As print advertising spending declines, online share goes up. Experts estimate a USD 20B+ opportunity for internet & mobile advertising assuming ad spend share equals time spent share. (Source: KPCB Internet Trends 2012)
I wrote this as a chapter some years back for the book Creative Destruction (2004) about the impact of “new technology” on the music industry. As is clear today, music has changed from being a high-brow practice with little regards for commercial aspects, to being an essential part of the marketing message in the experience economy.
The chapter (I chopped it up into 5 digestible parts) investigates the development of the musical stake in advertising which seems to be profoundly connected with values of authenticity. So, basically it’s about authenticity in youth culture: A commando-raid through music and advertising, and lessons learned by marketing.
The video showed an older businessman transformed into his younger self by break-dancing outside a retro diner in what gathering pedestrians tell us is an annual dance performed in honor of his lost love. A single shot of the man (then and now) makes up most of the video, with occasional footage of the band inside the diner.
The car commercial that followed was a smash and had people calling into radio stations to request “that song from the Mitsubishi ad.” The lush commercial struck a chord, in other words. It created a buzz, or – as phrased by Rolling Stone magazine – it had “the cumulative power of vibe.”
In fact, this vibe was exactly what Dirty Vegas themselves liked most about the video when they saw the final result. Vocalist Steve Smith told Yahoo!’s Launch that the video “didn’t seem to be about a car, it was about a vibe, you know. There’s the gang of people in the car and they’re popping, you know, and it’s inspired from our video, you know, which we see as a compliment. And we just thought, ‘It’s cool,’ you know? ”
Vegas’s Paul Harris seconds that with his remark, that adverts are “not as dull as they used to be, and what they’re trying to sell isn’t the most important thing. In the Mitsubishi ad, you don’t even know what it is until the very last second.”
Vinny Picardi, Vice President and associate creative director of Deutsch LA, the agency responsible for developing the advertising concept for Mitsubishi, remembers when they began thinking of ideas that would take Mitsubishi’s marketing in a new direction. He knew they didn’t want to make just another car commercial. Instead, Deutsch came up with a simple concept: Show people, especially young people, doing things that drivers and passengers actually do in their cars – such as singing along with songs on the radio.
“People hate commercials,” he explains. “We wanted to make little pieces of entertainment.”
Mitsubishi Motors have used a string of tracks for the various manifestations of the concept since its inception in 1998. Besides Dirty Vegas, the roster includes artists such as Propellerheads, Gus Gus, Groove Armada, and The Wiseguys. Mitsubishi have also used tracks from bigger artists, such as Iggy Pop, Ozzy Ozborne, and Curtis Mayfield, but – in Picardi’s words – “the idea is to have a tune relatively unknown to American audiences become associated with Mitsubishi, rather than have Mitsubishi become associated with an established hit.”
This is in direct opposition to the strategies recently deployed by e.g. Jaguar and the Chrysler Group, featuring mega stars Sting and Celine Dion respectively appearing in person in commercials for their products. By advertising standards, the Mitsubishi campaign is relatively innocent. The 2003 Eclipse looks more like a music video than a traditional ad. The cutting and editing is extremely tight, there’s no product commentary, and the song itself is used to set the scene more than to pitch the product.
Strategies for credibility
Such corporate lock-in with credibility is by no means a new phenomenon. In the eighties, a version of the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations” made up the track for a Sunkist commercial, and in 1967 Jefferson Airplane agreed to sing a Levi’s radio spot for Stretch Levi’s. But the real landmark in the partnership between music and advertising was shaped when the UK agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty began creating innovative television commercials in Europe for Levi’s 501.
At the end of the 1970s and in the early 1980s, the jeans market had become saturated. Levi’s were losing market share, and the advertising brief handed over to BBH was strategic; to reposition Levi’s against its competitors by foregrounding the authentic value of the product.
