Marketing by Music: Music first

Ad agencies are thinking about music earlier in the production process.

Rumour has it that when Unilever was briefing its agency, Bartle Bogle Hegarty, on the campaign for its new deodorant variant, Pulse, it wanted a hit single to accompany the launch.

"The agency went round to all the record companies and publishers and said, 'We've got a new product coming out, can you give us something which is yet to be released, but you think is going to be a big summer feel-good hit?'" Adrienne Dunlop, the director of commercial markets at EMI Records, says.

Dunlop recalls BBH turning up with a mood video featuring "normal" people dancing. Her synchronisation department suggested four or five records, one of which was a remix by Room 5 of the Oliver Cheatham song Make Luv, a track which, one reviewer says, is "every summer holiday memory rolled into one".

The result? A textbook product launch, a number-one single for EMI and a small but pervasive dance craze to boot. Such a level of synergy between brand, agency and record label didn't used to be the case. While campaigns such as "pulse" aren't yet common enough to be called the norm, agencies, labels and publishers are increasingly realising the benefits that can be had from tightly integrated campaigns and are talking to each other far earlier than they used to.

Even as little as five years ago, music was still more often than not an afterthought in the creative process. Dave Bartram, the head of UK media and marketing at BMG Music Publishing, knows better than most the part music can play in an ad, and the role it was often reduced to in the past - he was an agency producer for 12 years and spent much of his working life sourcing material.

"Hand on heart, in all my years in agency production, I never put enough money into music. I always underquoted on it and pulled in favours. It wasn't until I joined the publishing side and became aware of the rates for a famous song that I realised how much you have to spend," he says.

Bartram has embarked on a client-education programme to help his agency clients realise the benefits of a stronger relationship with the sync department. One of his first steps when he joined BMG and formed Synctank, the publishing company's sync department, was to set up a song-search website so clients could audition songs on screen.

"Music can be crucial," Bartram says. "It can add more than 50 per cent to the commercial. Think of Venus in Furs on the Dunlop ad, or the Leftfield track on the Guinness 'surfer' spot - amazing songs with amazing visuals and the sum is greater than the two parts.

"We do get a lot of briefs like Chinese whispers - the creative team will have an idea for a music track they want, they'll brief the producer, the producer will brief the PA, the PA will call the music research company who'll call all the majors ... by the time we get the brief, it's either so out of date or so misinterpreted that our time is wasted."

Involving the record company earlier in the process can save the agency time and money: third-party search companies charge between 10 and 15 per cent of the licensing fee and usually, Bartram says, will simply call up the majors, who will then do a search on their behalf.

Agencies, too, are realising the benefits of taking a more structured approach to sourcing music. The Saatchi & Saatchi head of television, Andy Gulliman, has appointed a music commissioner within the TV department.

Dominic Goodman's job is to take responsibility for all music searches and develop an in-house music library at the agency.

Goodman concedes that music is still very often left to the end of the creative process. Agency creatives and directors are often loath to make a final decision on a track until the commercial has been shot and edited; what can look like a good idea on paper might not work so well with moving images, so flexibility is still key.

"Knowing the clients makes the process far easier, as I have an understanding of their brands and can build creative output," Goodman says.

Goodman gets the scripts far earlier than most third-party music sourcing companies would see the creative. "This allows me to talk to the labels and give them time to be involved without needing an unrealistic turnaround." Talking to the record company early is important, he believes, because they know their catalogue better than anyone else. "And they can not only provide suggestions from their back catalogue, but also inform us of release dates and band activities which open up greater possibilities for product tie-ins," he explains.

This is a trend record companies are keen to exploit. Dunlop points to agencies eager to use a particular track or tie-in with an artist in a through-the-line campaign. "That's where the smart money is - clients want value for money and want to know the message is getting across. It's all about integration - use a track for a TV ad, but also use it for a download, or a ringtone," she says.

BMG is no different. Bartram has recently placed the Death in Vegas track Hands Around My Throat for a new pan-European Sony Ericsson campaign.

"The band are sitting down with the client to talk about how they can further tie the track in - things such as ringtones and downloads to mobile phones. We're talking about a tour and maybe even album sponsorship," he says.

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