Thatcher ding-dong was a victory for the Official Charts

Thursday April 18, 2013

Steve Redmond on a very British chart battle

"Well, that was a short weekend, eh #clangclangthatweekisover " tweeted the Official Charts Company's Martin Talbot on Monday morning as the dust settled on one of the most torrid chart weeks of recent years.

The controversy over the ultimately failed attempt to mark the death of Margaret Thatcher by propelling "Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead" to Number One created a major headache for the Official Charts Company, but they emerge from it with credit - and the reputation of the charts enhanced.

The fact is that a brazen attempt to hijack the charts with a political stunt failed to achieve its goal. And the whole affair reinforced once more the increasing standing of the chart as a key part of the UK's national conversation.

At least every six months or so, I get a call from a friend of a friend, perhaps representing a charity or even a brand, saying that they come up with a great marketing idea and can I help. The great marketing idea is always the same: "We've got loads of followers and, given singles sales are so low these days, I think we could get them all to buy a download and get our single to Number One."

Patiently, I have to explain to them that they are at least 10 years too late and the sheer volume of download sales - an average 3.6m per week last year compared with barely a million a week in 2002 - means it is virtually impossible to buy your way to chart success these days.

Not only are the volumes required enormous, as record labels know well, actually motivating people to go out and buy a track, even one they feel strongly about is no walk in the park. MargaretThatcher, as has been said on countless occasions this past week, generated very strong emotions, the media coverage of the whole affair was enormous, yet a maximum of 65,000 people - allowing for multiple purchases - participated in last week's "epic chart battle" accounting for barely 2% of the singles market.

Analysis of sales last week shows a fairly predictable sales pattern with the regional split of sales reflecting Margaret Thatcher's political popularity. Thus 'Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead' fared disproportionately well in the north of England and Scotland while the rival 'I'm In Love With Margaret Thatcher' by the Notsensibles did particularly well in London and the south.

The media scrutiny of the Official Charts Company in these circumstances was forensic, but it acquitted itself extremely well, and reinforced its reputation as an objective and independent measure of success.

It is that credibility which gives the Official Charts their value, both as a source of market research and as a brand.

Do not be surprised to see details of the huge media coverage generated by last week's controversy featuring heavily in the Official Charts Company's marketing materials going forward.

The silver lining of the Thatcher controversy is that it has reinforced once more the value of one of the entertainment industry's greatest assets.

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