Music and marketing: When brands make bands

K'Naan: Coca-Cola used song to promote FIFA World Cup sponsorship
K'Naan: Coca-Cola used song to promote FIFA World Cup sponsorship

The changing economics of the music industry means that an increasing number of artists are singing a different tune when it comes to branding deals, writes Mark Sutherland.

Back in the days when the Spice Girls had multiple endorsement deals and Microsoft paid The Rolling Stones millions to use Start Me Up in its Windows 95 ads, musicians rarely wanted anything from brands except a big cheque. Now, however, as album sales decline and labels' marketing budgets are slashed, more collaborative partnerships are becoming the norm, with brands wooing stars with opportunities for creative input and raised profile rather than cold, hard cash.

In eye-catching recent deals, Polaroid employed Lady Gaga as creative director for its Grey Label line and Intel recruited Black Eyed Peas frontman as its director of creative innovation; in the UK last year, Fred Perry signed Amy Winehouse (below right) to a four-season deal to design a womenswear collection.

Richard Martin, Fred Perry's head of global marketing, says the deal evolved naturally from the brand's informal relationship with the star, whereby it occasionally supplied her with clothing for photoshoots.

'We knew she was an enormous fan of the brand, which is the starting point for any collaboration,' says Martin. 'This was in no way, shape or form a licence deal: it's a genuine collaboration that represents her as an artist and works for us as a brand.'

Creative participation

Martin credits the range with expanding Fred Perry's customer base, as well as raising the brand's profile. Winehouse was paid an undisclosed fee for her work, and earns a royalty from sales, but her manager, Raye Cosbert, says the motivation to participate was creative rather than financial.

'Amy would never just put her name to something,' says Cosbert. 'It has to be something with lasting importance as well as lasting financial possibilities.'

Cosbert says Winehouse showed her commitment to the project by playing a gig at Fred Perry's Spitalfields store to launch the collection, despite not being contractually obliged to do so.

The Winehouse gig may have been informal, but live events are forming part of such deals with increasing frequency, as brands look to build buzz around campaigns. When boyband The Wanted appeared as part of the three-year £7.5m 'Make mine milk' campaign - which has also featured Usher and Pixie Lott - they played an open-top bus gig as part of the campaign, drawing more than 3000 fans.

'The Wanted campaign was a great example of artist and brand helping each other out,' says Chris Linsell, associate director of the Milk Marketing Forum's agency, Kindred. 'We aligned our PR and social media strategies for a very collaborative campaign.'


While The Wanted received no fee, Ricardo Fernandez, general manager of the band's record label, Geffen, says the campaign buoyed the group's profile at a crucial time.

'There are very few big-hitting albums from Q4 that hang around in January,' says Fernandez. 'This was a good way of cutting through all the other artists that have fallen by the wayside.'

The group's eponymous album duly stayed in the charts, due in part, says Fernandez, to the campaign's use of bus-side media, which helped reach a mass-market audience not yet exposed to the label's own, highly targeted marketing.

When it comes to using music itself, Jim Reid, senior vice-president of synchronisation across Warner Music (records) and Warner/Chappell Music (publishing), says that, with many artists now signed to multi-rights deals, labels can easily tailor their agreements with brands.

'We have a lot more rights to offer brands and agencies,' says Reid. 'We can cut deals in ways that we hadn't been able to do before.'

He cites the partnership between Warner/Chappell-signed singer-songwriter Florrie and Nina Ricci as illustrating the potential of such innovative options. Florrie not only provided the soundtrack to the Nina L'Elixir fragrance campaign, starred in the TV ad and is a brand ambassador, but is also playing several concerts in support of the global roll-out. Little-known before the campaign, Florrie is now tipped for 2011 stardom - something Nina Ricci brand director Caius Von Knorring says would have a 'positive marketing effect' on the product.

'We started this thing together, so we are in the same boat, and that makes the link between brand and artist much stronger,' he adds. 'The more famous she becomes, the better it is for her, but also for us.'

Florrie recorded a version of Blondie's Sunday Girl for the ad, part of the trend for bespoke cover versions sparked by John Lewis' hugely successful TV campaigns.

Since its Christmas 2009 campaign gave Swedish act Taken By Trees a hit with a cover of Guns N' Roses' Sweet Child O' Mine, the retailer has attracted the better-known likes of Fyfe Dangerfield and Ellie Goulding to provide the soundtrack for its ads.

Biggest hit single

Lured by the exposure offered by a £6m campaign - a media spend few record labels could ever match - both Dangerfield and Goulding recorded cover versions specifically for the ads (of Billy Joel's She's Always a Woman and Elton John's Your Song, respectively), and were rewarded with the biggest hit singles of their careers. John Lewis' head of brand marketing, Lloyd Page, says the ads also helped the retailer consistently outperform the British Retail Consortium's market figures over the past 16 months.

'Music is disproportionately powerful,' adds Page. 'If we get the music right, it will supercharge our message. That creates an emotional connection with the customer, and the music industry is drawn to that.'

It might not be good news for old rock stars wanting one last big, easy payday, but such win-win opportunities have caused a 'sea-change in attitude' among newer artists, according to Richard Kirstein, founding partner of Resilient Music, which advises brands on music sourcing.

'The mood among artists is toward brands being a good source of funding and a great way to generate profile and social-media buzz,' says Kirstein. 'Ten years ago, it took a lot of money to get artists' attention: now brands are pushing at an open door.'


Marketing selects some of the best examples of brands that have catapulted artists into the big time

Ellie Goulding/John Lewis (2010)

Goulding had been hotly tipped for breakout success at the start of 2010, winning the Critics' Choice BRIT Award, but it wasn't until her take on Elton John's Your Song appeared in John Lewis' Christmas TV ad that she crossed over to a mainstream audience. The single reached number two in the charts and was added to a special edition of her Lights album, sending it back into the top 10.

K'naan/Coca-Cola (2010)

Somalia-born rapper K'Naan's Wavin' Flag (right) had been a hit in his adopted homeland of Canada on its original 2009 release, but made little impact elsewhere. Then he re-recorded the song with 12 international duet partners for Coke's $300m World Cup campaign, performing it live at FIFA's World Cup Kick-Off Celebration Concert. The result? A massive worldwide hit.

Noisettes/Mazda (2009)

London indie rockers Noisettes made little commercial headway with their first album, 2007's What's The Time, Mr Wolf? However, the release of their 2009 follow-up, Wild Young Hearts, was preceded by the use of their song Don't Upset the Rhythm (Go Baby Go) on the TV ad for the Mazda 2. The spot caused such a buzz that widespread radio play followed, ensuring that the single shot straight into the charts at number two on release, while the album hit the top 10.

Parade/Rimmel (2011)

Girl group Parade (left) - tipped by some as the new Spice Girls - launched their debut single, Louder, with a synch placement on the 2011 Rimmel London TV commercial. Despite little radio play, the ad, coupled with the group's strong online presence, created such an impact that the single went straight into the top 10, while the exposure helped its video rack up more than 600,000 views on YouTube.

Start Your Free 30-Day Free Trial

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to , plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events.

Become a subscriber


Don’t miss your daily fix of breaking news, latest work, advice and commentary.

register free