Levi’s brand values are – and have most appropriately always been – “the real deal” – to be authentic, original, and dependable. BBH wanted to achieve a general sense of a mythical America with the advertising, but an America open for contemporary associations. John Hegarty of BBH explains: “I thought it would be more interesting to do the ad with a period look. The 1950s idea wasn’t in the brief. It just happened, and out of that we established a mythical period for Levi’s. Grapevine, the music that backed the ad, was a 60s not a 50s song – it came to me simultaneously and there was no real logic to it. The aim was to portray the US without the US being boring – a US no-one could object to.”
When the ad was aired on Boxing Day 1985, it had model Nick Kamen stepping out of his 501s in a 1950ish set, to treat them to a stone wash in a small launderette, while Marvin Gaye’s soulful 1968 Motown hit “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” made up the sound frame, enhancing the atmosphere of authenticity.
A lot has been said and written about this ad. For advertising, it has been argued that it marked a turn in how it displayed a fracturing and sexualization of the male body, through the product. For Levi-Strauss, sales of its 501s shot up by 800 per cent in the wake of the ad. And by 1987 sales of Levi’s jeans were reported to be 20 times what they had been three years earlier. The ad also meant a re-entry into the charts for Marvin Gaye’s song. In fact, “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” was the first of four Levi’s-related songs to all make the Top Ten. And for the Clash who provided the song “Should I Stay or Should I Go” to the Levi’s 501 campaign in the early nineties, it was the band’s first number one hit – six years after they split up.
Hence, the launderette ad was also instrumental in developing the integrated marketing package: a commercial on the television, a single in the chart, as well as the ‘501’ logo alongside the artist’s name on the record in all the record shops. This may be defined as the turning point for music and advertising; the point that made advertisers realize the importance of selecting the right music. Music, on the other hand, has taken a long time to realize the importance of being chosen.
As that “great divide”, as Andreas Huyssen calls the incongruence and opposition between high modernism and mass culture, closed itself permanently and thus also in the academic sense brought highbrow and mass culture on the same formula, it became legitimate for artists to associate themselves with mass culture. Before that, artists were wary to be associated with mass consumption, possibly seeing the niche as the sign of true art as opposed to pop, and fearing accusations of selling-out. But post-modernity changed that.
Post-modern times have served as a unifying factor in bringing fine arts together with pop culture, a development spearheaded by the likes of Andy Warhol’s silk screens and the electronic folk of Düsseldorf four piece Kraftwerk. As the 1990s came to an end, it had become increasingly difficult for artists – musicians and producers – to sell out. In fact, when producer of electronic music Richard Melville Hall, aka Moby, actually did, media reported in awe about how he had managed to license every single track of his album “Play”.
When it first came out in the summer of 1999, the album’s compelling mixture of electronic beats and visceral blues and gospel samples drew great reviews, but catered little for radio and MTV. So, instead Moby decided to license his tracks to commercials, movies and television shows, and before long, his music was everywhere: on sitcoms and movie trailers, and on ads for Bailey’s Irish Cream, Nordstrom and American Express.
[I know, In My Heart is not on “Play”, but is featured on the later “18” (2002)]
V2, Moby’s label, signed a license for every track on the album, and allegedly more than 100 licenses in North America alone, for which Moby’s cut reached an estimated USD 1 million. But more important, the exposure opened doors at radio and MTV, who now helped to promote the album, pushing sales of the album up to a total of around 10 million copies worldwide, or around 50 times as many as the 200,000 copies Moby initially had thought “Play” might sell.
Music is operative at an emotional level, and as consumer purchase decisions in recent years have tipped towards emotional attributes rather than functional benefits, music accordingly has become an integrated part of the marketing plan that focuses on communicating these emotional values of brands. As we have just seen, music has become a vital element in shaping brand messages. The French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss made the following connection between music and mythology: “Just as music makes the individual conscious of his physiological rootedness, mythology makes him aware of his roots in society. The former hits us in the guts; the latter, we might say, appeals to our group instinct.”
Major Danish bank Danske Bank has enhanced their brand using music for quite a while..
Ruth Simmons, managing director of London based SongSeekers – one of many new “music consultancies” popping up these years, pairing brands and music and developing music strategies – sums it up: “The true marketing potential of music is that without any other stimulus, it can access a mood, emotion, and deeply move specific demographics within a target market in just a few seconds. In addition, the heritage of music, through the artist, genre, etc., can reflect a culture, a time period and lifestyle without even playing a note!” Music, in other words, bears the blueprint of authenticity.
