Though the music industry is more open to the idea of brands using their pop stars for promotional tie-ins, marketers should avoid jumping on the bandwagon of the meaningless ‘free CD with every purchase.’ By Helen Donald
It’s hard to pick up the weekend papers these days without finding a free CD included within the cellophane wrapping. But while industry experts claim this sort of promotion appeals to consumers by tapping into a growing interest in music, there are others who insist that it is purely a cynical use of cheap giveaways.
Institute of Sales Promotion (ISP) director-general Edwin Mutton says: “There’s no doubt that people are more into music than ever before, and the fact that the price of CDs has come down makes this type of promotion attractive to clients, though the low price is a double-edged sword: there is no perceived value in something that you can easily get for yourself.”
Mutton believes it is easy for companies to lose sight of what they are trying to achieve: “It doesn’t matter how cheap the premium is – the same rules have to apply. It must be right for the target market and offer customers some genuine value. The best prize of all is one that money can’t buy, such as tickets for a sold-out concert,” he says.
Specialist music agency Spin Music was responsible for The Sun’s hugely successful “CD of the Week” promotion that ran last summer for four months. Unlike many CD giveaways, each CD contained material that fans had not had access to before. Andy Cleary, founder of Spin, believes the promotion was such a success because everyone involved had something to gain.
“The punters got exclusive content, the music industry was able to extend the life of albums and The Sun sold a lot more papers and built its relationship with its readers while also finding out about their music interests,” he says. Cleary also negotiated a tie-up with HMV so that readers could pick up their free CDs in store, thereby bringing HMV new customers, and leading to an increase in sales of related albums.
A promotion that works well at first can lose its appeal if it is repeated too often or copied by other companies. Cleary believes this is one of the main problems with CD giveaways, particularly in publishing. “There have been some great promotions, but there have also been some really poor ones that had no longevity or brand-building potential. Many papers have simply ended up ‘renting’ readers off each other for a week with no long-term benefit,” he says.
But that doesn’t mean the promotion hasn’t worked, claims Ian Millner, managing director of integrated agency Iris. It just means it could have worked a lot better and achieved some long-term, strategic goals with better planning. He recently launched an entertainment and events division in the agency, called i.e., which specialises in developing music-based events. Millner believes that companies need to be more focused on how music can help them differentiate themselves from their competitors rather than just seeing it as a route to a short-term volume uplift.
Iris has spent the past three years developing a research panel of young opinion-formers who keep a diary of their thoughts, interests and experiences. This research helps Iris identify trends in the music industry that brands can exploit before they become mainstream.
“We’re trying to build more science into how entertainment promotions work,” says Millner. “They are still a cottage industry in many respects and decisions can be subjective. Most research is by definition out-of-date when it’s done, let alone by the time it has been analysed and summarised. In this sort of fast-moving business, projective research is far more valuable and it enables us to be 12 months ahead of the game.”
Millner also points out that striking up a relationship early with an emerging music star can be cost-effective. He believes the best partnerships generate a return on investment for both parties and are more than simply a sponsorship deal. “If you are brokering the content you also need to help brand owners use it properly. It should be about more than just logo appearances,” he says.
Mutton agrees: “For both the artist and promoter, the most successful cultural marketing activities are those that combine sponsorship with promotional marketing activity. To maximise the benefit of the relationship, the spend on the promotional activity should at least match the initial sponsorship fee.” Mutton recommends seeing any partnership as a total campaign rather than a standalone activity. “Any promotion should work in at least three or four ways such as sponsorship, on-pack, corporate hospitality and PR,” he says.
Cleary agrees that companies need to take a more strategic view of how they use music promotions. “Sadly, too many companies hand their budgets over to agencies that have no experience of the music industry and no clue about how to make a relationship with an artist work across different media. The music industry is seduced by the size of the budgets and often doesn’t think projects through as well as it should and then wonders why it is left feeling raped and pillaged by the whole experience and reluctant to try again,” he says.
The Sun eclipses the competition
He believes brand owners and the music industry could avoid some of these pitfalls if there was a ready-made platform for setting up a music promotion. The Sun’s “Music for You” promotion, which sold 3 million extra CDs, is widely regarded as a huge success by both sides and proved that mass consumption of music in promotions was achievable. However, Cleary claims the logistics of setting up all the deals with the numerous record labels involved means that such an exercise is unlikely to be repeated.
Most companies prefer to deal with just one music company. For instance, NatWest has worked with Sony for two years as part of its campaign to encourage young people and students to open bank accounts. Those who open an account receive a free copy of one of ten top albums. Robert Prevezer is chief executive of The Communications Agency (TCA), which manages the promotion.
“You cannot fob teenagers off with the wrong thing so we go to great lengths to ensure that what we offer is right and we update it regularly,” he says. Prevezer denies brand owners are limited by working with a single music company: “There are a great many record labels within companies such as Sony, enabling us to offer a wide choice of music.”
Mutton agrees that this sort of relationship can be successful. “It’s much better than building your brand around a single artist, which can be potentially risky. People can go out of fashion very quickly.”
There is also the danger of the artist becoming involved in a scandal that threatens to damage the brand’s reputation as well as their own. For this reason, Mutton favours more general associations, for example with orchestras.
“On the face of it, sponsoring a symphony orchestra might seem to have narrow appeal but it can be a tremendous PR coup because the brand can earn a lot of respect from being seen to support a struggling cause,” he says.
Rob Hanlon, business development manager at Warner Music UK, says musicians can also benefit from brand tie-ups which take their music to a wider audience. He believes there has been a big change of heart in the music industry in recent years: “In the past, major recording artists tended to view close ties with brands as selling out. Many record companies were also sceptical of the benefits in allowing their artists and recordings to be used in brand marketing. However, they are increasingly interested in establishing strategic partnerships with major brands and agencies. Artists and their business managers have also become much more marketing savvy. They have come to recognise that teaming up with a major brand can create a new route to their target market .
“Record companies are increasingly open to cross-platform advertising and marketing initiatives to help create exciting brand campaigns. An artist could appear in a brand’s TV commercials and on packaging and in-store display material as well as being featured on a promotional CD. The main activity may also be supported by parallel initiatives featuring the artist on radio and TV shows, in newspapers and magazines, in clubs, and on the internet,” he adds.
The consensus seems to be that a good fit between brand and artist is essential and a giveaway that has no value beyond the fact that it is free is no longer good enough to engage consumers’ interest. Successful music promotions are integrated and profitable for everyone concerned, not just the brand owner.