Feature

Music: The brand band love-in

Mike Tunnicliffe reports on the cutting edge of brand/music partnerships as seen in the US.

Brand/music partnerships have truly come of age in 2008, with a raft of increasingly innovative deals between brands and musicians appearing on what seems like a daily basis.

With the music business in a state of massive change - record stores closing, rampant file-sharing and traditional revenues in freefall - we are seeing an increasing number of new businesses entering the sector, including a number of brands striking deals that go way beyond traditional music licensing for TV commercials or standard endorsement deals.

Companies such as Procter & Gamble, Red Bull and Levi's have been establishing innovative new business relationships with artists.

The latter two have set up their own record labels and P&G's TAG Body Spray deodorant has formed a joint venture with the leading urban record label Def Jam (see case study) in which it is not just associating itself with artists for promotional purposes, but putting in place business models that give it the potential to share in any success of the artists, and the record label they appear on.

Artists have largely got over the "selling out" notion that had previously been associated with brand alignments. Sure, there are still a few that claim they'll never do a deal with a brand or allow their songs to appear in TV commercials (thanks, Neil Young), but they are very much in the minority. Moreover, more and more artists are looking for alternative routes to market without signing to major record labels and are using a combination of methods, including brand support, to help them gain their new independent status.

Consumer brands are taking an interest in and investing increasing amounts of money in various entertainment properties because the same digital technology that has sent the music business into a tailspin is also making it harder to reach consumers.

Michael Bayler is a leading brand marketing expert who developed the marketing and brand strategy with ie:music and In Good Company for the 2005 global partnership between Robbie Williams and T-Mobile - the largest brand partnership deal of its kind to date. He says: "Music and music associations are a great way of forging meaningful cultural connections with a consumer who has never moved faster, never been so elusive, or so resistant to brand messaging."

However, Bayler also warns: "These deals need to be put together in a credible and meaningful way that allows the brand to slip behind the consumers' 'firewall' but at the same time produce some form of quantifiable return on marketing."

To my mind, this is the next big issue that needs to be addressed. As these deals increase, so should the level of strategic thinking to ensure a good brand fit and, most importantly, the relevance and benefit for fans and consumers.

If we get this right, then these types of partnerships will become established as a long-term culturally relevant ploy for brands and a revenue generator for brands and artists, rather than a glorified form of sponsorship or endorsement. We are on the first rung on the ladder and still have a long way to climb.

- Mike Tunnicliffe is a consultant in alternative marketing strategies and brand partnerships in the entertainment business

SUNSILK/MADONNA

The brand partnership

Madonna and Sunsilk partnered to coincide the launch of a new global Sunsilk campaign with the release of Madonna's album Hard Candy. Madonna appeared in the commercial, debuting her new single Four Minutes (to Save the World) as the soundtrack.

The single was simultaneously premiered across a raft of radio stations worldwide at noon GMT on 29 April, the day the Sunsilk ad campaign kicked off. The track was also available as a free download to Sunsilk customers via the online Madonna Store.

Why it's interesting

This is the first time that a music-brand partnership of this magnitude has been seen, in which a world-class megastar has teamed up with a major marketer for a global launch.

The collaboration started last January with a Super Bowl spot. It builds on the brand values of the chameleon-like star whose evolving look keeps her brand fresh and appealing and Sunsilk, whose "life can't wait" campaign is based on the idea that hair, more than any other physical attribute, plays a crucial role in a girl's power of transformation and self-expression.

Benefits

Madonna picked up a cool $10 million for this brand endorsement.

Sunsilk associated itself with a star with relevant brand values and developed a global platform.

Fans and consumers got "access" to Madonna in many different ways and received a stack of Madonna-branded goodies courtesy of Sunsilk.

See the ad at www.youtube.com/watch?v=hJhWxUlmGxw

TAG BODY SPRAY/DEF JAM

The brand partnership

The leading urban record label Def Jam partnered earlier this year with the Procter & Gamble-owned TAG Body Spray to form TAG Records. The deal is part of the TAG brand's initiative to cultivate relationships with the urban community through the development of programmes that provide opportunities for aspiring hip-hop talent. Artists who are signed up will get the full support of marketing campaigns built around the TAG brand including TV, print, radio, digital and event marketing.

Why it's interesting

P&G is using marketing dollars that it would be spending on TAG deodorant in any case. If it helps discover and launch the right artist, it will establish even more credibility for TAG with the important urban/African-American market, as well as get some more financial return. The deal provides the label with promotional support and unprecedented exposure for artists that gives them a better-than-average opportunity to create a commercial success.

Benefits

While it is still early days for these sorts of deals, they could be a great a way for artists to have more freedom and control over their products and for brands to have the opportunity to get a return over and above the promotional benefits of being associated with an artist. The consumer benefit largely depends on how the artist is used in the promotion of the brand and what added value can be provided to TAG consumers. The first act has just been signed up and will be appearing in a commercial soon.

WRIGLEY'S/CHRIS BROWN

The brand partnership

Chris Brown's single Forever, which shot to the top of the US Billboard 100, was in fact a "seeded" song for Wrigley's Doublemint campaign.

After the track became a hit, Wrigley's revealed it had commissioned and paid Brown to create the track, whose subtle references to the classic Doublemint jingle ("double your pleasure/double your fun") are emphasised in the TV spot, which also features Brown plugging the product.

Why it's interesting

This is a song placement in reverse and the first time that a song has been seeded into popular culture before it has being used in a commercial. While hip-hop artists have plugged into virtually every high-end brand from Louis Vuitton to Mercedes-Benz in their song lyrics, this is the first time that a branded song such as this has been served up to the public in such a covert fashion.