The authentic has become of vital importance for consumers in today’s media saturated world. A recent study by Cap Gemini Ernst & Young, finds that consumers today are looking for more from their commercial transactions than the features and functions of the product or service itself. Instead, they are looking for human values such as honesty, respect and trust to be reflected in the context surrounding their transactions.
Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs postulates that an individual’s needs are satisfied in order of importance, with physiological needs being the most basic – e.g. the need to satisfy hunger and thirst. Once these basic needs are taken care of, an individual seeks to satisfy other needs further up the pyramid. These are safety, social needs, esteem and finally self-actualization. It is at this final stage, when all other needs – needs of e.g. security, love and recognition – are satisfied, that our basic human striving to become our ideal self can be fulfilled. For companies to tap into this fulfillment process, the key is to develop a marketing mix and a communication strategy that are consistent with the social, cultural, psychological and individual forces shaping the expectations of their consumers. Values and benefits discordant with the consumers’ beliefs and aspirations are not going to be effective.
The authentic, as David Lewis, head of international consumer research firm David Lewis Consultancy, points out, helps consumers to bridge the gap between their real and ideal selves. Just as the authentic – at the other end of the supply chain – helps companies develop a compelling brand ‘personality’ that will appeal to us through the stories weaved around it. Music has become instrumental in creating and shaping these stories to a degree that has led Ruth Simmons to introduce the term music equity: “the net commercial value of the Brand’s relationship to music taking into account its assets and liabilities that can be commercially leveraged and measured in other areas of its marketing activities.” In other words, picking the right – or the wrong – track for the commercial is going to have significant impact on brand equity, which is built largely on image and perceived worth.
In her study of club cultures, Sarah Thornton notes that music is inextricably tied to authenticity, that authenticity arguably is “the most important value ascribed to popular music.” Music, she says, “is perceived as authentic when it rings true or feels real, when it has credibility and comes across as genuine.”
Unilever is amongst those companies seeking to leverage music’s credibility and authenticity for the revitalizing of it’s Wall’s ice cream brand. As part of its GBP 25 million marketing investment in the ice cream range, Wall’s has sponsored an MTV dance competition across Europe. The event took the form of a beach party road show that traveled complete with sand, deckchairs, palm trees and a dance floor, touring summer music festivals. According to industry analyst Datamonitor.com, event marketing is increasingly being used as a marketing tool for consumer packaged goods. From 1998-2003, spend on sponsorship has risen at a compound annual growth rate of 9.5% in Europe, or more than twice the growth rate for advertising, which has risen 4.7% over the same period. Datamonitor.com sees event marketing as more than a mere promotional tool. It is foreseen that marketers in the future will use events to “develop loyal customers, encourage feedback and dialogue of products and needs, and to recruit consumers to promote and sell their brands for them.”
In Denmark, deployment of the Unilever strategy to pair up with music is carried out by a joint venture between Frisko (the local Wall’s, Unilever’s top ice cream brand), the web portal Sol.dk and the band Smashing I-Screams, dreamed up for the occasion. Through concerts around the country, the band’s own website and hoax news stories, the aim is to reinvigorate the brand among a younger consumer base, using affiliation with music to achieve this. Teaming up with the Smashing I-Screams is only one part of it. Using DJ- and club-imagery on Unilever’s Frisko street signs is another.
In the UK, the Carling beer brand is taking a slightly different approach. Carling recently switched the focus of its marketing strategy from football to music, staging a series of “Carling Homecoming” gigs for music artists to play at their town of origin. The gigs are held very intimate limited to about 300 people who all benefit from free entry and free beer. Like Unilever, the Carling brand, owned by Coors Brewers, are using event marketing to squelch out the clutter and reach their target group of like-minded individuals. However, simple sponsorship often fails to provide brands with significant results and do not always guarantee increased brand awareness. Ownership of the event, rather than buying into one, enables brands to build stronger emotional bonds with consumers by being the source of the entertainment and benefit provided to the consumer. Just as it enables brands to select the customer profile the event should attract. For Carling however, the real coup could very well turn out to be the deal it managed to secure with Channel 4, who agreed to screen the gigs as documentaries. This will not only spread the brand association to a mass audience, but also enhance this brand association with further authenticity reflected by a TV documentary.
