To announce their latest record, the Toronto indie-rock trio reached out to their biggest fans through the original social media—handwritten letters.
In this day and age, the go-to marketing strategy for many small businesses is to target the influencers and pray for an Instagram signal boost. It’s a tactic that Toronto indie-rock trio Born Ruffians wholeheartedly embraced when announcing their sixth album (and the first for their newly launched Wavy Haze imprint), Juice. Except in their case, the influencers weren’t adolescents with selfie sticks, but those select, extra-dedicated fans who’ve been turning up to their gigs around the world for the past 14 years. And to engage them, the band resorted to the original, analog form of social media: letters. That’s right—actual handwritten, personalized letters stuffed into lick-sealed envelopes that are affixed with stamps.
For bassist Mitch DeRosier—who spearheaded the plan—the letter-writing campaign was not just a cute gimmick to promote a new record; it was a way to more deeply solidify the fan connections that effectively keep the Ruffians’ mom-and-pop operation afloat. Here, he explains why all the hand cramps and dry tongue were worth it.
Spotify for Artists: When you release a record, how much brainstorming do you do in terms of promotional strategy?
Mitch DeRosier: For any release we're putting out, we try to come up with something a little more interesting than just, "Well, we're putting out a song!’' Because nowadays in the music industry, you need something extra to get attention. We've been doing this since the mid-2000s, when you could just kind of put a record out. It's a little more difficult now than it used to be. So we're always trying to think of something new, something different, something that we can get behind and have fun with. Like, for our second record, Say It, we set up this confessional website where people could post something anonymously to share, and it would go up and we would respond. It was essentially like a message board—like, wow, a really revolutionary idea! But it seemed to work alright—it felt like an interesting way for fans to get to know each other.
So tell us about how you went about announcing your latest album, Juice.
We've been a band for 18 years and touring for like 14 of them, and we've played so many places and met so many fans that have been with us for a good chunk of it. I liken it to how we have so much family across Canada and the US that we only see when we go on tour—like cousin Chris is coming to our show in Vancouver, and that’ll be the one time we see him that year. And then the next day you see Eric from Seattle who's been coming to see us for 10 years—he's not family, but you catch up with him like family in a way. So instead of just announcing our new record with a press release, I thought it would be cool if these fans were the ones doing it. I wrote letters to around 30 fans I knew from touring and sent them the info about when the record's coming out, and a link to listen to a song. So they got everything first. I didn't know how it was going to go, because it was kind of weird to reach out on social media and be like, "Can I have your mailing address?" But everybody was cool with it. It was a fun pen-pal project.
So these were actual personalized, handwritten letters—not some form letter that you printed out and signed?
Yeah, each one was personalized for each fan, because we know these people. Another thing they got was a drawing. [Singer/guitarist] Luke [Lalonde] does these blind drawings where he'll just look at your face and do a line drawing and then show it to you—and it's usually awful because it doesn't look anything like you! So he did that for each fan, too—he pulled up a social-media picture and did a blind drawing of them. That was a real fan favorite—they got this cool drawing that made them look hideous.
What sort of response did you receive to the letter-writing campaign?
The plan was to write the letter and ask the fans to post about it on the day we officially announced the new record, and then I would share what they said. I wasn’t expecting this overwhelming reaction in terms of like, making the news; I just thought it would be a cool way to show our fans what we're willing to do with them. We actually had a lot of fans that were a little bit upset they weren't included—this I did not expect! But overall, it went really well. I just assumed the fans would post on Instagram or just Tweet about it. But so many fans wanted to make something—they were all really creative with it. A few made full-on announcement videos and sketches—it kind of blew my mind.
Do you see yourself doing more of these promotional projects?
Yeah, I think it's a unique and fun thing to do. Social media has been around for so long, and it's kind of a nasty hellscape now. But the good part of it, for bands specifically, is you have a direct line to your fans and them to you. And I just think it's silly not to take advantage of it. So I'd love to still figure out ways to include the fans as much as possible. Because now that we have our own label, we are very much running our own show and it's great to include them in that. We'll definitely think of other ways to nurture that connection with our fans, because they're the reason we're here.