So you’re the business manager of folk-bluegrass group Apples and Oranges. The band’s catchy new single “Pickin’ Two” just aired in an episode of Weeds. Meanwhile, Apples and Oranges Myspace play counts are up, “Pickin’ Two” single sales just spiked on iTunes, and you’ve just talked to a third company who wants to talk with A&O to discuss a brand-and-band relationship. One of them is from Pepperidge Farms and wants the band to write a few jingles for a TV ad campaign, another is from Wrigley’s and just offered to pay for a music video that featured Apples and Oranges chewing gum, and a third is from Jack Daniel’s and wants to provide all of the liquor at A&O events and parties. Welcome to the world of corporate branding.
What is branding? When you first hear the word, you might think of what ranchers do to their horses and cows to show ownership. If your thinking is a little more modern, you might be thinking of the marketing strategy of developing an images customers will come to associate with a certain product or trademark. This would be like seeing white wavy cursive font on a red background and suddenly having the urge to buy a Coke, or hearing a song with 4-part harmonies, a catchy melody and a 6/8 pattern and having a pretty good idea it was recorded in the late 1950s. For the purposes of this article, our definition lies closer to the former.
While talking about companies using the music industry as part of their branding efforts, the best definition of the word seems to be “an outside company publicly partnering with an entity in the music industry for mutual benefit”. The most common examples of this seem to be celebrity endorsements and sponsorships. However, in the past few years branding has been taken to a whole new level. In a world where consumerism reigns supreme and clever advertising agencies get paid more and more, executives have realized that creating branding relationships with bands and artists is a great way to reach certain target markets. The main goal of branding seems to be the same today as it has been since the idea first came about: Publicity.
When did the idea of branding first surface? For the music industry, it goes back at least to the 1700s with great composers like Bach, Beethoven and Mozart who had patrons that supplemented their living expenses in return for exclusively commissioned works. This wasn’t limited to just composers though. As the centuries have marched on, promising composers, singers, and instrumentalists continue to find sponsors to fund their education, expenses, and sometimes provide an income. Eventually technology starting uniting the world through radio and television and gave birth to international superstars. Big corporations selling alcohol, tobacco, airline tickets, breakfast cereal, and soft drinks paid these superstars to endorse and use their products through magazine, television, and radio advertisements to find a new market in the superstar’s following. Genius. Everybody wants to be more like their heroes, so why not smoke the same brand cigarette that they do?
Over the decades though, people have caught on to this trick and these companies have had to get more creative in their advertising. The most subtle and widely used alteration of this used today is by using generally good-looking models to endorse their products instead. People know that companies use obvious sex appeal to sell products, but it works anyway. But back to the music industry, executives of these companies have had to figure out new ways of pairing up with these stars. This brings us to today.
Who is branding? What kinds of branding deals are out there? Sponsorship deals, although not new, are still as prevalent as ever. In 2007, Covergirl Magazine paired up with manufacturing giant Proctor & Gamble and R&B idol Rihanna to promote the new product Wetslicks Fruit Spitzer Lip Gloss (1). The campaign’s core TV spot takes footage from her “Umbrella” music video where Rihanna inserts Covergirl’s tagline into the song lyrics. This deal also included placement of Rihanna’s “Good Girl Gone Bad” CD in cosmetic departments at Wal-Mart stores.
“Gifting Suites” are another way for mainstream brands to get their products placed in the hands of celebrities. This is a form of unpaid branding. These rooms are set up at big events like the Academy Awards, Emmys, and the Sundance Film Festival for artists to load up on free products ranging from shoes to hair products to handbags. The hope is that the celebrities will wear or use their products, creating trends and associating the brand with influential people. But gifting suites aren’t only for high profile celebrities anymore. Similar suites have started making an appearance at music festivals like SXSW (South by Southwest). AG Denim, the company that has hosted gifting suites at the aforementioned award shows, asserts, “At SXSW, musicians were setting fashion trends that celebrities will soon adopt.” (2) Getting companies products in the hands of one of these promising indie bands could eventually bring big success to a smaller company gifting at a fest like SXSW.
