Marketers have long understood the power of music. As early as the 1920s, when commercial radio was in its infancy, advertisers began experimenting with jingles. General Mills even went so far as to commission a Minneapolis barbershop quartet to perform as the Wheaties Quartet and sing—wait for it—"The Wheaties Jingle."
Of course, today the jingle feels hokey. Not surprisingly, advertisers have largely killed off the jingle in favor of working with pop stars. But the fundamental connection between brands and music remains powerful. What’s changed is the way people discover and consume music, and that change represents an enormous opportunity for brands.
CMOs need to think in terms of grassroots talent
Historically, brands evaluated potential music partners on scale; the bigger the act, the greater the brand’s interest. That approach worked well in an era of gatekeeper media, where marketers saw the pop charts as the music industry’s answer to Nielsen ratings. But music has changed, thanks to a massive technological disruption.
Today, up-and-coming musicians flock to platforms like YouTube in search of fans. That shift speaks to a larger transformation in the culture, where the popularity of shows like The Voice illustrate our passion for grassroots talent. Meanwhile, what it means to be a hit is increasingly democratic in nature because it’s driven not by gatekeepers, but by tens of millions of fan playlists. As a result, today’s artists thrive by building audiences of varying sizes. Naturally, this dynamic is similar to influencer marketing, where the goal is to leverage audience data to build a groundswell of passion from a diverse talent base, rather than putting the focus on a single artist.
Brands shouldn’t just share, they should enable discovery
There’s never been a better time to be a musician or a fan. Not only do we have more music than ever, we have more ways to listen to the music we love. But abundance creates a challenge that burdens musicians and fans alike: how do you discover new music?
Traditionally, brands have stayed away from discovery, opting instead to work with mega-stars. But in so doing, marketers put their brands, as well as their artist partners, in the uncomfortable position of maintaining authenticity without appearing to sell out. After the 2014 Super Bowl, for example, Variety wrote about Bob Dylan’s journey from counterculture to car salesman. Ouch.
But the problem isn’t the artist-advertiser association. In fact, nearly half of all music fans toldNielsen they take a favorable view when brands provide access to music or other services at events. What that means is that brand-artist partnerships hinge on delivering utility to fans. Today, there is no greater utility in music than enabling discovery. Brands can power discovery by identifying up-and-coming artists, putting promotional muscle into growing that artist’s audience, and partnering on live events where musicians forge deep, lasting connections with their fans.
Is your brand ready to invest in musicians that appeal to your audience?
It’s one thing to license a song, but it’s something else to partner with the musician who created that song. Partnership is about creating a three-way value exchange between brands, musicians and audiences. In effect, becoming a partner that helps fans discover new music and artists grow their audiences requires a shift from an advertiser mindset to that of an arts patron. Brands have a lot to offer in that partnership, thanks to a deep knowledge of data-driven audience building.
Moreover, such a shift represents a return to form for marketers. Brands served a music label function in the 1920s, and they can do so again. But this time around, the goal isn’t a catchy jingle; instead, it’s about investing in a long-term relationship where supporting the artist comes first and ads comes last.