Why brand and music collaborations need to work for the fans, not the brands

Dr Martens #standforsomething tour headlined by Pulled Apart By Horses
Dr Martens #standforsomething tour headlined by Pulled Apart By Horses

Brands need to invest directly into artist talent and reward the fans, instead of just sticking a brand in a campaign, writes Rupert Vereker, chief executive and founder of Sonic Media Group.

In a streamed world where the value of music is diminishing and where marketers are seeking a constant supply of original content, brands and music should be coming together in unexpected ways to delight and excite the fans. But beyond licensing popular songs for adverts, are there enough examples of genuine innovation that can demonstrate that making music is a meaningful part of a brand’s marketing DNA?

It is easy to see how the rapidly evolving music market is being reshaped. From Bob Dylan’s Chrysler advert; to Lady Gaga’s concert for Doritos at SXSW; to the Samsung Jay Z partnership, which saw the electronics giant buying 1m copies of the rapper’s new album ‘Magna Carta Holy Grail’ so users of the Galaxy S III, S4 and Note II could download the album free before its official release; to Apple’s bid for Beats.

But these examples are few and far between. The more fundamental question is why more brands are not implementing campaigns that invest directly into artist talent, or why music sometimes is almost an afterthought when it comes to the overall brand strategy?

At a recent music conference at Liverpool Sound City a panel of experts debated some of these issues. The general consensus was that the overriding issue is that neither side understand each other and that there is a need for some fundamental industry restructuring to open the investment flow.

According to the most recent figures from PRS/Frukt, brands invested £100m into the music industry in 2012. The bulk (55%) went into TV programming and advertising, one-third into music event sponsorship and only 10% on curated events and 5% into artist endorsement - the latter two being the purest form of brand investment, where original content is created with the brand, band and fans involved.

There are no doubt a handful of brands which are trying to make it work through direct investment in curated music events that look to support smaller non-mainstream pop artists that give a platform for emerging artists to get exposure at events beyond the toilet tour. Sailor Jerry, Jack Daniels, Vans, Converse, and Red Bull go even further to provide label services.

Or take the case of Dr. Martens (DM’s), our client, which is committed to ensuring music remains a key pillar of its marketing and brand strategy. From building its brand awareness to boosting online presence, the iconic boot brand has been using music in a credible and creative manner.

Dr. Martens UK marketing manager Daniel Freeland says that "since its creation as industrial factory footwear, DM's working class products have been adopted as part and parcel of many of the major music developments in the UK and wider afield.  The brand is best known for being adopted by rebellious individuals, so Dr. Martens is synonymous with those subcultures inspired by music - skins, punks, two tone, Oi!, hard-core, psychobilly, goth, industrial, grebo, grunge, Britpop, emo … the list goes on.  The brand continues to be the choice for individuals who believe in the right to individuality and for those who do not want to conform."

In 2013, The Sonic Network were bought in to work with the brand. The challenge was to take Dr. Martens music strategy (and rich musical heritage) and define a contemporary brand platform that could be readily communicated to the music industry and more importantly the fans of the brand in an undeniably authentic way. Authenticity being the key to this process. The brief was simplified down to a set of core values inherent in the DNA of the brand but essentially we were asked to deliver an activation that brought the brand's campaign sentiment (#STANDFORSOMETHING) to life and to give a real DM’s experience to consumers by getting them up, close and personal to their musical heroes.

That allowed us to underpin the band selection criteria and in phase one of the two-year programme has enabled a range of acts to get involved such as Lower than Atlantis, Spector, Sonic Boom Six, Young Guns and Dry the River, all of whom have the music and the character to bring these brand values alive for the fans.

Dr. Martens happens to be one of the early adopters of this type of marketing strategy, aiming to reach its target consumers by promoting lifestyle values that connect on an emotional, personal level. There are, of course, global brand examples who have entered this fray with sponsorship and artist deals, like MasterCard, Toyota, HTC and TalkTalk.

The receding coffers of the music industry is no big secret. As an industry it is clamouring for brand investment, but one thing that came to light at the Liverpool conference was that it is not making it easy through multiple entrenched rights holders with only their own self-interest in maximising the return from their property, thus making complex contractual obligations difficult to deliver.

The answer lies in formulating a new model for music. Collaborations that go beyond putting a brand logo on a music performance; or even vice-versa, a big band posing for a brand. Brand and music alliances that work for the fans, that launch new releases, nurture new talent; and for brands, provide the Holy Grail to marketing making themselves part of the music discovery process, creating original programming.

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