Other than product placement, music artists could be contacted by advertising agencies to create jingles, songs, and sometimes full-length records in the name of a brand. Electronic Arts recently released a boxing game “FaceBreaker” in which they feature songs written specifically for the game by the band From First to Last. In the game, there is also the option to play as each member of the band. To promote the game, EA orchestrated FFTL’s stops on Van’s Warped Tour to have fans come up and play FaceBreaker with a member of the band. The band’s music was also played on TV spots advertising the game and a discount was offered on FFTL’s album if one bought the game (and vice versa). (3)
Earlier this year, Bacardi signed the British electronica duo Groove Armada to a 360-type deal in which Bacardi will take the role of a record company by producing and promoting all their music. Groove Armada is writing songs for their campaigns and performing live at 25 Bacardi sponsored events. (4) Powerbar is another company to sign an artist with the 360-style contract. In late 2006, Powerbar teamed up with and contracted the artist Cardwell to write 4 songs for an ad campaign and perform at their events. (5)
The third major type of branding, though not as common as product placement and 360 deals, is artist-designed accessories, usually shoes, clothing, and fashion accessories. R&B’s Chris Brown designed a line of branded hats in August for the clothing and accessory maker New Era Cap. Each hat has his logo CBE (Chris Brown Entertainment) featured on it and, for every hat sold, the singer receives a royalty. The same company made a similar deal with film director Spike Lee earlier in the year. (6)
So, why is branding a good or a bad idea? The whole point of branding is publicity. Essentially, if you’ve even heard of the game “FaceBreaker”, EA has done their job. When Groove Armada hopped on the Bacardi train, Bacardi was “branded” onto their image. For a chill techno group, Bacardi seems to go well with their ambience. For the Powerbar campaign, Cardwell wrote three songs “Power,” “Run to You” and “Trouble”, all which seemed to go along well with Powerbar. It seems that the best branding deals are those which both brand and artist have a potentially similar market. Branding deals also prove easier to get than major record label deals since most people either don’t know about them, are unaware they can get one, or just don’t see the glamour in it.. In 2006, a waiter at Chili’s recorded a rap anthem “Tip Yo Waiter” which wound up being used as the ad campaign song endorsing Chili’s Triple Dinner entrées. The waiter, Jonah Johnson, went on to pair with Chili’s and Warner Bros. online to produce a 15 webisode series called “Waiting 2B Discovered”.(7)
When your band is branded with someone like Pepsi or Honda, they become part of your image… part of your brand. If you’re ok with your fans thinking of Marlboro’s cigarettes when they think of you because of that ad you did a few years back, then great! However, you won’t see Beyoncé doing Dodge Ram commercials anytime soon.
Corporate sponsorship can be a negative thing if it doesn’t succeed in publicizing your band, if the brand contradicts your band’s image or if over-branding can cause you to lose you fan base. Historically, the endorsement of too many products has been a sign of the end of a celebrity’s success. They start to lose the respect of their fans and get accused of “selling out”. A lesson that can be taken away here is to pair up with one or two brands and stick with them.
Overall, signing a branding contract can be great if the artist needs a little help on the publicity side or it can be bad for any number of the aforementioned reasons. If done right, corporate sponsorship can be a win-win situation.
How do I get one of these branding deals? Mainstream brands are looking for the same attribute in an artist as record labels: marketability. But even more specifically, the artists they’re seeking need to be a good match with the product they’re trying to sell. The next thing they’re looking for is a solid fan base, press, and anything else that shows either future or present success. Unless the company wants to be the ones introducing the artists to the world, there’s no point for a brand to spend the time and money pairing with a band that has no following. No following means no new potential market.
So start getting your music out there. Record your music, put together your band’s image, get some press, perform a lot so people start talking, and stop sending you music to only record companies. These brands want your help as much as you want theirs.
By Nicholas Adam Owens