Benefits

This could have backfired big time if Brown's fans had thought that this was overtly commercial, but it was well-executed, and obviously well-liked, because it became a hit soon after.

Brown was likely well-compensated by Wrigley's for his efforts and will no doubt get a boost in sales from the commercial now hitting the screens.

Wrigley's gets a brand-relevant song that's already established as part of pop culture.

See the ad at www.youtube.com/watch?v=liq0gek8Fpk

JEEP/TIM MCGRAW AND FAITH HILL

The brand partnership

Jeep's sponsorship of the husband and wife country superstars Tim McGraw and Faith Hill's Soul 2 Soul tour is a great example of an authentic and integrated brand partnership.

The deal built upon the longstanding personal relationship the couple had with Jeep. Among other things, it featured VIP performances for dealers and contest winners and an ad campaign that told "My favourite Jeep story".

Why it's interesting

First, the brand fit is ideal, because McGraw and Hill developed their romance in a Jeep as they travelled the US, building their careers as country performers, and they have maintained a long-term and genuinely personal relationship with the brand. So maximum points for authenticity.

Second, country music and its stars are huge in the US and the number of deals featuring country stars is growing exponentially.

Finally, country is becoming more in tune than any other genre with the "back to basics" and "family values" mood that is sweeping America as the economic worries deepen.

Benefits

This Jeep brand partnership suits all the players. Jeep gets an authentic and deeply personal brand fit with the artists. The artists Hill and McGraw get a great partner that provides plenty of opportunities for their fans to interact.

Meanwhile, the fans get a number of ways to interact with their star performers, and a chance to win the car, all courtesy of Jeep.

BLOOMINGDALE'S/SONY

The brand partnership

The fashion retailer Bloomingdale's has teamed up this autumn with the major record label Sony to promote a mix of artists and top-end designer fashion labels.

The nine mainstream artists featured in the partnership deal are Boys Like Girls, Lenka, Joshua Bell, Teddy Geiger, Nicole Atkins, Michelle Williams, Wyclef Jean, Raphael Saadiq and Cindy Lauper.

The major fashion designers involved in the tie-up include the American legends Marc Jacobs, Donna Karan and Ralph Lauren.

The campaign features live in-store performances by the artists, who will be decked out in the designers' gear.

There is also a cause-related element to the campaign. All the artists will be photographed for a Hot Rocks fashion supplement and original signed portraits will then be displayed in the windows of the Bloomingdale's flagship store on 59th Street in New York.

Sotheby's will auction the portraits in January 2009 at the close of the campaign to benefit Musicians On Call, a non-profit organisation that brings music to the bedsides of patients in healthcare facilities. Various competitions and in-store promotions will also be running, including a tie-in with luxury car brand Infiniti.

Why it's interesting

To my knowledge, it's the first time that a multi-artist deal has been put together with such an iconic retailer.

The campaign is also multi-platform, with numerous "touchpoints", including 840 catalogue pages, 800 newspaper and magazine ads, 650 in-store events, signage, e-mail blasts and other events.

Benefits

This gives great exposure for the artists and a platform from which Bloomingdale's can build its promotions.

There are opportunities galore for customers at Bloomingdale's to get access to the sounds, sights and performances of some of their favourite artists.

HONDA CIVIC/PANIC AT THE DISCO

The brand partnership

The Honda Civic Tour hit its eighth year with the pop-punk act Panic At The Disco going out on the road on a 40-date summer tour. As well as stumping up funding, Honda also provided a Honda Civic Hybrid whose paintwork was designed by Panic At The Disco. The car was featured at each show and then put up as a prize. The band was keen to be associated with a hybrid car that helped push an environmentally-conscious message.

The green ethos of this campaign was enhanced by Honda matching every show ticket purchased with a donation to the non-profit tour partners Reverb and Global Inheritance. Both of these organisations exist to raise awareness of environmental issues in the music community.

Why it's interesting

Honda has developed a long-term music strategy that has helped to make a not particularly "cool" brand acquire some street cred.

The Honda Civic Tour started out showcasing headline acts that were breaking through at the time, such as Incubus and Good Charlotte back in 2002 and 2003.

More recently, though, it has pulled in big-name acts such as The Black Eyed Peas, Maroon 5 and last year's tour headliners, Fall Out Boy, supported by multiple up-and-coming or under-the-radar acts.

Benefits

Another brand partnership that ticks all the boxes. In this example, Panic At The Disco fans get more exposure to the main act, the band gets to play more dates and have its "message" put out there and the Honda Civic boosts both its green and cool credentials in an entirely relevant way.

BACARDI/GROOVE ARMADA

The brand partnership

The top British dance act Groove Armada and the drinks company Bacardi formed a commercial partnership after the group's decision not to renew its nine-year relationship with the major record label group Sony BMG.

Bacardi B-Live, the drinks company's global music platform, will feature Groove Armada performing live at various Bacardi-branded international dance music events over the course of 25 dates. Bacardi will also finance and help to release Groove Armada's records.

Why it's interesting

The deal is a real groundbreaker. It was covered heavily by UK news outlets, including a feature on Channel 4 News entitled "Goodbye record company, hello sponsor", which cited this as an example of the "superbranding of bands" trend. The Channel 4 News item also covered Madonna's recent deal with Sunsilk and her exit from Warner Music to a new partnership with Live Nation.

Benefits

The deal gives Groove Armada creative freedom and retained ownership of their music.

The fans get to see Groove Armada in new locations and to have access to all sorts of goodies (such as behind-the-scenes footage, and downloads), courtesy of Bacardi.

Meanwhile, Bacardi gets exclusive content to help power its Bacardi Live programme and an interest in the revenue streams of an act that it is helping to promote.