According to Sarah Thornton, the experience of musical authenticity in our age of “endless representation and global mediation”, is perceived as “a cure both for alienation (because it offers feelings of community) and dissimulation (because it extends a sense of the really ‘real’). As such, it is valued as a balm for media fatigue and as an antidote to commercial hype.” In other words, music has the power to come across as an authentic phenomenon with the ability to offer people a strong sense of belonging. Something that is not media hype, but rather the opposite: genuinely authentic. For David Lewis the opposite to hype is buzz. Buzz is “the natural, authentic version of hype,” he explains. It is the gossiping exchange of information about things of genuine interest between consumers. “Buzz is created and spread among consumers at street level. In contrast hype, generated at the corporate level, is targeted at consumers.”
When the Lee apparel company in 2000 needed to make their jeans cool again to younger buyers, the London branch of the Fallon ad agency created three cheesy characters – Curry, Roy and the DJ Super Greg. During the campaign, this trio of “villains” would challenge Buddy Lee, the plucky doll who has been Lee’s long-time mascot, in a series of competitions. But before the campaign was aired, Fallon set up spoof websites for the three characters. The homepages carried no direct link to the Lee brand or official website, but was modeled over the case of Mahir, a Turkish would-be stud whose shameless self promoting “I kiss you!” homepage grew so popular through word of mouth that he was taken on a heavily publicized tour across the USA. When people stumbled upon the fake websites – at rubberburner.com the long haired Curry wearing a jumpsuit unzipped to the waist described himself as “a slim and handsome race car driver; SuperGreg.com was the homepage of a Latino DJ in his brother’s red tracksuit [and played by no other than Sasha Baron Cohen!]; and Roy, the proprietor of borntodestroy.com was a self-taught martial arts expert – either by mistake or through a forwarded link, they thought the sites were real home pages and passed the link on to their peers. Within a few days the spoof websites received visitors in the tens of thousands, all looking for a laugh.
Lee tapped into the impulse to share your cool findings on the Internet with your friends. They did – more or less by chance – what viral marketing guru Seth Godin urges brands to do, namely help consumers talk to each other instead of talking directly to them. The 17- to 22-year-olds that make up Lee’s target audience not only severely distrust advertising, they also like to think they’ve discovered something for themselves. This tendency towards media- and advertising fatigue has been noted to an extreme especially in Asia where a paradoxical mix of expert brand knowledge coupled with an institutionalized cynicism towards brand marketing seems to be the order of the day for the young generation. Young Asians routinely avoid conventional advertising messages. They watch very few TV ads, with most of those they actually do se being screened out, and the same goes for outdoor and Internet advertising. While young Asian people notoriously seek to avoid advertising, they are also the most dedicated brand advocates one can think of. And in order to track this group’s sources and exchange of information, agencies are putting together “shadow teams” who follow selected members of various target groups day and night for a period in order to uncover their media consumption, relation to technology, places they hang out, dress code, daily routines, fast- and slow food habits etc.
The Lee campaign staged the three offbeat characters as authentic through the creation of ‘personal’ information with a personal touch on their dedicated homepages, and this play with identity is continued in Lee’s 2003 campaign: “Behind the scenes since 1889”, created by Stockholm based Storåkers McCann, Lee’s main European agency since 2002. With the new campaign, targeted at audiences in Europe, The Middle East, Africa and parts of the Asian market, Lee is moving one step closer in on authenticity, presenting what is allegedly Robbie Williams’ fan-mail coordinator and Kylie Minogue’s pet care director as the new Lee models. The creative plays with the concept of celebrity, but instead of actual endorsement from celebrities the campaign focuses on the people who support and work for them, people “behind the scenes.”
