Colin Kelly’s Blog: Rihanna vs Adele – who wins online?

If you watched Tuesday’s BRIT Awards you’ll have noticed an interesting clash of styles near the start of the show.

Adele took to the stage, dressed in black, with the lights down low and accompanied by only a piano. She stood on the spot and sang a song she’d written herself. There were no dancers or costumes – just one woman baring her soul and displaying her incredible talent for singing.

It was one of the highlights of the night and almost moved host James Corden to tears.

“You can have all the pyrotechnics, the dancers, laser shows you want but if you sound like that, all you need is a piano” he said.

Adele’s performance was followed by Rihanna who delivered the complete opposite.

She performed a medley of songs all of which were written by a team of producers. She had a dozen dancers, a light show, a backing track to boost her vocals, a steel drum band, and she prowled and gyrated her way around the stage. There was also a bonfire in the middle of it at one point. And half way through she made a costume change.

Two very different approaches, both brilliant in their own way. But how are Adele and Rihanna’s styles represented on their official websites? It’s likely each picked up new fans on Tuesday night – so what’s in store when they get there? has a mood in keeping with her BRITS performance. It’s simple and minimal. No frills. The splash page is relevant with quick links to get hold of her new album and another if you want tickets for her live shows which have just been announced.

There is an argument in web design circles that splash pages with heavy sales messages should be avoided but this has to be balanced with the need to anticipate what visitors want from the site and make it easy for them to find what they’re looking for.

Inside the main site the plain black and white theme continues with content spread across 3 main columns.

I like blogs and it’s always a shame when they’re buried in a hard to find sub menu. Adele’s blogs are well written, funny, and interesting and it’s good to see them given a prominent place. It’s content fans can only get from her official website so they’re right to make the most of it. It builds that feeling of a relationship between fan and star.

The middle column is official news and this is where the record company makes sure fans know what’s going on with release dates, ticket sales and special performances, competitions and events.

The third column is more interactive with a box to sign up to her mailing list, links to Adele’s forum, and her Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and iTunes Ping feeds. No matter where you click on the site this third column remains in the same place and that box to sign up for the mailing list never goes away.

There’s clarity and accessibility to this site and it’s clear someone’s looked at all the content available, chosen the best and given thought as to how it should be displayed throughout the site.

Pictures are well organised and a good size. There’s original content and insight into Adele’s life. I get to see special video clips and I feel I’m rewarded for visiting the site.

One thing very few celebrities get right is providing a means for their fans to contact them. They’re never going to give out their home address and mobile number, right? Well, Katy Perry did give out a phone number on her site a couple of years ago and invited fans to call and leave her a message.

I doubt she ever sat and listened to the tens of thousands of messages that were left but it was a nice, original touch and certainly of more interest to her fans than Adele’s “Contact” page on her site which looks like this…

I think everyone with a website should think very carefully about the “Contact” option.

Getting it wrong – and it’s the only area of Adele’s site where I think she has got it wrong – and it changes the whole perception of the site. I’ve gone from thinking this is a personal, intimate, revealing site that Adele herself is involved in, to wondering if it’s actually all about the record label and the management and there’s no way to get close to Adele herself.

Even saying “Adele’s e-mail address is….xxxxx, but she receives a great many messages and can’t respond to them individually” and THEN listing PR, management, and booking contacts would demonstrate that they’d at least thought about what the fans expect from a “Contact” page. They could also explain that Adele DOES interact via Twitter and Facebook.

Here’s an example of a business getting it right. The Glasgow Rocks basketball team on their website…

Perhaps you have a view on how to handle the “contact” option – share your thoughts in “comments” at the end of this blog.

Now let’s check out

I’m expecting big things after that BRIT Awards performance. I want fireworks! And although there’s more action than on Adele’s site, it’s not what I was hoping for from Rihanna. I expected more sizzle than this…


There’s not much going on at all. In fact some of the sites made by her own fans are better than the official effort. The first thing that catches my eye is a giant sign up form for Rihanna’s newsletter. Down the left column there’s the official news feed which consists of PR type material flagging up awards she’s won, upcoming performances and sales figures.

It’s like an official news feed with a decent design budget and some extra stuff thrown in.

There is nothing on the entire site that even gives the suggestion that it’s come from Rihanna herself. There’s no blog, no diary, no message to the fans.

Even the audio player which streams her songs is so tiny I almost missed it, squeezed in as it is between the newsletter sign up form and a long list of box ads for her new album, an offer she’d doing with Kodak, her embedded Twitter feed and a link to lyrics for her songs.

The whole feel is impersonal and there’s too much of a sales message.

This mention of her fragrance is typical.

Things improve in the “Images” section with high quality well organised pictures of Rihanna on her travels round the world and a great section featuring shots of her fans.

Unfortunately the community feel doesn’t go any further because the “community” page on the site simply says “coming soon”.

This is another mistake lots of businesses make with their websites. I don’t care if something’s “coming soon”. If it’s not available now it’s no use to me. Better off not mentioning it until it’s ready and working. You get one chance to make a first impression. If you insist on mentioning something that isn’t ready yet tell me when it will be – and be specific.

In the modern digital world “coming soon” is worth nothing whether you’re an international celebrity or a business covering a small corner of Scotland. I’ve seen too many examples of things “coming soon” which never come and the phrase has no meaning for me.

Perfect example – that blog I wrote 3 weeks ago comparing football clubs’ websites – I highlighted a competition section on which was “coming soon”. Guess what… it still is!

After a spectacular performance on Tuesday night Rihanna’s website doesn’t do her justice. It’s impersonal, there’s no wow factor and it’s too commercial. Her website creators haven’t considered what people want or expect when they visit her site.

Adele and her team clearly have. The site is in keeping with her identity and something simple like prominent blog posts deepen the relationship between artist and fan and will get me visiting again to see what she’s saying again.

If you’ve got a business website ask yourself if you’re a Rihanna or an Adele. If you offer a sexy, glitzy high impact product then your website should reflect this. If you’re simple, reliable, high quality then the site should leave visitors with that feeling.

Ask yourself “Is the site doing what visitor’s expect?” and if there’s anything you should change to make it more relevant and to deepen the connection with your customers.

Now – imagine you’re a web designer (maybe you are!) and you’re given an unlimited budget to create a new official site for Rihanna – what would you do and how would you make sure it reflects the performances she gives on stage?

Let your imagination run riot (maybe she’ll read this and give you the business!) share your ideas in “comments”.

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2 Responses to “Colin Kelly’s Blog: Rihanna vs Adele – who wins online?”

  1. Gary

    One of things I often do at “web design” workshops when talking to the audience about the style and “voice” of their websites, is to simply ask them – “If your website was a person – which person would it be?”. Ie: which person (ideally, a public figure) best represents your brand and it’s way of communicating online.

    It’s a simple question, but really gets people thinking of how they market themselves, how they talk to people, the style in which they do it, and the overall personality – all of which that ends up coming through their website. It’s a good exercise and get’s people thinking.. as well as always making me laugh at some of the responses!

  2. Colin Kelly

    well said Gary. thing is, as a visitor I can tell straight away which websites have gone through that process and which haven’t. It’s clear from Rihanna’s site that she’s not involved in it at all and I doubt the people who created it ever really sat down with her and got her “vision”. Maybe she didn’t have time or wasn’t interested. But she had a chance after the BRITS to deepen that relationship with fans or win new fans and the website doesn’t really help with that.