Saturday, November 10, 2007

Music as Collateral: The Hottest Brand in the World

This article represents the final part of a November 10, 2007 post on the subject of music as collateral.

Read Part One here: Compatible Archetypes.
Read Part Two here: Collaborative Marketing Concepts for Musicians.

The three posts together continue a series explored throughout this blog discussing potential uses of Audio as an Added Value Component .

In the past I’ve attached the label ‘Strategic Audio Partnerships’ to the general concept of subsidizing musical artists by companies that produce products or services; the artists that accept such subsidies ‘Rock Brands’; sponsors, foundations, contributors and even ad buyers who commission musical works with a return promotional effort as a requirement, as following a ‘Medici Model’; and the method by which the music is distributed via as an accompaniment to another purchase as ‘Camelback Collateral’, because the music isn’t selling itself, but rather being carried into the home via another sale.

In the current parlance, individual aspects of these related concepts are increasingly being re-bundled into the separate ideas and executions known as 'Branded Content', and '360° deals'. However, at its essence, Branded Content , " ideas that bring entertainment value to brands and that integrate brands into entertainment". And 360° deals typically describe a relationship whereby a record label will theoretically lay a larger role in an artist's development in return for a share of profits that includes merchandise, touring and other streams of revenue.

To learn more about Branded Content, click on either of the Branded Content links above.

To learn more about the positive potential of 360° deals, read Jeff Leeds' excellent New York Times, November 11, 2007 article, The New Deal: Band as Brand. (As it happens, I've commented on a Jeff Leeds article before. Check out my November 14, 2006 post, Diplomatic Corps Rock Fest). Also check out Bob Lefsetz's Music Analysis blog, The Lefsetz Letter, where he writes in response to Leeds': "Under the guise of artist development, the major labels are spinning this fantasy that 360 deals are good for the artist when the real story is they’re a land grab, a desperate attempt to insure the labels’ future."

Like Branded Content, the concepts of Strategic Audio Partnerships and Rock Brands describe Artist relationships with 3rd party sponsors for the purpose of bringing entertainment value to brands but excepting collaborative promotional ventures, the models stop short of recommending reciprocal integration of those brands back into the artist's entertainment or works.

In contrast to 360° deals, third parties may or may not be active participants in the production of a collaborative marketing venture with an artist: they may simply be sponsors, following a Medici model, with no marketing plan proposed or required). But in the event of a commercial project in which an artist is commissioned in the support of promoting a brand, the artist (and his or her creative and/or management team) will certainly be active participants, if not take on creative leadership roles, and perhaps even manage the production of the effort.

In effect, Brand and Band commission each other in the creation of media of some sort, which serves a dual purpose of promoting both partners to the venture.

The intent is to thereby define the Artist not simply as musician/s under contract for a traditional endorsement or production deal, but as an independent creative and marketing consultant/s at the helm of their own brand –with their own agenda, and inclusive of the professional responsibilities such titles suggest– regardless of what kind of relationship they might have in place with a record label.

Strategic Audio Partnerships and Rock Brands describe an alternate music industry, one supported by sponsors, contributors, arts foundations, patrons, and other strategic or 'brand partners'; and when partnering with advertisers, the Artist (and their creative/ production/ management team, i.e. the 'Rock Brand'), takes on a creative leadership role, as a partner, expert and authority, in the development of any commercial endeavors. The Artist isn't directed by an advertising agency because the Artist is the Advertising Agency (although the deal between Brand and Band may certainly be (and probably will be) brokered and supervised by a traditional communications firm. That is to say, acting at the bequest of Brand, Agency will play line producer to Artist's (or Brand/Band) Creative Direction.

As you might have guessed, I believe the future will indeed resemble 360° deals, but my model positions the Artist/Rock Brand at the hub, with label and partnerships representing but individual revenue streams/spokes in the wheel; as opposed to the model as it is proposed now with the label at the hub, –unless it's worth it to the artist to accept such a contract, and it very well may be in some cases.

