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Adhocracy

Old brands and new bands: A love story Add to ...

They looked more like quirky music videos than car commercials. A couple of months ago, Hyundai began airing a series of ads featuring the indie duo known as Pomplamoose. The pair - the multi-instrumentalists Jack Conte and Nataly Dawn - sang offbeat versions of Christmas carols, mugged for the camera in goofy seasonal attire, and popped in and out of a Hyundai Sonata that apparently had been parked in their cramped living room.

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Fans of Pomplamoose, which has carefully built up a following for its whimsical stylings through heavy use of YouTube and other social media, cheered the band's appearance, but some expressed concern. The band controls its own music and videos; it has not signed to a label. The Hyundai venture seemed straight out of the Renaissance-era playbook of the Medicis and Michelangelo: A commercial enterprise pairing up with an artist to buy some cachet it couldn't earn for itself.

Except it's not. Because at a time when the infrastructure of the music industry has crumbled and independent artists especially are finding it harder than ever to break through the sonic clutter, here was a band benefiting almost as much, if not more, than the brand whose payroll they had joined. Newspapers carried Pomplamoose's story to fans of indie music who are always on the lookout for the next little thing; viewing numbers for the band's videos spiked sharply over December.

And Pomplamoose's tale is no longer that unusual. In the summer of 2009, the profile of the Vancouver singer Hannah Georgas suddenly soared when Wal-Mart used a snippet of her song A Place Called Home for its back-to-school campaign: So many people asked about the song that the retailer struck a deal with Ms. Georgas to release it for free on its website.

Bands, of course, have been licensing their music - and, increasingly, their images - to brands for decades. During the Super Bowl, Justin Bieber and Ozzy Osborne mugged for Best Buy, while Eminem starred in a popular spot for the new Chrysler 300. This week Belvedere Vodka announced it had signed Usher to be a new brand ambassador.

But this may be the first time that young bands are getting more out of the deal than the brands that are paying the bills. Last year, the London office of the ad agency Anomaly opened a small record label called Anomaly Music Group whose first song, A Hundred Lovers by the musician Josep Xorto, provided the soundtrack to an engaging, interactive video for the Diesel clothing line.

Right now, the Danish psychedelic soul band The Asteroids Galaxy Tour is getting ready to launch a new EP, and probably a worldwide tour, as a direct result of starring in a new Heineken spot that is already a hit online even though it hasn't yet been on TV. In December, the Dutch brewer unveiled The Entrance , a 90-second spot depicting a sophisticated fellow strolling into a party in a mansion and instantly impressing all the guests with extraordinary feats of cool. The ladies swoon, the men applaud: all to the soundtrack of Asteroids Galaxy Tour's irresistibly jazzy number The Golden Age. The punchline? In the commercial's dying seconds, someone throws the fellow a flute, whereupon he begins to jam with the band itself, which is playing amid the party's hoopla.

"We're working with a strategy of treating our beer drinkers as the legendary characters they are, these men who know their way around," says Mark Bernath, an executive creative director of Wieden + Kennedy Amsterdam. "They're kind of like the Swiss Army knives of experience; they're able to navigate the world. Heineken's the beer version of this guy. It's the most widely distributed beer, so it has the right to be the most worldly lager in that way."

"He's a guy who explores the outer reaches and meets interesting people," adds his partner Eric Quennoy, with whom he oversaw the Heineken creative. "Part of that is finding the bands that are under the radar, that aren't so populist."

At the conclusion of the commercial shoot, which took place in Barcelona last summer, Wieden + Kennedy and Heineken decided to help out the Asteroids by shooting a full-length music video both they and the band could use as they pleased. If features the band playing their song, intercut with scenes of characters from the Heineken commercial that didn't fit into the original spot, not unlike the music videos that bands make when they play on movie soundtracks.

"Creating a music video like this would have cost tens of thousands of English pounds," says Henning Dietz, the band's London-based manager. "Having Heineken collaborate with us meant they paid for all the production costs and we end up with a fabulous video that looks incredible. It's a beautiful symbiosis."

"There's so much stuff coming at people," notes Wieden's Mr. Bernath. "It's kind of our responsibility to give them stuff that's entertaining as possible, along with obviously delivering work that builds the brand we're working for, and makes fans out of the consumers who are watching it."

The long-form Asteroids music video has racked up more than half a million views on YouTube, while the 90-second Heineken spot has been seen more than three million times - even before the worldwide TV campaign kicks off in the spring. "We're releasing a brand-new EP called The Golden Age, simply because this huge exposure justifies us reapproaching radio stations, in some countries at least," Mr. Dietz says.

The Asteroids (or at least their record company, which owns the rights to their songs) were paid well for the band's involvement in the Heineken spot. But sometimes marketers try to make the case that exposure itself is the prize. The Vancouver band Five Alarm Funk is featured in a 90-second online spot for Red Mountain Resort of Rossland, B.C., but they weren't paid for participating. "We viewed our benefit from it being the viral marketing-type of thing," says the saxophonist Dameian Walsh, who notes the ad has been seen more than 44,000 times since going live in late November. "That's worth something to us."

That sort of arrangement strikes Beth Urdang as un-kosher. She's the one who put Wieden + Kennedy together with The Asteroids Galaxy Tour, through her Brooklyn-based music licensing firm Agoraphone.

"Bands do get a lot of promotion," she acknowledges. "But don't forget, when they're promoted, more people download their songs for free. More people will know their name and will know their song, but it's not like necessarily they'll sell that much more."

And if brands don't pay the licensing fees that represent bands' shrinking revenue sources, they may eventually find they don't have good artists to turn to for content. "The legs have been kicked out from under the industry," Ms. Urdang says. "You kick this leg out, there's no more industry."

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