In some ways, it has been a harrowing few weeks for marketers who see music as a golden ticket which guarantees oodles of Brand Love. The A-list blogger Perez Hilton, fresh off the back of a trip to the Summer Sonic Festival in Tokyo announced in mid-August that he was set to launch a tour. It was an interesting package of hip, up-and-coming acts – Ladyhawke and Little Boots were set to feature.
However, ticket sales for the tour have been so poor that prices have had to be slashed, in some cases to nothing, for the remaining dates. In the 1980’s, it is just possible that Perez’s business model would have worked. He had big artists, a big endorsement, big exposure – all that you theoretically needed for music marketing at the top level. This situation has now changed drastically.
So, what made Perez’s tour problematic? The first problem is, fairly obviously, Perez himself. Perez Hilton, unless you happen to be an A-list star (and sometimes even then – ask Lily Allen), is brand poison. People go to Perez Hilton’s blog to read gossip, primarily, not because they like Perez Hilton as a person, or because they would want to be associated with him. The idea of spending time hanging out with Perez Hilton, or telling your friends that you are busy that evening because you are going to, leaves one feeling actually rather nauseous. I had the misfortune of encountering him and his entourage while I was in Tokyo, and can’t say it left me feeling ‘engaged’ with the Perez brand.
You could also argue that Perez Hilton’s understanding of the music industry is relatively limited. While in the UK live music accounts for 50% of (an albeit declining) spend, this is not the case in the United States, where live music/touring is simply not the goldmine it was. The recession has changed this totally, and it is an incredible complex business to even make 5 or 10% on a tour now, particularly amongst the mid-sized shows which Perez is looking to break into. Mid-sized shows are liable to be dwarfed by larger shows, which will always have the propensity to get the big names, but overheads remain high in relative terms. People do not rate Perez as an entrepreneur, as a tour promoter, or someone that understands music that well.
Perez’s celebrity endorsement, as well as being downright crass, is also, in marketing terms pretty old school. It is classic badging. It is a celebrity attaching their name to something with which they have little connection, and believing that the consumer will buy it on the strength of that endorsement. While Perez Hilton and musical credibility is never likely to be a match made in heaven – there are ways in which music and brands can be made to work. It does require, however, doing something which is a little more credible.
What lessons can we learn then? First off, it seems sensible to say that it is still okay to work with artists. Coca Cola’s “Open Happiness,” campaign, a collaborative song featuring Gnarls Barkley’s Cee-Lo Green, Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stump, Gym Class Heroes’ Travis McCoy, Panic at the Disco’s Brendon Urie and Janelle Monae was produced to help promote Coca-Cola’s new marketing campaign with a message that, according to a press release, “reflected the spirit of positivity, optimism and fun.”
The track was available for streaming on MySpace, and a remix was also available on iTunes. A Making of Video was also available, and a percentage of the sales was be donated to charitable causes through Coke’s Live Positively platform. Did it work? It depends on your metric of success. It did not achieve the mainstream awareness of McDonalds ‘I’m Lovin It’ campaign, and the campaign was moved on after a year, but the video picked up several hundred thousand views on YouTube.
It also established credibility for Coca Cola, and enabled them to move into a space in which they may not otherwise have been welcome. Instead of paying an agency a large amount of money to come up with the lyrics, they had handed over control to the artist, and told them to pass on the Coke message of optimism. This creates a vibe around the whole thing which is far less about a brand imposing itself on a situation, than merely encouraging artists to do what they do best. It is sometimes a big step for the big-ego marketing manager to take – but the brand equity matters more than bruised egos.
In the UK, we have seen the example of Topman CTRL, which follows the lead of Open Happiness by establishing links with artists. Topman is a unique concept in UK Music, inviting a different act each month to ‘take charge’. There is a gig, each month, curated by the controller, a format Topman retained for their curation of the Underage Festival. The curator also personally selects the music that plays in store. People are given the option to buy tickets for the gig online, or through in-store kiosks.
It is key to note, however, the way in which the relationship is managed. The format ensures that Topman takes an intermediary role, and gives Topman a role in music discovery, and minimises the risk across multiple genres as opposed to a particular audience. Gen Y audiences are very fickle, and can have different interests within groups. Therefore, enabling them to find music across groups is a better way of building the brand. This creates a win win situation for the brand, the music, and the label.
If relationships are badly managed, it is still possible, however, for music to do brand damage. Paul Griffiths from Babycakes has reported turning down a brand ambassadorship for Nike and a deal to brand PSP’s. Namalee Bolle told me that if there was any hint of Reebok trying to control her recent efforts to style the Reebok Freestyler Series, she would have walked away. Marketers must be aware of the need to match what the brand stands for.
Of course, the right kind of relationship is not all there is too it. Marketing with music with Gen Y, ideally, should not be about one or two big tracks, because ‘big tracks’ carry less personality for Gen Y than something with more of an alternative vibe. Therefore, variety should be a key element of any offering. Let’s take, for example, the case of XBox Live’s music activations.
XBox have been broadly successful in this space. Recently we saw XBox Reverb, an event which promised to ‘get the fans and the bands talking.’ – Now, XBox know their demographic pretty well, and that is of a 99% male demographic. That being the case, their strategy is to provide engaging experiences which feed the core as well as stretch. If you go on XBox Live you will see artists outside the mainstream, and the early choices of artists for Reverb (artists such as Dananananaykroyd, known for ‘jangly emo-pop’) back up this sensibility.
XBox’s success in this field has generated further opportunities to win with music further along the line. Their ‘Game with Fame’ service has proven a cost effective way of building brand love. Through the Game with Fame service, music artists will get to play a game with fans. There are two things that come out of this. For the consumers who get to play their favourite artist, they will go back into the community, and they talk about this experience that they had that XBox get to facilitate.
This is great word of mouth marketing for XBox. On the business side, they get a ton of awareness, and the artists enable them to reach beyond core gamers. Artists help them do that, because when they raise awareness, they will go into online music communities, and online game communities and talk about these sessions. And so, that is how they get credible and authentic. It is not a case of the artist saying ‘Hey, we’re here,’ so much as XBox actually doing something with the artist.
Such is XBox’s reach and brand love, they do not have to even pay artists to be on the service. Although XBox Live goes out to eighteen million people globally, they still recognise the need to be authentic in what they do. Their approach tries to be fundamentally different from badging at all times, and although XBox do concert activations, this is always married to something to do with the product.
XBox, Topman and others have shown that the relationship between brands and music is getting ever stronger all the time. Specialist consultancies have been set up to examine the relationship between the two, and to help brands to leverage the connection. There are, of course, other factors which matter in the choice of artist and promotion for brands, such as specificity, but what I wanted to do here was give a quick primer on the notion of credibility.