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We spent 2 days in the Edison Ballroom absorbing discussions on several facets of music branding including picking music for commercials, composing original music and artist-brand relationships. And while there were many great moments to cover (including Kid Rock’s quip to the editor from Billboard that “I’ll handle the jokes, thank you” and Devo’s riveting, tongue-in-cheek focus-group tested new album), we are going to focus on the two areas in which everyone seemed to be in consensus: Customer Engagement and Artist-Brand Partnerships.

It was in the very first panel where Sheri Timmons, from Levi Strauss & Co, stressed the importance of customer engagement through rich content.  The key, said Timmons, is “being there when something magical happens or enabling it to happen.”  Levi’s music program placed artists in the studio to reinterpret some of their favorite songs – examples can be found here.  This resulted in short form web programming in addition to the music itself and as fans get closer to the artists, they get closer to the brand.  This idea was echoed in the case study for Cotton in which artists recorded their own version of the famous “Fabric Of Our Lives” lyric associated with the brand.  Cotton’s campaign went beyond the free mp3 and extended into web programming and commercials which showed the artist’s in their own environments (their cities, their houses, their lives.)  Cotton’s campaign was a success – the site achieved 2.4 Million hits in 3 months with customers actively creating stylebooks that featured the artists (Zooey Deschanel’s had 350,000 users.)  Even the Creative Directors’ discussion, which focused primarily on the one-way communication of a 30-second spot, the concept of engagement rang true.  As Michael Lee, Executive Creative Director at EURO RSCG said “Music is the single most subjective part of a spot” and indicated that personal taste goes a long way toward engaging (or, conversely, alienating) your customers.

The notion of “Not Sponsorship, but Partnership” was echoed across many of the panels including the Levi Strauss discussions, the Cotton Case Study, the conversation with EA’s Steve Schnur and, most obviously, in the Lexus Case Study.  What made the Lexus scenario so interesting was the artist himself, Ryan Leslie, who seems so far removed from the aloof-artist stereotype that he could have easily been mistaken for a CEO.  The delight that Lexus had in working with Ryan was apparent as Ryan brought in not just his music and personality, but creative marketing ideas and a serious digital knowledge base.  As Ryan said “I am an artist and artists want to create, it was interesting not to be tied just to a single, but to be involved in all the creative discussions and strategy for Lexus.”  Lexus and Leslie’s 360-degree artist-brand partnership was effective: a 216% sales increase and 3.3 Million impressions during the campaign.  Kid Rock was another case of deep partnerships in addition to his partnership with Jim Beam, as he is owner, investor, sponsor or just plain spokesman for so many brands, it’s difficult to keep track.  His most captivating brand partnerships were the ones in which he has a direct impact on the lives of people in Detroit through job creation at his local brewery and clothing lines.

From the perspective of the content providers, as opposed to the brands and agencies, a somewhat controversial question of the “Free License” was another recurring theme and we understand artists’ and labels’ concerns here.  The general consensus was the need to evaluate each opportunity based on the whole experience and not just the financial rewards.

A Twitter-feed ran behind the panel following the tweets related to the conference.  Amongst a handful of semi-obnoxious pitches for jobs or “get a free song search now!”, were some really insightful posts which I am including below.  You can access the entire Twitter feed here.

jaybirdcomso why hasn’t an artist done a p&g-style marketing study before Devo?

ghostlysongs – Artists out there – listen to these suggestions. Worst thing to do is smother ppl. You won’t create a relationship that way.

– wonder if BP would have any luck licensing music from artists or companies in this room, where do you draw the line as an artist…

– agency music producers say writing a song for a brand has a low chance of being perfect. just write your music for you and your fans

Finally, as opposed to our fuzzy iPhone shots above, you can see some nice pics of the event here.

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