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.”