Saturday, November 10, 2007

Music as Collateral: Compatible Archetypes

In previous articles I’ve suggested that collaborations between artists and ‘Ad Buyers’ –businesses that provide products and/or services (and their advertising agencies– are one way musicians might be subsidized by corporate sponsors other than a traditional record label; or alternately serve as their record label; or work in tandem with a record label or management company, but 'outside' the traditional music industry universe.

I’ve also knocked around ideas in an attempt to forecast how future Ad Buyer/Artist relationships might veer away from the current endorsement deal model, and become more collaborative. Traditional endorsement responsibilities can be perceived as hawking by fans and thus damage credibility. Likewise, sponsorships appear most effective when sponsors appear carefully selected by an artist, –and not accepted on the basis of monetary valuation alone.

Consider National Public Radio: Sponsorships are never construed as inherent endorsements by a program, host, celebrity or even the network. But the context in which such sponsorships are presented results in all sponsors framed if not as caring contributors concerned with 'giving something back', then simply as neutral supporters of the arts.

In like manner, I think that providing music as a complimentary gift that accompanies a purchase of either a product or service by a provider who also subsidizes either the artist or artist production may be but one method that music production and promotion in the future will be funded and distributed, with positive effect for both artist and sponsor.

You don't need a strategic partner to make this happen, however. An independent artist might move product in combination with the sales of their own branded merchandise.

What is important is that whether the music is distributed via Artist merch or via a relationship with a partner, it should never be referred to as a ‘freebie’. Perhaps it is framed as a gift, –perhaps as ‘complimentary’ with one’s purchase, or some other term or tag to be decided, but never as a valueless giveaway. A giveaway yes, but one that came at some expense to the giver, and from a giver who actually cares and connects with the gift. This is important: both music and purchase must relate to one another in some credible manner, as I’ll explain presently:

Presently when we purchase music, we buy it for it’s own sake. For instance, you buy a Jay-Z CD because you like his music. And when we buy a product or commission a service, we buy that for it’s own sake, too. One purchases a certain car because you like that make and model, or it serves a utilitarian purpose in one’s life. I think there is an increasing opportunity for both artist and ad buyer to connect with consumers and fans by providing what I might call a ‘lifestyle package’.

In an advertisement for a lifestyle package, the product might be a car, and the soundtrack a licensed piece of music by a certain band. But in contrast to the yesteryear model, whereby the licensed music supported the filmed story, product demo or brand message, in the new model the product and the artist whose music is being used will support each other. Sting's 2000 promotional collaboration with Jaguar represents one relatively recent and notable example of lifestyle packaging between auto manufacturer and rock brand. Likewise, the 2007 Lexus campaign featuring Elvis Costello and Diana Krall.

Ideally, both brand and band serve to sell each other.

Core Costello fans from the artist's punk past might feel affronted by the ads, but his new base probably thinks it's wonderful to see their favorite artist on TV again, in any capacity. Televised promotions are additionally beneficial to the artist because commercials serve to function as an artist's video, and are produced at no cost to artist.

For an example of a lopsided pairing, recall the popular 2000 VW ad that used Nick Drake's song PINK MOON as its soundtrack. In the end, the ad proved better as a music video for Drake than it did as an ad for VW. Simply put, the commercial did more to rehabilitate Drake's career than it did to sell Volkswagens. Not to mention that no one at the time could seem to remember that the ads were actually promoting a specific model, the VW Cabrio.

I suspect that the entire VW 'Drivers Want It' campaign, which featured exceptionally tasteful music choices across a series of quirky spots, did much to keep the music industry afloat with new sales at a time when Napster was biting off big chunks of its bottom line. Meanwhile, VW fired the ad agency that developed the campaign because their cars were collecting dust on lots.

For a strategic relationship between brand and band to work, and benefit both parties, both brand and band must represent compatible archetypes. It will not work when an artist is used to drive sales by overtly pitching products or services directly.

Reciprocally, it will not work when the artist’s fan base does not align with an ad buyer’s target demographic.

But it will work with positive effect when both partners in the relationship are a natural and logical fit for each other, and so long as they remember the silent parties to the contract are fans and consumers. Further, advertiser and artist must not appear to promote each other, but rather fulfill roles as symbiotic symbols in a given lifestyle arrangement, for which the target demographic is shared between both consumer base and fan base.

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Click on any link below to read all the articles in the three-part November 2007 MUSIC AS COLLATERAL series exploring exploring the new paradigms for Music Distribution:

Part 1: Compatible Archetypes
Part 2: Collaborative Marketing Concepts for Musicians
Part 3: The Hottest Brand in the World

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