Bringing Sexy Back with Great Marketing

By Kristy Junio

I am a middle-aged woman reliving my boy band crushes from the 90s. But as pathetic as that sounds, there is a marketing lesson in all of this. Justin Timberlake just rose back on top of the music world through the work of great marketing execution in an industry that seems to have hit rock bottom (Pfanner, 2013; Pomerantz, 2013).


With his first album release since 2006, no one could avoid the hype that has hit the airwaves, television, and pop culture scene over the past couple of months as this music icon marketed his way to the top of the charts. Or, shall I say how his ‘people’ marketed his way back to the top. The birth of digital media took down the music industry profits over the past decade (Pfanner, 2013) but 2012 showed a glimmer of hope for this industry in despair from the rise of new media. Timberlake’s album The 20/20 Experience has paved the road for a new wave of marketing for the industry, culling together the use of classic marketing tactics like partnership marketing, guest appearances, and event marketing with new marketing tactics including social media, search engine marketing, and streaming media. Timberlake’s use of a multifaceted integrated marketing campaign resulted in a record-breaking first week of sales for the album, even surpassing Adele’s 21.

What’s even more impressive is that these tactics do not just apply to music albums, a lesson can be learned for other industries and products as well. Here’s a few lessons that entertainment marketers should keep in their back pocket to recreate the success seen with The 20/20 Experience:

  • Product  – The amazing thing about this coup is that the singer couldn’t just rest on his laurels and his singing talent; he had to bring on the full package. Timberlake has diversified his appeal by achieving triple threat status as a singer, dancer, and actor. Applying this to product sales, his brand recognition has skyrocketed. For a brand to be successful, it has to be a great package overall, not just a single product. Timberlake is the Apple Inc. of the music industry, the whole shebang.
  • Pricing – Free makes money. Unlike other entertainers who are afraid of free downloads on the web, The 20/20 Experience album was heavily promoted through free streaming on the internet, proving that the music industry’s fear of the internet is unsolicited. Giving away the products actually aided in additional sales for this album (Suddath, 2013).
  • Placement – iTunes, iHeartRadio, and Target Corporation have been key distribution points for the Timberlake’s album. He has canvassed a variety of distribution channels, allowing for his album to be purchased through many popular distribution points.
  • Promotions – Timberlake understands that cross-promotions is king. Timberlake has been everywhere, his media strategy included guest appearances on Jimmy Fallon, Saturday Night Live, and multiple page spreads in some of the world’s most known magazine publications. Furthermore, what’s better than one great artist on tour? Two well-known artists on tour together. Timberlake’s timely tour partnership with music mogul Jay-Z helped to clinch the top seat for record album and concert sales.


By diversifying his appeal and staying true to the classic Four Ps of Marketing, he has used product, pricing, placement and promotions to make an unparalleled comeback in the music industry.

It’s been a long time since his first appearance on Star Search with Ed McMahon but this boy band icon isn’t quite ready to say “Bye Bye Bye” to the big bucks and musical success.


Four Ps. (n.d.). In American Marketing Association dictionary online. Retrieved from

Pfanner, E. (2013, February 26).  Music Industry Sales Rise, and Digital Revenue Gets the Credit. Retrieved from

Pomerantz, D. (March 27).  Was Justin Timberlake forced into making ‘20/20’?. Forbes. Retrieved from

Suddath, C. (2013, March 29). Justin Timberlake made a fortune giving his album away. Yahoo Finance. Retrieved from

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20 Responses to Bringing Sexy Back with Great Marketing

  1. melindamenchaca says:

    This was the album that I was most excited about! I think his approach to get on the levels of his fans with the free content and the cheap price really helped him. Most of his fans grew up with Napster and rarely buy actual cds anymore. His team really understood that in order to get him attention again after all those years he was gone they would need to do something drastic. I am happy because sexy is back again. Still wishing for an NSYNC reunion though.

    • Sarah Harris says:

      Me too Melinda, me too!

    • kcn13 says:

      Oh Melinda, I almost forget about Napster! I remember those days, carrying around my 8MG Roxio MP3 player that held 6 songs!

