What Miley Cyrus can teach us about marketing.

In case you’ve been living under a rock, that’s under a rock, that’s under a mountain of rocks, you have probably heard that Miley Cyrus turned some heads on Sunday night with a bizarro, sexually-charged-and-teddy-bear-infused performance at MTV’s Video Music Awards.

It’s been the talk of just about every town since then.  Was it appropriate?  Was it inappropriate?

And was it any good?

Me?  Well, I just thought it was weird and awkward.  I didn’t think she sounded good.  I didn’t think she twerked good (that was grammatically incorrect on purpose, by the way – saying “I didn’t think she twerked well” just sounds ridiculous).

And as a straight (and recently engaged (!)) dude, I didn’t even find it all that sexy.

It was just . . . twerkin’ weird.

But that doesn’t seem to matter in the slightest to Miley’s career.

She did what so many others have done, and on the same television program, no less.  She hijacked the conversation.  The talk of the entertainment town world isn’t about the VMAs, it’s about Miley, and her debutante ball as an adult woman performer, albeit a weird one.

If her performance on the awards show was a commercial (and, by the way, it was one – in the same way that a Broadway show’s performance on the Tony Awards is a commercial), it would be a perfect example of “interruption marketing.”  It immediately slapped you in the face, woke you up from the drone-like slumber you were in from everything else you were looking at and . . . like a 5th grade joke . . . “made you look!”

I call this type of marketing “Detour Marketing” myself.   Imagine consumers traveling down their same ol’ roads, day in and day out . . . and then up comes a bright orange sign (or a half naked twenty year old and a giant effin’ Teddy Bear) . . . and you’re off in an entirely other direction.

And if that detour is a good one . . . you’ll think and talk about nothing else for awhile.

And was Miley’s detour a good one?  Well, it generated 300k tweets per minute.  To put that in contrast, last year’s Super Bowl blackout only brought in 230k.

Perhaps your show could benefit from a little detour?  Cuz, all press is good press, I guess, right?

No, not exactly.  I wouldn’t take Anthony Weiner’s press.  And I wouldn’t like to be the Syrian Government right about now either.

But controlled and smart detour marketing . . . in an environment that is known for those kind of detours (like the VMAs) . . . might be exactly what makes Miley a star long into her adult years.

Although I predict a Britney/Lindsay/Amanda type burnout along the way.

Which will get her even more press.  Right before her comeback.

(Did you miss the performance?  See it here.  And then tell me what you thought of it.)


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  • Adam says:

    I don’t consider this constructive marketing. At all. True, people were talking about the performance. True, Miley generated 300K tweets per minute. But take a closer look at those tweets. A lot of them were negative. A lot of the other online discussions weren’t focusing on positive things either.

    Admittedly, this type of marketing seems to work for Miley. She certainly didn’t lose any fans after her performance. Her personal brand of “IDGAF” connects with the newer MTV audience, and the VMA show was an ideal marketing vehicle to get new fans. I’d be more interested in how this kind of marketing is sustainable. It seems that this type of shock or detour marketing only works to a certain point.

  • Emily Maixner says:

    I think Anne Helen Peterson’s analysis of someone like Miley Cyrus’s immunity to bad press covers the story pretty well! (http://www.annehelenpetersen.com/?p=3311) I’m not sure this was a well-advised detour for her, but it’s in the past now – and I too doubt we’ve seen the last of her.

  • David Merrick Jr says:


    She obviously took a page from the Madonna playbook. After all, people are still talking about when she planted one on Brittney.

  • Congrats on the engagement!

    I agree, interruption or detour marketing indeed. She got my attention. I wonder what Paula Patton’s face looked like during the performance…

  • Miley Cyrus is a barely talented brat who is looking to extend her “fifteen minutes” to sixteen. We need not indulge her.

  • janis says:

    I have nothing that I want to sell that bad. I pray I never need either fame or money that bad.

  • Marc Zegans says:

    Fine piece Ken. Detour marketing is much easier to pull off if you’re a known quantity with a high Q value and a clear context. It’s the contrast by a well known with the expected that makes it work so easily for someone like Cyrus. Doable, but much more difficult if you’re trying to capture the conversation when you or your work are yet to be established.

  • Kenneth Talberth says:

    The argument really isn’t that Miley Cyrus’ antics where marketing brilliance (they were) or that they were provocative (ditto) or inappropriate or contrary to her previous incarnation as a Disney star (who cares), it is that her performance on the VMA’s was untalented, undisciplined and uncreative. Cyrus is a talented woman and she was more than capable of creating something the pushed the envelope and got us all talking without taking a very low, unskilled and common road.

    I have never written to you before, Mr. Davenport, though I thoroughly enjoy your blog, your love and passion for the theatre and the first-rate shows that you have nurtured and presented for us over the course of your career. Your argument for what you call “Detour Marketing”, in general, is sound and I agree should be explored by the theatre community and included in an expanded arsenal of marketing techniques to promote a show (or even the entire theatrical community) and get those butts in the seats.

    However, holding Miley Cyrus’ performance up as an example of what theatre marketing should be considering is contrary to everything that the theatre, Broadway in particular, has always stood for. Emulating the quality of her performance and that of Robin Thicke (let’s not forget him) cuts to the very heart of what, in my opinion, threatens the Broadway theatre today. The theatre has always (and must continue to) rewarded and encouraged talent, creativity, intelligence and discipline and should fight to its last breath against the encroachment of the banal, the common, the easy and the unskilled. Not everyone can do it. Not everyone should.

    That doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for all kinds of material, all kinds of performers on the Broadway stage. The theatre is an ever evolving mosaic, after all. What it does mean, though, is that by encouraging the quality of stunt that Cyrus & Thicke performed on the VMA’s, we will all be one step closer to a Broadway as a mega-tourist attraction only, where skill and talent are devalued and edgy for edgy sake, easily provocative, amateurish, prosaic and pedestrian entertainments (and I use the term loosely) will be embraced and encouraged.

  • Congratulations on your engagement! I wish you and your bride to be many blessings with health, wealth, happiness and when the time is right, some little ones to help expand the family!

    As for Miley, loved it. Mirror to the ridiculousness of where Hip Hop culture has taken their performances. Why get mad now?

  • Michele Taylor says:

    What’s that saying about gaining the world, but losing your soul? And what is it going to be like when she’s sixty years old and still wants a singing career? Young performers obviously don’t think of their careers in the long term.I’m sure Miley wants a long successful career. But look at Elvis and Michael Jackson!
    Both gone way before their time!

  • A Woman says:

    I thought that was sad.

  • Zanne Hall says:

    A sensation? But how long? Another “pet rock” flash in the pan.

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