When it comes to endorsement, famous people enjoy a high degree of attention and recall which can be used to increase awareness of a company’s advertising. In the case of Lee’s “Behind the scenes” campaign, we are not seeing a direct endorsement by a celebrity, but instead a more subtle attachment between the Lee brand and two of the most celebrated stars of popular music.
The campaign plays upon the aspirations of many people to become famous today (and the possibility for them to become just that). However, neither Robbie Williams fan-mail coordinator nor Kylie Minogue’s pet care director are in fact quite ordinary people. The are swept in the aura of genuine pop stars, they are “behind the scenes”, founding their authenticity in two worlds: that of the pop star, and that of the ‘real’ world.
This makes an interesting slide in the concept of celebrity endorsement, which has been on the rise for at least the past decade. In recent years we have seen people like Moby, Macy Gray, Kim Gordon and Shirley Manson endorse Calvin Klein, Madonna taking BMW for a ride, doing apparel company GAP with Missy Elliot. Daft Punk have also done GAP – and Moby too, while Sting and Celine Dion have endorsed Jaguar and Chrysler respectively.
David Bowie have decided to support French mineral water brand Vittel, and with his wife Iman agreed to front the launch advertising campaign of Hilfiger’s Spring 2004 collection. The company declared at that occasion, that the two are cultural icons that represent Tommy Hilfiger’s “long time love of fashion and music.”This is just the people in the music business – and just the top of the ice berg!
As the year 2001 was coming to an end, USA TODAY reported that one of the few taboos left in Hollywood was about to come to and end, namely that of stars appearing in ads: “Top actors and musicians, who balked at appearing in ads for years, now are giving star power to TV commercials, magazine ads and billboards. The trend ranges from veteran megastars to the hippest members of young Hollywood.”
The Lee campaign and the way it pulls leverage from celebrities in the music business is essentially different from the way for instance the Vittel brand uses David Bowie. Both Lee and Vittel communicate the value added by (music-) celebrity through product to consumer, but in the Lee case the link between celebrity and product, and between consumer and celebrity, is much more subtle and indirect.
Sarah Thornton speaks of two different kinds of authenticity: One that involves issues of originality and aura, and one that is about being natural to the community or organic to subculture. This is also pointing to the main difference between e.g. the Mitsubishi ad, and advertising for Jaguar and Chrysler involving the personal appearance of Sting and Celine Dion respectively.
Where Sting and Celine Dion’s explicit personal endorsement circles around the artist as originator, the Mitsubishi ad is – as we have seen – far more about a vibe. About being true to the community or subculture. The main difference between the Mitsubishi ad and the Jaguar / Chrysler ads is therefore, that while the latter lean on the status and personality of celebrities Sting and Celine Dion, the former creates an integrated narrative, using a virtually unknown tune rather than an established hit to build on what is already at play, namely the break dancing from the original Dirty Vegas video. Thus, Mitsubishi creates ‘a little piece of entertainment’ which ‘doesn’t seem to be about a car, but about a vibe’.
Actually, the Chrysler ads with Celine Dion have been accused of not being about a car either. Instead, the ads are said to be more about Celine Dion than about Chrysler – a fact emphasized by figures showing that while sales of Chrysler rock-bottomed (dealers sold only 4,828 Pacificas in the first three months on the market after projecting selling 60,000 in the first year), Dion’s new album, “One Heart”, went through the roof selling more than 2 million copies. On the other hand, the Jaguar ad with Sting turned out a smash for both car and artist.
The question is whether the match between product and artist is right, whether it appeals to the target audience. In the case of Dion and Chrysler it obviously did not. In fact, when Chrysler’s advertising agency – BBDO in Detroit – embarked on the job, focus groups showed them, that Celine Dion appealed to consumers with an average age of 52. BBDO warned Chrysler about this, but Chrysler decided to go ahead anyway, inked a 3 year and USD 14 million deal with Dion and went on to spent another USD 2-3 million a spot.