      This approach really does tell you what great marketing can do for a “product.” I can’t really say that I think he’s an all time great singer but all the hype that has been created and my nostalgic memories made me take a second look at him.

      I will send you good joojoos for an NSYNC revival!


    • Kerry says:

      It’s funny you should mention Napster, Melinda, since playing Napster founder Sean Parker in “The Social Network” is what put JT on the map as an actor :-).


  2. Sarah Harris says:

    I’m right there in the front row screaming with you at the JT and JayZ concert Kristy!
    I completely agree that this was a huge marketing machine. First of all, who even knew he was working on an album really? I knew he got married and then suddenly out of no where, here comes a more subtle (it seemed) JT in a well-tailored tux, and boom, a song – sort of a-typical for the cherubic boy band grad – hit the airwaves!

    I agree his collaboration with Target was smart, but he did it one better! With his launch party (hosted by Target) but airing live on I Heart Radio network. They started airing the special live on the radio stations like KIIS-FM (which is HUGE in LA and benefits from the Magic of Ryan Seacrest) then I’m guessing played the rest through the I Heart Radio app.

    It is interesting that free breeds more sales, but I’ve definitely noticed other bands doing it as well including my favorite Grown Up Boy Band – Matchbox Twenty (although I still scream like a 12-year old girl at the 40+ year old men!)! I streamed their album live for weeks before the street date then ran right out and bought it!

    Fun post!

    • kcn13 says:

      I just heard an iHeartRadio promotion with JT on the radio driving home. He really did put all efforts into cross-promotions. I didn’t realize the extent of his partnership with iHeartRadio but apparently, he’s also promoting with Target as well, so its a three way partnership. Quite the sticky marketing efforts.

      So this next statement will show how eclectic my music taste is. Regarding free breeds more sales…I am also an undercover Tom Jones fan and when I watched his free television concert a few years back (the last one he did in Whales), I was dead set on going to see him live when he came into town a few months later. Watching his whole show on television for free prompted me to want to experience the live version so I can see how enticing “sampling” can be to the real product, kind of the same thing as streaming for free until you get your own personal copy of an album. Intriguing isn’t it???

      Oh and yes, Matchbox Twenty…swoon!


  3. svilladelgado says:

    Hi Kristy,
    I am right there with you! I’m over the moon that JT is back with a new album. And did you hear that he’s dropping a sequel album in November? My teeny bopper self can’t handle it! I have to agree that JT and his team were effective at marketing The 20/20 Experience. I listened to the album for free on iTunes several times over again before buying it the week it was released. I enjoyed his appearance on SNL and it’s still on my DVR for future playback. I wonder if this marketing campaign would have been as successful had it been another artist? Great post – and I’m glad I’m not the only one giddy about JT’s return to music.
    ~ Sheila

    • kcn13 says:

      Hi Sheila,

      Thanks for the comments. Great question regarding if the success of the campaign would differ with another artist. My opinion is that it would definitely would matter. So let’s say for instance we were comparing two consume products, if one has a better reputation for quality and all other factors being equal, I am sure the higher quality product would do better even if the advertising campaigns were similar. But that’s just my two cents and yes I am giddy now about his possible second album this year too!


  4. bleau says:

    Great example, Kristy. What I’ve found most interesting about JT’s successful comeback is, despite most people I’ve talked to hating “Suit and Tie,” they were still willing to give the rest of the album a chance. I think you provided some great examples of how integrated marketing and cross-promotion have helped him survive a rocky release; no doubt he’ll be fine.

    • kcn13 says:


      I was actually one of those people that listened to “Suit and Tie” and poo-pood it! I even told my husband how I was disappointed and thought that his album would tank, as much as that would dishearten me. But, after listening to it on iTunes a few times and then seeing him perform it on SNL, with his fabulous dancers, I glommed on to it. Low and behold now I am the proud owner of the full album. I will admit though I only like two songs, “Suit and Tie” and “Mirrors”. But I had to support JT, takes me back to the good ol’ years!

      Thanks for the comments. Even more impressive, you’re the only male that commented, despite my heavy emphasis on the Four Ps of marketing:) I wonder how many women purchased his album versus men. Perhaps a little research study and some 540 muscle will come help us to answer that! Blogging against March Madness this week was a tough draw.


