Strengthening Brand Identity Through Music

In a decade of declining record sales, only the most enterprising artists survive. Record sales can be an unreliable source of income, and although touring may be lucrative, it is an expensive investment for those without tour support. As a result, sponsorship is becoming a very important revenue source for musicians worldwide.
While musicians endorsing products is not a new concept (Coca-Cola has been using big acts like Michael Jackson in their advertisements for years), artists are increasingly looking for creative ways to align themselves with brands. Major industry innovators, among them Pharrel Williams and Cornerstone Publicity, are not simply featuring music in advertisements, but using artists’ identities to strengthen brand identity.
Let’s pretend you sell toothpaste. While your brand is very popular, you’ve yet to tap a certain target demographic. You’ve tried to grab the group’s attention, but traditional TV and print campaigns have brought only marginal returns. How do you utilize new forms of media without losing credibility or being labeled ‘spam’?
Colgate in Latin America created an effective campaign in this exact scenario. Two years ago, the company signed a contract with Tito El Bambino, a Reggaeton artist who had achieved fame in his genre, but was not yet a household name. Bambino appeared on TV, Radio, and print ads, while also making personal appearances at stores and launching an interactive website. Instead of using his own songs, the artist performed Colgate’s jingle, which was offered as a downloadable ringtone, redeemable with a code on the toothpaste boxes. By the end of the campaign, over 75,000 ringtones had been downloaded and Tito El Bambino was suddenly one of the most prominent artists in Latin America. Colgate’s campaign earned Bambino valuable exposure outside his urban genre, supplemented his income, and built him a wide fan base of young and old alike.HYPERLINK “file:///mail#12241ad4590b64e6__ftn1″[1]
The reason campaigns like this are proving to be effective is because they target customers’ interests instead of their wallets. Companies with no prior involvement in the music industry are partnering with artists who represent the essence of their brand. In February, Honda launched a campaign aimed at urban males aged 25-45. The ad spot featured an actual, undiscovered Brooklyn rapper, Mickey Factz: paralegal by day and rapper by night. The series was titled “Rhymes and Reasons” and aired on ESPN, TNT and BET. While Honda’s core values do not necessarily fit with that of the hip-hop community’s most prominent celebrities, Factz was chosen because his personal story matched Honda’s target market: an aspiring, creative young professional more concerned with saving for his 401k than spending cash on an extravagant lifestyle. The campaign was so successful that it was recently extended through 2010. As for Mickey Factz, he couldn’t be happier: “People know who I am now who wouldn’t have ever known me before, and they’re finding out about my music.” HYPERLINK “file:///mail#12241ad4590b64e6__ftn2″[2]
These cutting-edge campaigns come from some of the most innovative ad executives and firms – companies like Cornerstone Promotions, a ninety-person company that considers itself a new model for record labels. Cornerstone, started by two ex-label executives, works with several major firms, among them Proctor & Gamble, Nike, Mountain Dew, Levis, and Southern Comfort, as well as musicians of all levels of success. Founder Jon Cohen believes “[our] biggest strength is that we understand how the consumer thinks, and then we build a whole infrastructure to reach that consumer through the Internet, through the non-traditional methods, through radio, event marketing, field marketing, PR.” Many of Cornerstone’s campaigns connect companies to marketable music. For Nike, Cornerstone finds DJs to create soundtracks for running, using artists like LCD Soundsystem, A-Trak, Aesop Rock, and De La Soul. These mixes are hot sellers for Cornerstone, and generate profits that simultaneously benefit Nike, the DJs, and all featured musicians.HYPERLINK “file:///mail#12241ad4590b64e6__ftn3″[3]
Other artist agreements have resulted in works written solely for brands. Though shorter in duration, these affiliations have involved musicians from a wide range of genres. “Converse Connectivity”, the most recent campaign of this nature, featured an original collaboration between Julian Casablancas of The Strokes, Santigold, and Pharell Williams. The song was released for free on blogs and peer-to-peer (aka P2P) networks in an attempt to advertise virally and keep a low profile. The campaign engaged consumers by creating a work of genuine artistic interest, and then centered it on a brand. HYPERLINK “file:///mail#12241ad4590b64e6__ftn4″[4]
Musicians looking to jump-start their careers should be open to brands that interest them as consumers. Big-ticket artists like Keith Urban and Rascall Flatts are being co-sponsored by several companies that together create a ‘lifestyle brand’. Urban is sponsored by Clorox, KC Masterpiece Sauces and Kindsford Charcol, the type of all-American brands that fit his image and appeal to his listeners. Touring sponsorships are set to increase by 3.8% this year, and on the whole, over $1.08 billion will be spent sponsoring music venues, festivals and tours. These sponsorships, in concert with the continuing growth of live music sales, have given artists a new way to supplement flagging album sales.HYPERLINK “file:///mail#12241ad4590b64e6__ftn5″[5] As a result, popular conceptions of the 360-deal have broadened significantly, affording artists even more opportunities to thrive sans record label.
For songwriters and performers, the road to success was once paved, straight and narrow. In the wake of P2P, massive industry consolidation, and a deep recession, that road now lies in shambles. While today’s cross-industry offshoots may look uncertain, artists creative and daring enough to adopt a new strategy may find sponsorships a great place to start.



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