Close-up: Bands and brands fine-tune their creative links

The rise in innovative sync opportunities marks a new phase in the tie-ups between musicians and adland.

Back in 1986, when Marvin Gaye's I Heard It Through The Grapevine provided the soundtrack to Bartle Bogle Hegarty's "laundrette" spot for Levi's, the ad was almost as memorable for the song as for the model Nick Kamen stripping down to his boxer shorts. The track was re-released and sold with the Levi's logo on the record sleeve and reached number eight in the charts.

Twenty three years later, with record sales tanking, music marketing budgets shrivelling and consumers expecting more content for free, it's no surprise so many bands, such as the Noisettes, or the Sugababes, who re-recorded Ernie K Doe's Here Come The Girls for Boots (it reached number three in the charts), have realised lending music to promote brands can reap more than just a cash transaction.

Some bands have gone even further. The Feeling have appeared as shrunken down versions of themselves in an ad for the Toyota Auris, although there are mixed feelings about whether this is a good fit and some fan blogs have moaned about the move.

The general view is that the appearance of artists in ads grates less with the public if the product is relevant to the band or its audience.

As well as being less precious about appearing in commercials, bands are also accepting less money, with only megastars such as Madonna, who recently appeared in a US Sunsilk campaign, able to command huge sums. Artists increasingly recognise the benefit of being constantly on TV.

However, bands may still demand a higher fee if exposure is limited, or not to a relevant audience. "The fee can be an association fee and a little bit of an insurance fee, because what we don't control is how long the ad is shown or on which channels, so it won't necessarily result in record sales," Marc Robinson, the head of film, TV and advertising at Universal Music, says. "Another negative could be that once it has been used by one brand, another brand may not use the track."

More recently, bands have been entering into increasingly complicated partnerships in an attempt to engage consumers in a more meaningful way.

The choice of Take That to front Marks & Spencer's menswear campaign as the band made a recent comeback made sense because the demographic of the audience both sides wanted to reach was similar. The Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R campaign targeted the wives and girlfriends of the men the clothes were meant for. The retailer also sponsored Take That's tour.

In a separate deal, the band's single Shine is used in the supermarket chain Morrisons' ads by Delaney Lund Knox Warren. In addition to TV exposure, there's also the chance with this that, when the ad is played in store, shoppers might be prompted to buy the album from the CD aisle.

One of the most successful and longest tie-ups to date is the 12-month Groove Armada-Bacardi deal that ended in April. It involved the dance duo playing at Bacardi B-Live events around the world, releasing a four-track branded EP, fronting radio shows and undertaking PR assignments.

To date, it is heralded as the benchmark band-brand tie-up because of its longevity and the number of layers involved. The only hiccup was that Bacardi was unable to use the band's tracks in its ads (and therefore had to shell out to use other artist's songs) because it postponed its advertising during that time owing to an internal brand review.

Sarah Tinsley was the global experiential manager at Bacardi at the time and worked on the deal with Mat Morrisroe, then the Euro RSCG KLP music director. Both now head The Brokerage, part of the music social networking site, R&R World.

The Brokerage specialises in matchmaking deals between bands and brands and launched its service via Campaign's new music website, which went live last week. The site, www.campaignmusiczone.com, is powered by R&R World.

The company has a bank of signed and unsigned artists from 29 countries, and believes that, as well as being cheaper, an unsigned band can give a brand added credibility if it makes the big time.

Eric Nicoli, the former EMI chief executive, is chairman of R&R Music, the company behind R&R World. "Technology has lowered the barriers to entry to the music industry and lots of people see an opportunity to participate - whether they are fans of music or users of content for commercial reasons, such as the big ad agencies who need access to music which has previously been limited by companies or organisations," he says. "Historically, the only content available has been from established artists. R&R is about unsigned artists as well as signed ones."

Tinsley believes that longer, more-involved deals allow both parties to get better results.

"I don't think it's right for every brand or every band, but I do feel that a lot more mutual benefits were met with the Groove Armada deal because it extended over a significant amount of time and, in terms of getting cut-through and connecting with people, it felt more weighty and meaty compared with other campaigns that can feel a bit piecemeal."

She says one of the big challenges was making the artists understand the importance of meeting deadlines. The band was also paid a wage for hours worked. Tinsley believes calculating the value of a band's time is crucial to a deal's success.

While Bacardi was lucky in finding such willing partners in Groove Armada, anyone considering working with a band must take into account the different personalities on either side of the deal.

Dave Chase, the head of music partnerships at BrandAmp, points out that brands don't necessarily understand the artistic egos in a band, and some artist managers can verge on the over-cautious and are only prepared to work within very tight parameters.

Issues such as these mean the likelihood of advertisers or agencies muscling in on record labels is slim: labels need to nurture talent, while advertisers and agencies need to adhere to commercial deadlines. But the two worlds are getting closer, and with better access to a wide range of bands - signed and unsigned - both will need to ensure that communication and understanding are high up the agenda.

Campaign this week launches a new music website (www.campaignmusiczone.com), powered by R&R World, which includes a searchable bank of signed and unsigned artists available for sync.

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