#5: How social media made Driver's License a #1 hit

TikTok + Taylor Swift + (love) triangle = social media success

Before we get into this week’s case study, I wanted to say thank you!! to everyone who reached out after last week’s issue about LinkedIn. A few of you mentioned you’ve already published your own LinkedIn posts using the tips, which made my day! In case you missed the email, you can read the issue here.

If you've been on the internet the past three weeks, chances are you've either heard about the song "Driver's License" by Olivia Rodrigo OR listened to it 23,849,523 times. There's really no in-between.

To me, it felt like "Driver's License" came out of nowhere and suddenly took over the internet - from Twitter trends to TikTok videos to being mentioned in celebrities' Instagram Stories to Spotify playlists. And on Friday, Billboard revealed that Rodrigo's song debuted at #1 on its weekly chart (after it already topped streaming charts on Apple Music, iTunes, Spotify, and Amazon Music).

So, where did all the hype come from?? My unpopular opinion: I don't think the song stands out more than any other generic top 40 single, therefore the catchiness alone can't explain its success. So, in an effort to validate my opinion (and settle an argument with my boyfriend, who is obsessed and has been playing the song on loop), I did an analysis of how social media factored into the song's success, and what lessons marketers can take away from it.

Factor 1: TikTok

To no one's surprise, TikTok played a massive role in the success of "Driver's License".

Honestly, I would've been more surprised if TikTok hadn't been involved. It feels like TikTok has been behind every viral hit over the past year (Old Town Road, Blinding Lights, Dance Monkey...). Moreover, Rodrigo is a 17-year-old actress known for her Disney Channel roles in Bizaardvark and High School Musical: The Musical: The Series (HSMTMTS… what an abbreviation), so she's likely to be familiar to TikTok's Gen Z audience.

How TikTok fueled the song's popularity:

  • Rodrigo already had a strong following on TikTok - last year she wrote "All I Want" for HSMTMTS and it became a popular TikTok song thanks to its emotion and songwriting, so fans were primed for more music from her

  • Along with debuting it on the usual streaming platforms, Rodrigo also released "Driver's License" on TikTok which allowed other users to immediately use it in their own videos

  • Popular TikTokers used it in their videos: @charlidamelio (107M followers) & @spencewuah (8M followers), which helped it become a trending sound

  • Amongst all TikTok users, the song has been used in 1.1M videos to date - in videos that are talking about the lyrics, memes related to the song, reactions to the song, or completely unrelated but still using the song because it's a trending sound

I do like how Rodrigo comes off as any other 17-year-old in her TikTok posts. She writes captions exactly as her audience would, rather than sounding like a celebrity, which makes her relatable (and follow-worthy).

I think some credit can also be given to Rodrigo's Instagram, where she posted a preview of the song & lyrics last summer - which segues into the second success factor.

Factor 2: Love triangles + fan sleuths

I do recognize that a lot of praise about the song is about its lyrics. They're emotional, heartfelt, and relatable, talking about normal teenaged things like getting your license and your heart broken.

Fans quickly realized that the song was likely inspired by real-life drama, which brought out the fan sleuths in full force. They dissected lyrical clues, music videos, and social media posts to figure out that the song might be alluding to a love triangle between Rodrigo, Joshua Bassett (her HSMTMTS castmate), and Sabrina Carpenter (another Disney Channel star/singer).

All of these fan theories were then posted on social media in the form of tweets and TikTok videos. People engaged with the theories because it's juicy celebrity gossip. Then, inevitably, BuzzFeed wrote an article about it - and thus the song became more and more infamous. It's the exact same phenomenon that Taylor Swift's fans have become known for, which leads us to the third success factor.

Factor 3: Taylor Swift & other celebs

Thanks to her inspired-by-real-life songwriting and vocal style, Rodrigo has drawn comparisons to Taylor Swift and Lorde. Rodrigo herself is a big fan of both singers and has publicly posted about her love for Swift.

In this case, she posted about charting on iTunes just behind Swift - and Swift commented on Rodrigo's post.

As the internet loves celebrities commenting on other celebrities' accounts, this in itself became a story. Then, Rodrigo posted her reaction to Swift’s comment as a TikTok.

Swift wasn't the only celebrity to post about "Driver's License" - Cardi B, Halsey, Niall Horan, Hailey Bieber, Lucy Hale, Maisie Peters, and two of the Jonas Brothers all shared the song on their own Instagram Stories. Beauty influencer James Charles also posted a YouTube cover. If this were an influencer marketing campaign, it would cost millions to get posts from all of those celebs!! But Rodrigo got them for free*.

*already being a recognizable celebrity

Key Takeaways

  • TikTok helped catapult "Driver's License" (and many other songs) to success by making it easy for fans to use the song to create their own content. Creators on TikTok, Twitter, and YouTube are always looking for fuel for their next post - so, as a brand, what can you give to your audience to enable them to make their own content? Some quick ideas: reaction GIFs, Giphy stickers, danceable sounds/music clips, design templates, screencaps from videos/shows/movies.

  • Fans love dissecting clues and Easter Eggs and posting about them on social media. Brands can tap into this by creating "surprise and delight" moments for users. More on this in Case Study #3.

  • Relatability can go a long way, especially for brands - which are not inherently relatable (a human trait). When you're crafting content, put yourself in your customers' shoes and tell stories in which customers can see themselves. If people can't relate to your brand, why would they care about it?

  • If it's a fit for your brand voice, try posting or engaging in the comments on well-known accounts that are also followed by your audience. Comments sections are especially popular on TikTok, given that creators can easily reply to comments with a video. If your brand comment gets upvoted, it can help your brand reach new users and attract new followers.

With that, I rest my case - regardless of which side of the fence you’re on about the song, I think we can all agree that social media played a major factor in turning it into a megahit. I’ll be keen to see if her next single does as well - maybe by then we’ll be adding Clubhouse to the list of success factors 🤪


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