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The genius marketing behind Olivia Rodrigo’s Sour success

Updated: Feb 23, 2022

High School Musical: The Musical: The Series star turned Billboard chart topper

At only 18 years old, Olivia Rodrigo has shattered records and defied expectations in the music industry with her debut album, Sour. Her first single, “drivers license”, topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart in only a week, breaking Spotify’s record for most streams of a non-holiday song in a single day with over 30 million streams in the week of its debut. How did she do it? Nontraditional marketing campaigns with a keen attention to detail.

Her success only started there, as Rodrigo continued to make history as the first ever new artist to have her first three singles debut in the top 10 back to back on the Billboard charts. Her debut album, Sour, opened at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart with 8 of the top 10 songs on the Streaming Songs chart, breaking a record held by Taylor Swift since August of 2020.

From the get-go, Rodrigo has had a strong brand with meticulous details, such as the Spotify background for drivers license, including references to the lyrics in the address and the date of the release as the expiration date. Rodrigo was involved from the beginning of the creative process, taking inspiration from Harry Potter. This clever play on words is similar to Summer Belt’s Gemini release and the use of mirrors in the marketing materials, hinting at the two-faced nature of Geminis, as well as the prominence of the color red in the graphics and music video for Summer’s Red Wine and Cyanide.

The opening lyrics of her second single, deja vu, inspired an ice cream theme from the mention of “strawberry ice cream, one spoon for two” for both the single and the album itself. An ice cream truck concept was created, hinting at the name of what would become Rodrigo’s third single with “deja vu ice cream is good 4 u” written along the side of the truck featured in the background of one of Olivia’s Instagram posts.

In another Instagram post, Olivia poses in a cheer uniform in front of locker number 514. One fan’s theory that Rodrigo was hinting at track six from the album dropping on May 14th went viral on TikTok.

Fans and the media were quick to point out several pop culture references carefully weaved into the good 4 u music video. The cheer costume worn by Rodrigo is almost an exact match for the uniform worn by the mean girls in “The Princess Diaries”, and several cinematic choices such as Rodrigo swimming across a lake and her eyes turning red are rumored to be nods to the iconic shots in “Jennifer’s Body”. The song itself has been compared to “Misery Business” by Paramore, adding to the nostalgic feeling of the music video.

Rodrigo has taken several nontraditional approaches to marketing her debut album, Sour, the first being a vintage TV commercial featuring the Sour Heartbreak Hotline. The video is consistent with the ice cream theme established with the deja vu release. When fans call the number, they are greeted by Olivia and instructed to “keep listening for their free taste of Sour the album. If that’s not enough for you, call back later for more flavors” followed by a clip of enough for you.

Olivia also collaborated with Sour Patch Kids to create her own limited edition purple candies, consistent with her branding which is known for being purple with lots of stickers. The candies were passed out by Rodrigo herself at her Sour Spotify Car Wash. Fans were invited to go through the Sour themed car wash and given the opportunity to meet Olivia.

Much of the Sour merch is modeled by Olivia herself, including deja vu candy hearts and custom drivers license shirts and hoodies featuring the customer’s face. A Sour Depop Shop featuring items worn by Olivia in her music videos was created to raise money for charity.

What is next for Olivia Rodrigo? Many fans have begun to speculate that a “Sweet” album is in the works.

Olivia is known for the love songs she would share on TikTok and Instagram Live, so many fans were disappointed that none of them were featured on Sour.

The fan theory cites Rodrigo’s idol, Taylor Swift, and her sister albums “Folklore” and “Evermore,” which were released only five months apart, as Rodrigo’s inspiration for such a quick followup to her debut album.

Olivia became an overnight sensation because she and her creative team, much like the creative minds at Brain Candy, go beyond the traditional. Brain Candy Management is committed to safeguarding creatives’ control and is fueled by innovation, and Rodrigo’s Sour success only goes to show the limitless possibilities when artists are given the freedom to think outside the box. Join the revolution of artists exploring the endless possibilities of the creative universe with Brain Candy's help here.

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