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American pop singer Lady Gaga leaves a hotel in Hong Kong Tuesday, May 8, 2012. (AP)
American pop singer Lady Gaga leaves a hotel in Hong Kong Tuesday, May 8, 2012. (AP)

MIa Pearson

Brands that align with bands must hit the right notes Add to ...

More and more brands seem to be looking to align themselves with the music industry as part of their overall marketing strategy.

Brands you would not normally expect to be make such an alignment are, for the first time, looking to incorporate performances with the hottest new bands around their major product launches. The strategy ranges from broadening a customer base to rewarding fans.

Musical group OK Go's Needing/Getting official music video release, made in partnership with Chevrolet, is a great example.

Using no ringers or stand-ins, the band shot and recorded its video from a Chevy Sonic, driving a course set up with more than 1,000 instruments over two miles of desert outside of Los Angeles.

Lady Gaga teamed up with social gaming giant Zynga Inc. to promote her Born This Way launch by allowing FarmVille users to interact with a Lady Gaga-inspired farm and be the first to listen to new songs from the pop icon's new album. Users also had a chance to spend a day on the set of the star's next video shoot.

The challenge is that it’s a tricky endeavour and, if not done right, can backfire in a big way.

Look what happened when Mary J. Blige was featured in a fried chicken ad for Burger King Corp. The spot – which Burger King has since yanked from its YouTube site – featured Ms. Blige singing about a new crispy chicken wrap and drew criticism on Twitter for playing off a stereotype about African-Americans and chicken.

I recently talked to Daniel Ewing, director of strategy and partnerships at Embrace Presents, a music and entertainment company, to understand the pitfalls that companies need to be aware of before putting together a partnership with a band.

Known for his expertise in helping brands create strong partnerships with music talent, Mr. Ewing’s work includes creating the Rogers Wireless Box Office and partnership development for music festivals such as the North by Northeast Music Festival, Mutek and the Skrillex Full Flex Express Tour. He shed some light on where these partnerships can go wrong.

Overlooking the customer experience

Quite often, the process of aligning an artist with a brand leaves the consumer or fan out of the mix.

“The objective of any entertainment program should be to deliver an enhanced consumer experience along with a credible reason for the brand to be involved,” Mr. Ewing says. “If the consumer isn't at the forefront of the thought process, the program should immediately be re-evaluated.”

A good example is when you find yourself at an event that is so heavily branded, it no longer feels authentic. Consumers are there to be entertained and do not want to be hit over the head with branding. It leaves a soured opinion of both the brand and artist.

Biased talent opinions

It's always best to get a full landscape of talent options aimed at appealing to your desired target audience, rather than working directly with the record label or talent agency. They may not always have your interests in mind and, without options, brands can easily be talked into supporting an agenda that doesn't align with your own.

The other mistake is making the decision based on the perceptions of the senior management team at your company, who are not always in the know about the best talent for your age demographic. “More often than not you wind up with an irrelevant and expensive talent option to ensure name recognition with high-ups. Just because your CEO hasn't heard of a band doesn't mean that very band can't fill a launch party with the brand's target demographic.”

Not amplifying the program

With the ever-growing importance of digital content, it’s becoming more and more crucial for programs to have legs in both the pre- and post-event stages. It’s no longer just about a one-off event, hitting a limited number of people. The most successful campaigns live on for months after their actual date and leverage components such as artist content in advance to build hype and extend the program reach with the target demographic.

The more exclusive the content, the better. Consider negotiating artist media interviews, live performance streams and artist Q&As with fans to drive broader engagement. The more you integrate the fan into the overall experience, the more you engage your audience and broaden the reach of your event.

Negotiate these elements up front and as part of the artist contract, and then align your marketing channels to promote and distribute the content.

Choosing the wrong marketing channels

The music industry is driven through social media, and traditional marketing channels may not be the best approach for your program. Leveraging traditional media channels can be helpful, but should not come at the cost of missing the new ones that are aligned with an artist and may break your brand into new markets.

This is the time to challenge old models, try to lead with social media and leverage the following of the artist or band to drive increased awareness, and your brand’s connection with a whole new group of consumers.

Not managing expectations

Most important, manage expectations. When it comes to results, there are a few things to keep in mind.

Results take time. Successful programs are seldom one-offs and evolve over time. Artists can be difficult to deal with and don't always play by the rules. The entertainment industry is one of very few places where the purchaser (the brand) doesn't have all the power. Money isn't always the motivating factor and buying talent isn't the same as buying a commodity.

Much of the appeal of artists comes from their lack of conformity and ability to play by their own rules. But that’s also often what makes the partnership so powerful.

For brands, if done right, a partnership can create consumer relationships that last well beyond the first concert.

Special to The Globe and Mail

An earlier online version incorrectly indentified the name and URL of Mr. Ewing's company. This online version has been corrected.

Mia Pearson is the co-founder of North Strategic . She has more than two decades of experience in creating and growing communications agencies, and her experience spans many sectors, including financial, technology, consumer and lifestyle.

Join The Globe’s Small Business LinkedIn group to network with other entrepreneurs and to discuss topical issues: http://linkd.in/jWWdzT

Follow on Twitter: @miapearson

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