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No Doubt About It

Music offers stellar branding opportunities. But why aren’t more agencies and brands jumping on it (first of two parts)?

Courtney Holt is frustrated.

He heads new media and strategic planning for Interscope, Geffen and A&M Records. His stable includes Sting, Sheryl Crow, No Doubt, Counting Crows, Guns 'N Roses, Weezer, Dr. Dre., Eminem, Enrique Iglesias, Black Eyed Peas and Aerosmith. Not to mention a roster of new acts that are ready to break with built-in fan bases.

So I asked him, "What's to be frustrated about?"

He said he's ready, willing and able to bring his top music brands and their huge, loyal online communities to the table to work with non-music brands to create campaigns, promotions and events that build all the brands involved. CPG, autos, entertainment -- any marketer in search of something unique, something bold, something interesting, something viral.

But figuring out how to get agencies to buy in and bring their clients to the table is what's frustrating. And he wants more brands and publishers to think big about music.

"Music has become the medium for communication and for culture on line. And all of these sites want a piece of it, but none of them knows quite how to do it," Holt says. "We release 40 or 50 records a year -- major, major brands -- artists are my brands. So if you take my annual budget in advertising, it might be fairly large, but project by project it’s fairly small."

What does one do to make that work? Logic says you team up with other brands and sites to create campaigns and events with a big multiplier -- getting the impact of bigger budgets, without spending like bigger budgets.

"In November I got allocated a large chunk of money for online based on the research that I’ve done and based on what I learned from my media," he says. "I couldn’t find an agency willing to represent us to be able to distribute it, because it wasn’t enough for an agency to feel like it was worth their time to place it. And because he wanted to fragment it across multiple brands and multiple artists, it became less interesting to an agency, even a smaller one because it was too hard. It was like taking a puzzle apart."

He likes working with agencies, and doesn't want to circumvent them to get to the brands or publishers. But at the moment, that's sometimes the only way to get the job done.

"I’m finding now I’m going direct to sites and direct to various partners and building up these relationships," he says. "I'm having a phenomenal success rate. Because instead of me just throwing up a banner, I’m doing content-based promotions."

That's where the win is in branded entertainment -- for everyone involved.

Some marketers already get it

American Express and Jaguar get it. Remember Sheryl Crow's 'Soak Up the Sun' spot? American Express got a huge bump, and so did the record.

"It was the highest testing spot in the history of American Express and it so happened that we had a hit single," Holt says.

Then there was Sting, riding in a Jaguar to LA as 'Desert Rose' wafted across the Mojave. "We had a hit single. We sold three million records. They lowered the median age of a Jaguar buyer by 10 years."

And there are online examples, too. "You see what McDonald’s is doing with Sony. You see what Pepsi is doing with Apple. You see what Coke is doing with Music Match. And that’s going to be the future of what happens in our business. I know five other companies that are not in the business that are going to be aggressively in the music business in the near future."

Why does this work? Part of the secret is in re-imaging aspects of what record companies do. Holt says, "In addition to being a record company, we also provide marketing services for a brand. There are a number of brands that we do this with because we are no longer just a record company. We are kind of a company that represents culture."

And other brands can easily tap into that -- especially if you're looking for media's Lost Boys.

"You see these articles in Ad Age and Hollywood Reporter and Variety… where are all the 16 to 24 year old males? Well, we have them," Holt says. "They’re buying 50 Cent records, Eminem records. They’re buying Limp Bizkit records. That’s who they are. We know them. That’s who our audience is. And we own a database of millions and millions of those people. So you want to know how to talk to them? You can call me and I can tell you how to do it because we do it every day. And our entire responsibility is to change the way we market on a daily basis to speak to the audience that doesn’t want to be spoken to. That’s a very difficult task."

If you want another brand perspective, take Reebok, for example. Micky Pant, Reebok's former marketing guru, told the iMedia Summit in February that royalty payments that sustained artists for so long are much smaller now than they used to be. Working with acts such as JayZ and 50Cent, who both have their own shoe lines, can have an outrageous payoff for both sides, Pant said. Find the right ones for your brand and score.

“Their ability to draw royalties is dramatically decreasing,” Pant said. “Brands can pick that up. Offer free downloads and pay the artist $2 million a year -- it’s more than worth it.”

Selling, but not selling out

It used to be that music acts were accused of "selling out" if they went commercial. But not any longer.

"I think if you look at it right now, the relationship between an artist and a brand is much less toxic than it was a few years ago," Holt says. "Because you’ve got Led Zeppelin licensing to Cadillac, and the Doors, and a lot of artists that you’d never think would never have that partnership are having it.

"And I think there’s much less sensitivity from the audience. It used to be that if an artist was involved in a commercial campaign, oh! They sold out. Now it’s like, it’s not really that bad. Because media has become ubiquitous and I think the line between commercial advertising and true media is blurred."

It's all about finding the right fit that makes a music-brand link relevant and profitable.

"AMEX and AMEX Blue have been very active in music and they tend to get deeper involved in artists," Holt says. With Sheryl Crow, "I think there is a great a cultural fit, and it doesn’t seem overly in your face. If you were to ask the average Sheryl fan if they think that the AMEX thing is over the top, they probably would be like, what AMEX thing?"

"But I know that there was a point in time when we were talking to Coke and I remember that the Coke guys kept seeing this Sheryl Crow thing, the American Express commercial, and be like, 'That’s genius. We want that kind of content.'

"And if you look at the McDonald’s and Justin Timberlake idea, again it’s the same concept. Nobody thinks Justin Timberlake sold out by doing 'I’m Lovin’ It.' They didn’t go and say, 'okay how do we go and take music over?' They went to the music business and said, 'help us become relevant.' And McDonald’s has become more relevant now than they’ve been in ten, twenty years."


Lee Watters, iMediaConnection.com

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