Gabriella Cilmi is just 16, but she is already an international music star, signed to the Universal Music subsidiary Island Records. The Australian singer's break into the UK this year has been given a significant helping hand by one ad and is about to be given another large push by another. Cilmi and The Co-operative Food are hoping for a Christmas hit with her cover version of I'm Gonna Be Warm This Winter.
At the start of 2008, Cilmi's single Sweet About Me from her new album, Lessons to be Learned, was used on Sure's "upside down" ad for the US market by Lowe & Partners in the US. Tom March, the Universal-Island marketing manager, is a happy man: "It was a brilliant tie-in for us. They had a very heavy marketing spend and we saw that as millions and millions of people hearing that song ... A few years ago, there was this thing where artists would say, 'I don't want my music on an ad'. Now you can't just rely on Radio 1 to break an act and, if an ad does help an artist to reach a broader audience, then there are only positives that you can take out of that." The single went on to be in the UK top ten for ten weeks.
With brand media budgets often dwarfing the promotional budget for an artist, it's unsurprising that Cilmi's second ad opportunity is born out of a strong relationship between agency, music consultancy and record company. Marc Robinson, the director of film, TV and advertising at Universal, has a good relationship with TBWA's brand entertainment agency Stream\. While it operates independently and works with other agencies such as JWT and Bartle Bogle Hegarty, Robert Harwood-Matthews, the chief executive of TBWA\Manchester, goes as far as describing Stream\ as "an extension of our creative department".
Earlier this year, TBWA\Manchester was looking for an idea for a Christmas ad for its retail client, The Co-op Food. Something upbeat and warm, in keeping with the retailer's refreshed branding. A young creative team - Jenni Birchall and Kyna Griffiths - were inspired by the idea of making music central to the ad and briefed Stream\ to find something that would fit with a script that shows how customers can find everything they might need for Christmas from the local Co-op, without wasting precious family time shopping further afield.
Dominic Caisley, the music director at Stream\, picks up the story: "In April, we spoke to the creatives about a classic Christmas song that hadn't been overused - a hidden gem - a bit like Nina Simone (used to great effect by Muller in 2005). It had to convey a feeling of family and warmth and a feeling of Christmas ... We sent them Connie Francis singing I'm Gonna Be Warm This Winter and they loved it."
The client loved the song, but was less keen on the original version. A bit too 60s America, when the Co-op is talking UK and the 21st century. So Caisley talked with Robinson at Universal, who suggested using Cilmi. "In terms of fit with our brand personality, Gabriella and the track are an ideal match," Debbie Robinson, the director of food retail marketing at The Co-op, says. "Gabriella is a contemporary and savvy artist and the track is fun, warming and upbeat."
Cilmi did a demo at the beginning of July that pressed all the right buttons and led to a shoot for the ad in August, with a master of the new track completed by the end of the month.
Bringing the artist into the creative process right from the start appears to have been a successful approach. Cilmi was involved right the way through, from talking with the creative team to recording the new version with producer Brian Higgins of Xenomania, whose credits include Girls Aloud. "She had complete creative control," Robinson says. "They weren't looking for a session singer, but an artist. For an artist, this is crucial."
Giving the artist a slice of creative control was an advantage for the client when it came to negotiating a price for the deal, as was the timing with Cilmi. Back in April, when the deal was agreed, Cilmi was just breaking into the UK market, a potential rising star, but also potentially not a star at all. "When they selected Gabriella, she was an emerging artist and now they have a platinum-selling artist on their commercial," Universal's Robinson says. "Her popularity should be a great benefit."
The client clearly feels that Cilmi is a good investment. "In terms of adding to the overall value of the campaign, having a strong piece of music that can become recognised outside of the traditional TV slot enhances the whole campaign several fold," the Co-op's Robinson says.
It helps that Cilmi has been keen to get involved. "She's been fantastic," Caisley says, "even though she's now booked up every day for the next six years and it could be easy for an artist to move on to the next prospect."
There's a raft of cross promotion lined up around the ad's first transmission on 17 November. In-store, The Co-op is pushing the single using traditional point of sale, as well as Cilmi on in-store radio and publicising the track via a note on the bottom of till receipts. The tactics include sending every one of the two-and-a-half million Co-op members a Gabriella Cilmi-branded Christmas card.
Meanwhile, Island Records is preparing a special edition of her album for release just before the ad breaks. It will feature five new tracks, including I'm Gonna Be Warm This Winter, and the single will be available for download from iTunes at the beginning of December, just as radio stations everywhere start readying Slade's Merry Christmas Everybody and Band Aid's Do They Know It's Christmas?
"Part of my job is to create a sonic trigger," Caisley says. "We will be working with the Universal pluggers so that radio stations know it as 'Gabriella Cilmi from the Co-operative ads'. All the press and PR work that we do will promote each other."
The Co-op Christmas production has all the hallmarks of the shape of ads and music in 2008. Here is a brand that is not just creating advertising, but content, and an artist who is happy to be flexible in return for a deal that takes into account the huge exposure and a greater chance of success for the track and her own career.
"These sort of opportunities are getting increasingly valuable," Universal's Robinson says.
"I've been doing this for ten years and artists are more open to this now. The doors are open to talk creatively."