Music and Brands: Neverending Love Story or Too Many Snags?

By Mike McGuire | March 14, 2013 | 0 Comments

“We never got it off on that revolution stuff, and
It was such a drag
Too many snags

(by David Bowie, made a hit by Mott the Hoople)

My wanderings bring me to Austin, TX, this week where I’m attending the SXSW conference. 

A benefit of being on a panel is you can go to other panels and steal, er, assimilate and contextualize material from other panelists for your own.  One of the panels, “The New Vibrant Ecosystem of Brands and Music,” assembled some folks from agencies Young & Rubicam, brands such as Nike and PepsiCo and Beggars Group, one of the largest independent group of labels in Europe.  The relationship  between brands and music is not particularly new but the evolution of the music industry (or the unwiding of the business of music), depending on your point of view) is making that relationship all the more important — for both sides. 

Brands have long tried to “be cool” by licensing popular music. Sometimes it works (I guess): the Stones licensing “Start Me Up” to Microsoft for the Windows 95.  Sometimes, it’s just weird, like Bob Dylan licensing “Lovesick” to Victoria’s Secret. 

But because of the complete disruption of the music industry, and a recognition by smart agency types of the need to make the linkage between bands and brands authentic, we’re starting to see smart band managers and bands utilizing the power and resources of brands to launch their careers.  The panelists cited some particularly good examples —  National’s work with American Express and Hyundai’s “Re:generation” documentary.

Panelists hastened to point out that there is no one-size-fits-all model for working with bands and artists. It can range from a simple “synch” license (in which a brand simply licenses a song for use in a commercial) — an agreement that’s an increasingly important source of revenue for labels and musicians — to getting directly involved in the launch of a band’s career.   PepsiCo, for example, has invested deeply in creating a set of operational relationships, including an independent label, to support various artists at the beginning of their career

Authenticity  and strategic support from the brands top executives are crucial to brands looking to create effective relationships. 

“It’s always a challenge” to make these arrangements work, said Javier Farfan, of PepsiCo. These n need to be a strategic imperative supported by the brand and its agency.  “The challenge is keeping everyone aware of what the objective of campaign really is,” said Javier Farfan, of PepsiCo. “It’s about the conversation between the artists, fans and the brand helping to incorporate the brand in unique ways.

“It’s us listening to the band or artist, not telling them what we want,” he said. ” We have idea about what kind of music we wanted, we helped the artist find the right producer . . . and then amplifying a stage for (the artist) so they have a bigger stage.” 

Creating an authentic and beneficial relationship based on music and artists, however, is not for the faint of heart, according to panelists.  First, “synchs” are a good baseline but to move beyond that level means hiring or working with entities that are not only attuned to musical tastes of consumers in multiple markets, but also in the very complex licensing requirements around the use of music in commercials or campaigns. 

You don’t have to look any further than the hub-bub around Baauer’s “Harlem Shake” to see what can go wrong with copyrights. 

Music can certainly be a powerful brand resonator, music, but one that should be treated with care. Otherwise, the lyrics of that old Mott the Hoople song will be what resonates.

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