Brands Play to Win

There was a time when pop musicians turned up their cocaine-filled noses at the thought of having their tunes used in ads. But with music sales under pressure and pop audiences fragmenting, the artists’ managers are now beating a path to the doors of ad agencies with demos clasped in their sweaty palms.

Ogilvy & Mather executive creative director Patrick Collister says the shift towards the use of artists’ original recordings started in 1994, when Bartle Bogle Hegarty secured the rights to use Marvin Gaye’s I Heard It Through the Grapevine in an ad for Levi’s jeans.

“Nobody had done that before, although sometimes an ad took a track from a well-known songwriter and changed it,” he says.

Universal Music head of film and TV licensing Ian Neil agrees that the business has changed dramatically over the past decade. “Agencies used to get the rights to re-record a song and record companies didn’t get involved as it was seen as a dirty business and selling out.

“But as time went on more and more agencies approached recording companies for a licence for the master recording.”

The Lighthouse Family is one band, says Neil, which has benefited from having its tracks Lifted and Ocean Drive used in ads for Nissan and Alpen respectively.

Neil says: “The band was riding high in the charts with single releases, but the ads meant they reached a much wider audience.”

Some bands are so eager to please that they even re-record the lyrics to their own song, as Shed 7 did with the track Speak Easy. The band re-recorded the track for a radio ad, created by M&C Saatchi, for telecoms retailer The Link. Ruth Simmons, managing director of the music agency Songseekers International, says: “We worked with the management, the band and the record company so that the track included a reference to The Link.”

But O&M’s Collister now accuses some agencies of using a famous track just to grab attention for a brand.

“There is a lot of unintelligent use of famous tracks. If you are going to use music you should really be out to create a brand identity.”

He points to the choice of Katrina and the Waves’ song Walking On Sunshine for an ad for the holiday company First Choice, which even now is played during its charter flights.

Likewise Levi’s has promoted an image of American rebelliousness through its choice of music, while Renault promoted the riské and sexy image of its Clio range by using an adaptation of Robert Palmer’s song Johnny and Mary throughout its Papa and Nicole series of TV ads, says Collister.

Car manufacturers have a history of using pop music to advertise their brands. Peugeot 406 used M People’s Search For A Hero and The Mamas and Papas song: Dream a Little Dream of Me. Rover 200 adopted Sting’s An Englishman in New York for its theme tune.

In a market saturated with products that have little differentiation, consumers are unlikely to make an impulse purchase just because they have seen an ad. Car manufacturers aim therefore to create an emotional relationship with potential customers through the use of music and pictures.

Apart from the new-found eagerness of recording artists to have their tracks used in ads, other factors are playing a part in influencing the relationship between ad agencies and the music industry. Pan-European and global campaigns, digital TV, and demands for premium tie-ins are all exerting an influence.

The frontmen of both industries ­ the licensing specialists at record companies and music publishing houses, and the TV producers at ad agencies ­ claim to understand the complexities of each other’s territories. However, problems arise when the respective parties have to report back to clients, artists, composers and creatives.

There are plenty of instances where clients or creatives have to be told that they cannot always have the track they want.

This may be for a number of reasons, such as the budget has been used up before the cost of the rights to the piece of music have been negotiated, or the cost of the song rights is too high, the rights have already been bought, or the artists or songwriters are not willing to let their work be used in an ad.

Rick Blaskey, marketing director of the music consultancy Music & Media Partnership, says: “Unfortunately it’s what is left that becomes the music budget.

“We have been in a lot of meetings with agency representatives who are pulling their hair out because they can’t get any more money out of the client.”

Levi’s, Peugeot and Pepsi have all become known for their use of pop music in ads.

Blaskey adds: “If financing the music had not been a priority, they would never have been able to secure those tracks.”

Where the artist has refused to licence their master recording, there is always the option of re-recording the track, if the composer and music publishing house are agreeable.

But with supergroups now almost a thing of the past, it pays for bands to get maximum exposure for their one-hit wonders or, if lucky, a flurry of chart-topping songs. No matter how accommodating the music industry has become, ad agencies and their clients still need to plan and budget ahead to get the right songs for the brand.

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