WPP gets to play with the world’s biggest jukebox

WPP Group, the marketing services powerhouse, announced a deal last week between its consolidated media arm GroupM and Universal Music to push music even further into the mainstream of the advertising world, through a new joint venture called BrandAmp.

It will work across international markets and could also deal with music from rival record labels. The idea is to develop music and brand partnerships for advertising clients.

WPP boss Sir Martin Sorrell points out: “In a world of media fragmentation, music remains a powerful medium. We see an increasing desire for brands to partner bands.” Sorrell is hoping that the deal will make it easier to develop successful partnerships.

Some musicians only become famous because their work features in ads. Swedish singer-songwriter Jos?onzalez did not create much of a stir until Sony decided to use his version of Heartbeats in its acclaimed “Balls” ad for the Bravia television.

It doesn’t always happen like that, but sometimes a track breaks out from an ad to become a bone fide hit. Levi’s ads of the 1980s set a high standard, introducing classic soul artists like Percy Sledge and Marvin Gaye to a new generation of jeans-clad youths.

In practice, the WPP deal will mean Universal gets involved in the advertising process far earlier. Instead of pandering to middle men who broker deals between ad agencies and record labels, they will now be dealing directly with each other. A spokeswoman for Universal suggests that some of its artists could even write original material for an ad campaign.

The deal marks the first time Universal has linked itself so closely to an advertising group, but it is not the first deal of its kind. Omnicom has its Stream division, and last year EMI signed with WCRS to form a music-licensing arm.

Mutually beneficial
Julian Hough, business development director of WCRS parent company The Engine Group, says the relationship between agencies and record labels is now vital and likely to become even closer. “We recognised some time ago that it was pretty essential to have in-house music expertise,” he says. “Labels are looking for closer relationships with agencies. Consumers don’t expect to pay for music. Increasingly, revenues for artists will come through merchandising.”

Despite the growth of illegal music downloading, Universal says that its album sales are doing well. When consumers buy an album or single, there is a good chance it will be on a Universal label, whether the indie-focused Geffen, hip-hop label Def Jam or reggae-to-U2 label Island.

The company, the largest of the four music majors, controls over a quarter of the $33.5bn (17.6bn) global music market. Its artists range from rapper Busta Rhymes to pop stars like Girls Aloud and country star Lyle Lovett.

In a world of pirated downloads it makes sense for music labels to exploit new revenue streams. Universal struck another innovative deal recently with SpiralFrog to offer ad-funded, free downloads.

Don’t get too close
But there are dangers aplenty in brands getting too close to musicians and the relationship can sour quickly. Volkswagen owners were none too pleased in the 1980s when fans of the Beastie Boys started ripping the marque’s badge off cars to hang around their necks. More recently, rapper Jay-Z announced a boycott of Crystal champagne because of a perceived racist slight from Fr?ric Rouzard, managing director of parent company Louis Roederer.

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