Branded content vital to promoting music acts

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Record labels are ramping up spend on branded content as they look to forge stronger ties between agencies and brands.

The music business is changing. Record labels now have the ability to apply cost-effective social and mobile marketing to traditional marketing channels. It’s no secret that the music industry was badly affected by the digital revolution, but over the last four years agencies have been working increasingly with music executives to change the rules of how labels promote their artists through media.

Indeed, Simon Cowell’s record label Syco appointed creative shop Adam & Eve to move beyond the traditional promotional strategies to more integrated and creative solutions.

Mark Hardy, Syco’s marketing director, who appointed the agency earlier this month, says the partnership was formed to identify more creative ways for fans to enjoy music, through commercial partnerships and live performance concepts.

The shift in dynamic between agencies, record labels and brands has reached critical mass over the last two years, says Phil Holiday, head of Sport and Entertainment at OMD’s branded content division Fuse.

“There’s recognition on the brand side now that an artist as oppose to a music partnership will give them a lot more, he says. “Music acts have effectively become media owners and as a result can offer brands direct access to their audience, particularly through social media and experiential executions.”

Music branding is not new. What is new for record labels is technology, and the growing need to leverage their acts across as many relevant touchpoints as possible.

For brands the golden egg is to create authentic ways in which brands and music reflect one another and their audience.

According to Ian Hambleton partner at creative agency Studio Output, who worked with Syco at the start of the year on Cher Lloyd’s brand campaign, record labels are prioritising strong engagement through social media over reach in their briefs as they look to develop more branded and authentic content for fans.

“Facebook and Twitter will continue to represent the mainstay for social engagement. But we still need to complement this with more traditional advertising, radio and TV support. There’s still a large music buying audience out there who aren’t taped into digital.”

Getting the balance right between social media and traditional media is paramount amid a music-marketing climate where word-of-mouth is the pre-eminent driver of sampling and purchases, adds Holiday.

OMD Fuse cites its pop video challenge with Channel 4, Bauer Media and US band LMFAO, which ended last month, as an instance where it came up with the social concept first before approaching Channel 4 to bolster the campaign via TV.

“Everytime we work with an artist, the strategy must be underpinned by social media but also amplified through traditional media to ensure that it resonates with the artists’ fanbase,” says Holiday.

What’s changed is that record labels are paying more attention to audience research and how “brand friendly” acts are in order to understand what consumers want.

The recognition that emotional connections work harder than rational support points to increase loyalty is propelling innovative record labels and brands to use music acts more strategically for long-term gain.

The commercial side of the music industry is no longer separate from the artistic side, says Neil Christie, MD at Wieden + Kennedy, and labels are actively seeking out partnerships with brands to support new business models.

The agency worked with rock band The Kasier Chiefs earlier this year for ’The Future is Medieval’ campaign (see video below). It let fans create their own albums by selecting ten tracks from a list of 20 and also design their own custom artwork as the cover.

“In the past it was believed that brands shouldn’t sell out commercially to brands because it would somehow undermine their credibility. I don’t think this notion exists anymore except in small idealistic pockets,” he adds.

“Music continues to be a core part of our entertainment world, so if brands can somehow own part of this space through content tie-ups they will seek to benefit from that association.”

“It should ultimately come down to the music; if you can create good music then everything else branding-wise should fall into place. However the record the labels aren’t relying on that,” says Holiday.

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