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Brands are getting close to out-and-out owning music entertainers. What’s next?

In a promotional age more complex than any time in history, brands continue to look for ways to capture consumers at the visceral level. This is a tall order in societies like ours that splinter out consumers into ever-narrowing segments conditioned to deflect promotional messages as a default behavior.

In contrast, the music industry’s heritage is built on understanding and appealing to values, attitudes, interests and lifestyle. Music genres span every taste for every mood. So it’s no wonder that over the years, brands and bands have enjoyed a cozy fit: brands provide the money, bands provide the cache and association with lifestyles and values. Think Jimmy Buffett and you instantly taste the salted rim of a seaside margarita (Sandals Resorts?). Think Pink and you might get the urge to work out till you drop (Under Armour?).

A June 2016 Huffington Post blog packages the symbiosis well, citing three factors that attract brands to sponsor bands:

  • Compelling content
  • Cultural relevance
  • Authentic connection

Bands Forced to “Sell Out”

The balance between the non-conformist, no “sell-out” image of bands, and the opposite commercially-driven essence of brands has always been tricky business, but recently has become totally one-sided. As reported in a NY Times article, streaming music services have crushed the revenue structure of the music business, leaving bands with only touring and brand sponsorships to put fuel in the bus and pay for new guitar strings.

Now deprived of revenues formerly generated by record sales, music entertainers are broke without sponsorships. Brands have poured buckets of money into live music sponsorships to the point they’re literally taking over the show. For example, an entire tour of Lady Gaga shows actually integrated Doritos product placement on stage and around the event. So where does all this lead? It seems as if brands are getting pretty close to out-and-out owning music entertainers.

Pure Branded Entertainment

That scenario might not be too far off the trend. Since consumers drench themselves in music every day and position it as a mood identity device in their lives, what better way to entrench in consumer value systems than for brands to develop bands and solo artists of their own that write and perform songs projecting the values created by the brand. Not to suggest Mickey D’s Fat Pack or The Viagras as band names, but rather real bands with real names and real music and lyrics that never (or rarely) mention the brand name. The difference between this concept and blatantly sponsored bands of today is that the band/entertainer would be developed from the ground up by the brand that owns exclusive sponsorship rights. The music, lyrics, and image would project the brand’s values and image (Brad Paisley and Dove Men?). The original “values-aligned” music could be leveraged (instead of licensed) for brand advertising, events, videos, internal morale and alignment, and many more applications limited only by the boundaries of creativity. A hit song could mean a boon for the brand. And vice versa. If the music is good, does it make any difference how it’s funded?

Would the market buy into this kind of low profile “brand-backed band?” What do you think?


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For more perspective on bridging strategy and execution, including practical tools and processes for brand operationalization, get a copy of Getting There From Here: Bridging Strategy and Execution, by Greg French, founder of GroPartners Consulting. E-book at iBooks or hard copy from Amazon.com.