  5. lynnhoff17 says:

    Hi Kristy:

    I read somewhere recently that other celebs are likely to try to replicate the ubiquity of Timberlake’s marketing, but that most will fail because it’s not simply a question of being everywhere but tying all those impressions together. The article I read–I wish I could remember where–said it’s clear that an extraordinary amount of detailed planning preceded the execution of every step of this campaign (with Timberlake at the helm; others will fail, the article asserted, because the artist won’t be nearly as hands on).

    Speaking of middle-aged ladies reliving their youth, did you notice that your graphic looks like the old electronic gameSimon?

    • kcn13 says:

      Ha, Simon! I loved that game. Now that you mentioned that, I can totally see the resemblance in the graphic. Too funny!

      I don’t doubt that there was a tremendous amount of planning for the campaign to launch the album. What I am surprised by is JT’s involvement. I didn’t take him for a businessman, but I have been proven wrong. If he was at the helm of this launch, all I can say he can be my CMO any day! I have to search for that article to now!

      Thanks for commenting.

  6. calandry says:

    Kristy, we have more in common than our first names. I LOVE Justin Timberlake, or JT as the cool kids call him. Even when he was with NSync, it was clear that he had that wow factor…and he’s just so darn cute!

    You’re spot on with your analysis of how his hybrid marketing scheme has worked wonders. He’s really gone out and met people where they are in terms of how music is consumed and purchased. I don’t know about you, but I love when artists stream their music online for you to hear before you purchase it. I’ve come across artists before who stream their music online and I usually end up purchasing their album. It allows the music a chance to grow on me. So, imagine that there are millions of other consumers who feel the same way. That translates into big sales.

    I’m not sure who his marketing people are, but they’re doing a good job of putting him out there. Heck, I’m already looking forward to a concert with he and Jay-Z on the bill.

    • kcn13 says:

      I totally agree with you that free streaming helps. I like to test out songs before I jump in for the full album and the streaming of the album on iTunes allowed me to do just that. It’s kind of like going to Costco on a Saturday, tasting all of the free food samples and them coming home with a truck load of food you tried! Or maybe that is just me.

      Thanks for the comments!

  7. lemlemac says:


    I have to say I like JT but I really wasn’t aware of his come back until he performed on an award show w/Jay-Z. Then all of a sudden JT was everywhere. His team did a great job of marketing his come back across medias. Great example. I think that allowing people to listen on iTunes was a great tactic.


    • kcn13 says:


      I agree he made some smart moves for marketing and promoting his album. That combined with his overall appeal and fan base really help to round out his approach. Truly integrated from my perspective.


  8. lavellelj says:


    Great blog posts highlighting the longevity of an artist reinventing him after years return to the music industry. I was fascinated when I learn that it was recorded in 25 days flat. Unheard of for a set-up or reentry into marketing place. I preordered the album and listed to t all day. FRom his guest talk show spots to sining at very strategic event. He is creating a well rounded brand.

    You are correct he use every muscle in the 4Ps to take his anticipated release to the masses. Deals with Walmart, Target, Cable late night entertainment and the coup – a Live Nation Tour with Jay Z. With regards to your questions about wether the success of the campaign would differ from another. Unequivocally yes. He has mass appeal on TV, view and music. Consumers have grown with him and he knows how to cater to the audience.
    He truly brought sexy back to music. Thanks for sharing an awesome post.

    ~LaVenia (541A)

    • kcn13 says:

      Thanks for the comments LaVenia. I like the point you make about JT growing up with his fan base and knowing how to cater to them. That is a very important product marketing approach. Great callout!


  9. Kerry says:

    Great post, Kristy! I applaud JT for his approachable attitude about sharing his music with his fans. It’s obviously paying off for him. Unlike musical acts such as…wasn’t it Kings of Leon that refused to let their music be downloaded?

    JT is about as much of a marketing master as Lady Gaga, in my opinion. It’s what gives and will continue to give him staying power for a long time to come. Kind of reminds me of how Frank Sinatra kept reinventing himself during various stages of his long and illustrious career.