Culture is the stuff of life – it’s what we see, do, wear and listen to. It is how we act and communicate. It’s what people are talking about. Culture, like a brand, is living and breathing and we need to have our ear to the ground as it adapts to technological and societal changes. For brands to be relevant, they too must flex with culture and help consumers navigate their way through these incredible changes. And a big part of that culture is music. Music is a connector; it is never simply about the tunes – it’s the lifestyle, the politics, the issues in the community. Music reflects people’s reality so it’s emotional and connects global communities. Music is big and influential. Which makes it very interesting – and useful – to brands.
Companies want consumers to be emotional about their brands and to connect in an "authentic" way, while artists want to build a loyal fanbase or run a successful tour – and to achieve this they need financial support. These partnerships, if done well, truly can shape culture.
For brands to have power, consumer advocacy is key. Transparency is becoming expected. It is no longer acceptable for brands to appropriate and badge culture. As marketers, we need to ensure a brand’s purpose, mission and reason for being is no longer a buzzword but embedded and throughout the business. This is where brands can win or lose hearts and minds. Consumers want their brands to be more human, to be more than their product, to add value to their lives – and if they don’t they will let you know. Our plans must be consumer focused and shift from push marketing to pull marketing, from brand advocacy to consumer advocacy.
In today’s world of political and social turmoil, hip-hop, grime and urban music and the cultural voices have been effecting positive social and political change. Take Brand Corbyn – when UK grime and hip-hop artists backed the Labour leader, a surge of young, hard-to-reach voters turned out to vote, raising the youth vote to an unheard of 72%.
Trail-blazers Run DMC and Adidas
The first brand-music partnership with true cultural relevance that I remember is still the benchmark for any projects I work on today. Born culture-first, Run DMC’s partnership with Adidas felt completely natural and right. I’m a fan of both hip-hop and sneakers so it spoke to me personally and culturally. (Who knew that a few years later, I would be working for Adidas Originals?)
And recently, Harlem’s ASAP Mob showed us another way by building a brand, look, style and following online. This crew is an independent entity, rooted in the power of its own brand and having a deep understanding of the culture it moves within. Today, it still makes its own choices, including who it decides to partner. The hip-hop collective decides which brands its wants to work with and approaches them – recent partnerships include Guess and Viacom.
The music industry continues to evolve. From vinyl and cassettes to the introduction of digital downloads through hardware like the iPod and now streaming, the way fans access music has completely changed. In the past two years, streaming in the US has increased from 33% to 62%. Consumers are accessing on demand all types of music, from established acts to emerging artists.
As voice search becomes more mainstream – in the home with Sonos and in the car via a smartphone – this will be democratised even more: so how should artists cut through? This is where brands can play a crucial role. In some categories, such as alcohol, it can lead directly to sales but the natural fit is still key.
Diageo and Captain Morgan hit the right note
While I was at Diageo, a premix partnership with boutique trendsetting festival Appelsap in Amsterdam recruited a new generation of drinkers and associated the brand with a global tastemaker crowd. And at Outlook Festival, Captain Morgan enabled the livestream of the incredible Outlook Orchestra to a global audience.
But in a world where our reality can feel like a reality TV show, how can brands and music make a real impact and do profitable business? A great example is the recent launch of Fenty Beauty, a collaboration between Rihanna and LVMH to create a luxurious yet inclusive beauty brand.
And I am proud of the purpose work delivered in partnership with Smirnoff while I was at Diageo and through my new venture, Platform13. At Diageo, this included the Belfast Pride "Love Wins" wall activity and the European leg of a global initiative to double the number of female DJs at festivals. At Platform13, we are acting as the cultural filter and advisor with a committee from the community to identify the primary talent from the gender-non-conforming nightlife culture for Smirnoff’s new inclusivity campaign.
There have been some great collaborations and partnerships between artists and all types of brands, from luxury (ASAP Rocky and Dior) to alcohol (Puff Daddy and Ciroc), streetwear (Kanye West and Adidas) and media (Action Bronson and F*ck, That’s Delicious from Vice). And there have been some not-so-great partnerships – such as when iTunes linked up with U2 or when Alicia Keys, then the creative director of BlackBerry, continued to tweet from her iPhone.
When brands and music come together, they need to contribute to culture rather than appropriate it. They need to use technology and data to enhance the experience for their shared consumers. Tech is also part of culture. By 2020, mixed-reality marketing will be here, with products becoming "websites", shrinking the gap between the physical and the digital. Yet brands are still messing about with "digital advertising". This year, Apple launched FaceID: imagine the possibilities when people walk into a live event space equipped with these sensors – how will facial recognition personalise the consumer experience?
Change the marketing mindset
What if we rid ourselves of the safety net of only taking bought views as a measure of success? What will we do as the data overtakes media? We should stop that end-of-fiscal-year panic of "we need to spend all our budget or we won’t get the same next year" and, instead, allocate 20% of that marketing budget to cultural resonance at the start of the fiscal year. And what if that 20% KPI was used to make a long-term cultural contribution or achieve cultural relevance? What if we build and create a legacy for our brands?
If we could shift our mindset to help brands make cultural relevance a key, long-term growth driver, we would stay curious and strive for better, more creative work. Work with cultural relevance. Work that pulls consumers to us because they trust and believe in us. We are in one of the most exciting transformational phases of communication. The brands that don’t suffer from FOMO are the ones that will gain and maintain cultural relevance.
Leila Fataar is the founder of Platform13