internet indeed went wild.

Let your audience build your hype

TEXAS HOLD’EM and 16 CARRIAGES are absolutely incredible tracks in their own right. But they are also perfect pre-launch products for letting your audience take the baton and run. TEXAS HOLD’EM is a radio-perfect, irresistible country pop track that makes it virtually impossible to sit still. As soon as it was released, TikTok and Instagram Reels were absolutely full of people donning cowboy hats and improvising line dances. 16 CARRIAGES, by contrast, is an intense and emotional ballad that many consider one of her most personal tracks, chronicling the struggles and tradeoffs of a career that has spanned decades. Where TEXAS HOLD’EM sparked a dance frenzy, 16 CARRIAGES sparked dissection, discourse, and emotional connection with the artist – a perfect combination to keep the Beyhive hyped in the coming weeks. 

Build a powerful visual language

Beyoncé is one of the best in creating stunning visual language. From the unforgettable black-and-white visuals of “Single Ladies” to her 2017 Grammys performance when, pregnant with twins, she showed up looking like an actual sun goddess. With Cowboy Carter, she has created an unmistakable visual language that centers around the device of a cowboy hat, present on both the covers of the pre-launch singles TEXAS HOLD’EM and 16 CARRIAGES and in numerous Instagram posts leading up to the album launch. On March 19th, marking the 10-day countdown to the album’s release, she posted the Cowboy Carter album cover on Instagram, featuring Beyoncé on a galloping white horse, wearing a white cowboy hat and long white hair sweeping behind her, holding aloft an American flag and looking straight into the camera with a level gaze. The horse connects this album to the luminous chrome horse featured in act i, Renaissance. At the same time, the other visuals send a clear message: This album will claim its rightful place in the history of American music.   

Set product expectations and ethos

In her “10-day countdown” Instagram post, Beyoncé not only unveiled the album cover art but also included a lengthy introduction of the motivations and background around the making of Cowboy Carter. The post makes no mistake that this album was “born out of an experience that I had years ago where I did not feel welcomed,” widely understood to be referring to her 2016 Country Music Award performance of her song “Daddy Lessons,” which she performed alongside the Dixie Chicks. The performance was met with such racially charged vitriol that it prompted the CMAs to take down videos of the performance. The March 19th Instagram post explains that this experience caused her to do a “deeper dive into the history of Country music” while also challenging herself to “bend and blend genres.” She ends the post with, “This ain’t a Country album. This is a ‘Beyonće’ album,” words which the next day were projected on the side of NYC’s Guggenheim Museum. The Guggenheim later clarified that it did not authorize this projection on the building’s facade, further establishing the ethos of Cowboy Carter: With this album, Beyoncé would not be asking permission to take up space in the Country music genre. She would be making it her own. 

Create your own ideal marketing conditions

This story doesn’t only begin and end with Cowboy Carter. On February 7th, just days before the Super Bowl, Beyoncé also announced her new haircare line, Cécred, with the tagline, “Hair is sacred.” The brand officially launched on February 20th, tracing its origin story to Beyoncé’s experiences in her mother’s hair salon and the needs of textured hair. The timing of this launch was clearly designed to capitalize on the attention and discourse around “Cowboy Carter,” creating ideal conditions with an energized and captive audience. There is no shortage of videos such as this one, in which a hair-focused content creator says, “In honor of Cowboy Carter coming out, I tried two Cecred products and was so pleased!” 

As a music lover, Cowboy Carter will be hard to top as one of my favorite albums of all time, and in the last couple of weeks, it has also solidified its place as a landmark musical achievement. But it has also been incredible to watch the launch play out from a marketing perspective, with its expert precision and inspiring boldness. It exemplifies why Beyoncé is simply the best in the business and continues to get even better decades into her career.

Let's start somethingLet's start somethingLet's start somethingLet's start something