In contrast to this, the Mitsubishi TV commercials not only pay substantially smaller fees (Dirty Vegas allegedly received USD 3,500 for the rights to use the track), they have also been quite successful in increasing sales and customer recognition. From 1998 to 2001, Mitsubishi says its brand awareness rose 36 percent while sales increased 69 percent. And the average age for Mitsubishi owners is 38 years with 38 percent of the company’s customers younger than 35.
Maybe the difference is essentially that of age. The difference in communicating with a mature audience and a younger audience. A lot of attention has been given to issues of ‘new’ vs. ‘old’ types of consumers and marketing. The difference between younger and older also signifies two different ways of thinking marketing. Where the old marketing style, as marketing guru John Grant puts it, “was to steal a creative film clip or character”, new marketing needs “to have its own intrinsic authenticity.”
Programming the planet
It would seem that we have reached a level in popular culture in which we – paraphrasing the words of Marshall McLuhan – have begun to program the planet itself. Evidence of this cyberspace-made-flesh can be found in the increasing use of celebrity endorsement, in the interplay between music video and TV commercial, rendering the two virtually indistinguishable, and especially in the product placement marketers use to buy into street credibility and authenticity for their products.
An Australian study from 2002 has shown that the super model is now in demise as a means of promotion in favor of other types of celebrities such as athletes and entertainers, who can provide far more interesting models with “real” lives and “the blemishes and flaws that consumers can relate to their own experiences.”
Advertising is tapping into the interest in “real” lives, in real people, with real stories. Just as, at another level, television has done with a string of reality TV shows like Big Brother, Pop Idol, and Survivor. And players in the music business have accordingly upgraded their attention towards new sources of authenticity for their products to be associated with.
The creation of a street level buzz has proven much more effective than traditional, old school marketing. As David Lewis has shown, buzz is created when cool hunters pick up on things and spread the interest to early adopters, who again influence an early majority to follow and spread the buzz even more. Next step is the late majority, from where the trend finally reaches laggards – by which time the following trend has largely become the latest buzz (cf. David Lewis, p. 107). To a large extent, cool hunters and mavens define themselves against the mass-produced and mass-consumed, just as they are extremely skeptical of advertising.
That means, that in order to reach this audience advertising needs to create an authentic vibe. This is the added value in the brand equation. And music seems to be instrumental in shaping this vibe. Vibe is about youth culture, and youth culture is about vibe. It is tempting to quote Quincy Jones when he summed up Vibe Magazine with these words: “Vibe is the voice and soul of urban music and culture.”
Frank Mort, “Cultures of Consumption: Masculinities and Social Space in Late Twentieth-Century Britain”, Routledge 1996.
Greg Myers, “Ad Worlds: Brands, Media, Audiences”, Arnold 1999.
Frank Mort, “Boy’s Own? Masculinity, Style and Popular Culture”, in R. Chapman & J. Rutherford (Eds), “Male Order: Unwrapping Masculinity”, Lawrence & Wishart 1988.
Mark Robinson, “100 Greatest TV Ads”, Harper Collins 2000.
Andreas Huyssen, “After the great Divide”, Indiana University Press, Bloomington–Indianapolis 1986.
Claude Lévi-Strauss, “The Raw and The Cooked”, Harper and Row 1969.
“Searching for the Global Consumer: A European Study of Changing Lifestyles and Shopping Behaviour”, Cap Gemini Ernst & Young, 2002.
Peter Doyle, “Marketing Management and Strategy”, Prentice Hall 2002.
David Lewis, “The Soul of The New Consumer”, Nicholas Brealey Publishing 2003.
Sarah Thornton, ”Club Cultures: Music, Media and Subcultural Capital”, Polity Press, 1995.
Seth Godin, Unleashing the Ideavirus, Do You Zoom Inc., 2000.
Christina Schlect, ”Celebrities’ Impact on Branding, Columbia Business School 2003.
John Grant, “The New Marketing Manifesto,” Texere 1999.
Kodwo Eshun, “More Brilliant Than The Sun”, Quartet Books 1998.
Marshall McLuhan, ”The Emperor’s old Clothes”, in Gyorgy Kepes (ed.), “The Man-Made Object”, Studio Vista 1966.