So, let the music pay

Brand tie-ups with big pop stars are a common promotional tool, but not all pop groups are happy to play corporate ball, while the costs for some brands can prove prohibitive. Mark Palmer reports on the art of making the most of your noise

While pop group Oasis may have sung about living forever, the reality in the record industry is you’ll be lucky to get six months, even with bad behaviour. Record companies know the record-buying few no longer jump for Jack Flash just because he appeared in Q magazine or NME last week. Most bands have to promote their songs away from the turntables – and a record company’s back catalogue is always happy to tie up with a big brand.

Often the match is a fairly safe one, but still innovative. Sony Ericsson recently teamed up with Anastacia, using her world tour to launch its F500i Vodafone live entertainment handset across Europe. Exclusive access to the tour was available via the handset.

Cult of controversy

More controversial artists are sometimes sought after by brands for shock value: Christina Aguilera left the music behind to get Dirrty for recent campaigns with Virgin Mobile and Skechers footwear, while controversial rapper 50 Cent ran with Reebok.

Tie-ups with artists known for sexual or violent imagery in their songs or stage performances can boost the appeal of youth-oriented brands, but there are proscriptions.

While explicit lyrics can be included on any magazine covermount without restriction, and music videos are generally exempt from classification, it’s a different story on the big screen. Sue Clark of the British Board Of Film Classification explains: “Advertisers using music in a cinema ad would have to take account of the BBFC’s guidelines. Ads are classified according to the same basic guidelines as films, videos and DVDs.”

The sweet meet

One of the best places for a brand to get noticed is in front of a large crowd. And sometimes the oddest tie-ups can work best of all. You probably wouldn’t have expected to find a pop band like The Sugababes taking to the turf along with the jockeys at a day at the races, but this is what happened last month when the all-girl group performed live at the Blue Square-sponsored Shergar Cup at Ascot.

You could even be in for a surprise if you go down to the woods these days – you may bump into Status Quo rocking all over the undergrowth or even the Beach Boys creating their own fusion of woodland surf. This pop among the pines is thanks to the Forestry Commission which, in recent years, has hosted a series of summer concerts at woodland sites across the country.

The choice of bands appearing has been diverse – is this all part of the masterplan? According to Mike Taylor, operations manager East Anglia Forest District, yes: “It’s very important to get the right acts appearing. This year we’ve broadened the range to explore a number of markets and hopefully we will continue with this, but it does depend on which acts are available and willing to commit. Some buy into the concept more than others.”

Rock to the music

So besides more woodland visitors, what does the Forestry Commission hope to gain from these events? “Usually we would expect to make a profit, which has traditionally been recycled into recreation or conservation projects. This year has been a difficult one with three Bryan Ferry cancellations due to illness,” says Taylor.

Sponsoring a music festival may be more beneficial when the sponsor is not sharing the limelight with other brand-name groupies.

Paul Seligman, managing director of Communicator, whose promotions include this year’s Summer Jazz festivals sponsored by Starbucks, says: “I believe it is generally far better to own an event rather than be one of a number of sponsors. Too many companies make the mistake of thinking there is safety in numbers when all that happens in reality is they get lost in the crowd.”

Getting base

While the Eighties pop group Frankie Goes to Hollywood urged us to “relax, don’t do it” when it came to sex, Durex says: it’s ok – as long as you are wearing a condom. Now you can get the safe sex message on CD, courtesy of MC Squami. Squami is a member of controversial London-based garage group So Solid Crew, and Durex teamed up with him to tackle safe sex issues by releasing a track called Pack It to clubs and record shops on the underground garage scene.

Brand manager Zoe Lawrie says the reason Durex decided to jump into the promotional bed with Squami is “because he can promote the safer sex message to those who are most at risk, in a credible and positive way”. The campaign hopes to target “traditionally hard-to-reach groups” with the initiative – a marketing first for Durex, with more Squami collaborations expected to follow.

Salvation for Alaric

The idea of a brand name acting as a record company could become more common. Salvation Films, a distributor of cult European horror movies under its Redemption label and other niche genre releases, set up its own record label Triple Silence, to bolster existing product promotion. Signings include the New York group The Nuns and “face of Redemption” Eileen Daly recording as Jezebel.

The bands are chosen to match and strengthen brand identity. Salvation managing director Nigel Wingrove explains how the idea came about: “We felt there was a growing synergy between horror, the fetish scene, the Goth scene and alternative culture generally, and as a consequence decided that it made sense to start a music label specialising in bands that fit this niche.”

Bands were chosen that could be exploited visually across product ranges “by including music videos and a brief biography of the bands as extras on our DVD releases”. Film trailers are also included on the music CDs. It’s all part of the Salvation incantation to “create our own style of alternative culture” and a promotional profile “sufficiently controversial and threatening” to scare potential rivals away.

Promoting a brand with music as an “experience” can capture a youthful following. Established bands can come into and go out of fashion quicker than a Kajagoogoo hairstyle, so linking with new and unsigned, as well as established DJ and dance acts for global club nights as KLP has done with its Smirnoff Experience promotion, covers all ranges of the music mix. KLP Entertainment director Natasha Kizzie says the promotion is a “growth driver” taking in television and radio shows, exclusive CDs and even a Smirnoff Experience bar in Ibiza along the way.

While Madonna and Missy Elliott were happy to get into the groove and record a duet for a Gap campaign last year, not all groups want to play ball with brands. Some denounce such collaborations: U2 used a skit of the McDonald’s golden arches on their sponsor-free Pop Mart world tour in 1997, which was reportedly described by lead singer Bono as: “Trying to eat the corporate monster before it eats us.” McDonald’s for its part has recently offered a free music download from Sony Connect for every Big Mac eaten.

The Angular Recording Corporation champions some of the most hotly tipped new bands around and is committed to the music being the focus of attention. Its recent CD compilation “Rip Off Your Labels” was a clear message against corporate karaoke.

Money for nothing?

Angular’s founding members are Joe Daniel and Joe Margetts – and both are scathing of brand promotions. Daniel says that while he can “understand the lure of money” he doesn’t understand “any desire to be associated with a certain image or aesthetic that any commercial product might have”.

Margetts agrees: “If the music itself has been made with visibility and sales in mind, it becomes a false trade off. If you start to make money out of doing something you love, then I think you start to hate it.”

Daniel adds: “It can only ever cheapen the music to see it used as the soundtrack to recycled images of sex and freedom, and as a fan it detracts from and distorts whatever the song meant to you.”

Often a song makes or breaks a campaign. This summer saw Carling use The 5.6.7.8’s catchy song “Woo Hoo” in their Love Football ad campaign. Teaming the brand up with an all-girl group of Japanese punkettes meant a link with one of the hottest songs of the summer – with some extra cult appeal thanks to its inclusion on the Kill Bill soundtrack.

But music promotions can be expensive, and the possibility of using well-known tracks is often too costly for many brands. There are ways to avoid the rat trap: get creative. According to Reg Starkey, creative director of Millennium, campaigns, such as Intel in which “that ‘Intel Inside’ sting cues up the words even with your eyes closed”, can succeed thanks to just a few choice notes.

So if you want to tie your brand to a signature tune, there is always the option of composing your own, unique, sound. If it is memorable enough, it may stay in the public’s mind far longer than any latest hit.

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