How Brands and Music Will Team Up to Change the World

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Brands and musicians teaming up is a common alliance as a marketing strategy. What once started as shallow celebrity endorsement, a sticker on a campaign for short-term effect, is now developing into equally beneficial partnerships that are built on shared purpose and values, sometimes even politically. How did we get here, and what’s next?

Celebrity endorsement

What started in the 80s with product placement in video clips moved to festival sponsorships and ambassadorships in the 90s and 00s. Music partnerships were largely confined to basic campaigns. Brands mainly just wanted to profit from the popularity and fame of a music genre or artist. An easy way to reach a new audience or be associated with a cool subculture. Main motivation for the artist would probably be money and secondary their image.

A famous example of pure celebrity endorsement is Michael Jackson in 1984 with the “New Generation” campaign for Pepsi. A youth-targeted approach that would rebrand Pepsi as the cool, young alternative to Coke. Jackson signed on to Pepsi for $5 million, before anything had even been shot. It instantly became the most expensive marketing campaign ever.

Still, a lot of brands are looking for music stickers on their campaign. But their audiences expect more substance nowadays.

Talent incubators

With the rise of content marketing in the 00s music platforms were born. Brands needed content. A one-day-fly collaboration with a famous artist won’t do the job anymore. Besides that, it’s super expensive. Instead of spending all their money on one artist, brands started investing in upcoming local musicians. The musician benefits in this partnership as he or she has access to resources to become known to a larger audience. And the brand has its content.

For the past few years, brands have witnessed a steady shift in culture where consumers are increasingly expressing their preference for brands to stand for something bigger than the products they sell. Mostly lifestyle brands realized they have to invest in their audiences’ subcultures and give back to their communities. The era that each brand has its own talent program. Brands are partnering with artists to help educate, empower and connect young people to music. We all know Converse with their Rubber Tracks, House of Vans and, still very successful, Red Bull Music Academy.

Make a statement

Brands align themselves with issues that resonate with their user bases. But as the world is changing, society is getting more political and consumers demand brands to take a stand. Over the past few years purpose became the heart of marketing and is moving up the agenda of many marketing departments as companies look to ‘do well by doing good’.

Every brand has an issue that’s close to its heart and resonates with their base. Finding a cause should not be a problem in the current climate but having the empathy and self-awareness to speak about it authentically is. It’s about embedding the brand’s core values and exercising vigilance and good governance. The most obvious example of brand activism is the much-discussed campaign of Nike featuring Colin Kaepernick.

Activism in music is reviving as well. Artists aren’t only singing about love anymore. They are addressing political or social concerns through their music. They’re more and more aware of the power they’ve and use this to convey their message. Beyoncé changed her total personal brand identity from sex symbol to feminist fighting for equality.

Team up to take action

Music & brands teaming up to take a stand is what will happen more and more in the coming years. At the same time activism is already becoming mainstream, activist brands are perceived as the expected norm rather than the rare champion. According to an Edelman study, “54 percent of consumers believe it’s easier for people to get brands to address social problems than to get the government to act”. Do consumers expect brands to fill the void left by politicians?

Nike made a hell of a statement, but did it change anything about the current situation? They could have decided to withdraw as main sponsor of NFL, ‘put your money where your mouth is’ (or in this case ‘move away your money’). Don’t just tell NFL that you don’t support the boycott of Kaepernick, show it. Like Jay-Z did, by fully rejecting the Super Bowl.

Smirnoff brand’s purpose is to move the world to be inclusive. They decided not to only take a stand, but move over to action, fighting the cause for gender parity in music. “We believe we can make a difference by using our presence in electronic music culture to drive diversity within the community.” They started to address this deep-rooted issue with their Smirnoff Equalizer on Spotify, a plugin that equalizes your Spotify playlist, teaming up with Honey Dijon. Offline they host festival stages with at least 50% female DJs and support upcoming female artists.

So, what’s next?

Taking a strong, not always likeable stand, might feel scary. But artists and brands shouldn’t be afraid. We are facing mayor issues. Issues that need to be addressed AND solved.

Equality and inclusiveness seem to be the obvious topics for music & brands. But there is so much more. Last month Patagonia announced they reshaped their mission to Patagonia is in business to save our home planet. More direct, more urgent, more action. They are giving back $10 million in tax cuts to grassroots environmental organizations. A gesture that has pushed its political activism to a higher altitude. Imagine what could happen if Patagonia teams up with Pearl Jam, active in environmental pursuits, to add emotion to their mission and reach out to people’s hearts through their music, activating them, to stand up and do something.

So yes, music & brands need to be the ones filling the void left by politicians together. To every brand director and artist manager: TEAM UP AND TAKE ACTION! If we wait for Trump or May we will be stuck with empty statements for ever.

First Day of Spring
Launched in 2013, First Day of Spring is the world’s foremost music-led creative agency specializing in building brands through the power of music. Founded on a decades-long heritage at the cutting-edge of music culture, First Day of Spring boasts an unmatchable
global network of collaborators, spanning all continents and genres. The company combines this with unique strategic ability and insight encompassing the worlds of both music and brand.

Marleen Heemskerk

Strategy Lead at First Day of Spring
Marleen Heemskerk has 14 years’ experience across the marketing spectrum - from strategy to execution; commercials through to culture.

She began her career at Danone where she first managed multiple lifestyle brands before becoming a marketing innovation consultant, stewarding established brands to new growth by launching disruptive products and concepts.

Her entrepreneurial spirit later drove her to start her own business with the launch of Fusement, a marketing plug-in for high-potential start-ups in fashion, lifestyle and tech. Since 2015 as the Strategy Director at music-led creative agency First Day of
Spring she has been the driving force behind global award-winning campaigns for lifestyle brands such as Napapijri and The North Face.

Her mission in life, besides beguiling the world with pop culture, is to discover new ways to lead - enabling more women to make it into the boardroom.

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