There's a reason why I keep using the term Rock Brand. In contrast to traditional endorsement models, the term Rock Brand implies the notion that the artist is not just reading from a script, but that he or she and their team is assuming many –if not all– of the functions typically handled by creative consultants, marketing agencies and commercial production companies. I rarely mention management in this equation, but my supposition is that artist management will represent the fuel cell, build or manage 'the team', and provide much of the energy in this model. In fact, a great place to assemble brand and production consultants under one virtual roof is via management. That said, there's no reason a successful artist might simply start their own production or marketing companies independent of their management's control, and possibly retain other artists as clients or even partners in these businesses.

The question remains: Why would an ad buyer want to forge a strategic audio partnership with a Rock Brand? Certainly that money might be put to better use if spent on a traditional print or TV advertising campaign. Wouldn't it?

Let’s address the issue of budget: In the case of television, consider that production for a national TV commercial might cost between .25M and 1M, not including the media buy, and perhaps run for 13 to 26 weeks. Then it's over and finished, and once it is off the air it quite often erases itself from the popular consciousness. In fact, given the ubiquity of TIVO and other hard disc recorders it may never even connect with (and deliver its message to) its intended target demographic. Likewise, print suffers a parallel effect that TV commercials suffer at the hands of TIVO. People simply turn the page, if they’re even reading print anymore. Suffice to say that every dollar in any advertising budget is gambled.

I often consider how far a million bucks would go if spent on a young emerging artist or band –one perhaps overlooked by the record labels, but identified by an ad buyer's in house A&R team as having the potential to capture the public imagination –or even one small segment of it.

And I've also wondered how long thereafter that a band's young fans might connect a brand endorsement with a band's music. Might that connection continue so that it is able to influence a purchase not now, –not in the next 13 weeks, nor even a year from now; but well into adulthood? It's only conjecture but I have to imagine that two music instrument manufacturers continue to sell a significant bit of product today because thirty years ago a generation of kids read in the liner notes that ‘The Hottest Band In the World’, –KISS– "uses Gibson Guitars and Pearl Drums because they want the best".

Likewise, in a March 30, 2001 article I wrote evangelizing the use of Sonic Branding, titled Branding With Audio, and published by Internet marketing resource, I wrote: Oats may be oats, but if I'm making babies to your music, then chances are my babies will be eating your oats.

And keep in mind that not every dollar of any given ad buyer's promotional budget is necessarily meant to translate into a direct sale. Coca Cola's sponsorship of The Charlie Rose show doesn't translate into direct sales, but it does translate into a general feeling of goodwill that may spur a Coke sale in the future, and perhaps even a lifelong relationship with the brand. Isn't a lifelong relationship with the people who enjoy their music what every artist wants, too?

For a band, if a relationship with a product or service can be contextualized by the public as a collaborative promotion rather than as a paid endorsement by one party of another ('selling out'), then perhaps a band can benefit from being framed as representing the essence of a certain aspirational lifestyle. The worst that can happen is probably not a career killer for the band, nor the brand. Even if the public does not wholeheartedly embrace the relationship, then at the very least one might expect a bit of fame, notoriety and/or interest to sustain the next stage of market evolution for either party, even if the two partners chose to part ways after one campaign.

Consider rockstar Sting's collaboration with Jaguar. The campaign left no doubt that both Jaguar and Sting are luxury items. Maybe you can't afford a Lexus, but you can afford a Sting album. Press play; close your eyes, and now who needs a car to bask in the rich and global lifestyle package Sting represents?

True, I may never listen to Sting again without thinking of Jaguar, –and such associations would be problematic for some artists– but in the case of Sting and Jaguar, this pairing doesn't necessarily distract from my enjoyment of the artist's music. This means that Jaguar's dollar, or pound, stretches quite far, well beyond the actual campaign and will possibly even resonate across the Artist's new works and future appearances. For Sting, the association reinforces the public perception of his position as a celestial body in the Rock universe. It is precisely because the collaboration paired two equitable archetypal figures, and presented them as creative collaborators, that their past partnership will continue to serve each to great mutual advantage.

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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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