Service lets firms use songs to connect with buyers

While advertisers have long been offering up free music on their websites as a way to make their brands sound cooler to consumers, they may not have known if the right shoppers were listening.

That could change next year with the launch of Guvera, an Australian service that enables advertisers to program their own music channels for specific audiences.

For example, a clothing brand could create a list of tunes for girls in their teens who like “Twilight,” or men who play videogames, read comicbooks and eat a lot of fast food. When searching for songs, users would be directed to music channels presented by brands with similar sensibilities. The marketer would pay record labels for those songs whenever they get streamed or downloaded.

Tracks are offered only to registered users of Guvera’s website who have provided personal info, such as age, gender and where they live, as well as favorite bands, movies, sports teams, etc. — information that will pair specific audiences with the brands that want them and are happy to pay for their entertainment.

Universal Music Group and its stable of labels, including Interscope Geffen A&M, Island Def Jam, MCA Nashville, Mercury, Polydor and Universal Motown have signed up to offer artists to Guvera and its affiliated ad partners when Guvera launches for U.S. music fans in February.

“One of our missions is to make music free for people worldwide, while still paying the artists and the labels that create and distribute it,” says Claes Loberg, Guvera’s founder and CEO. With Guvera, “every brand can offer engaging content to its target consumers without disrupting them with ads, and can use its channel to represent music that relates to the brand’s personality.”

Other major labels are expected to sign up fairly soon. Most don’t have a choice but to say yes to services like Guvera; they can’t afford to turn away money these days. And a popular brand — especially one that courts millions of young consumers — could wind up minting considerable coin for a sought-after tune.

The Guvera deal fits with UMG’s aim to offer “consumers even more ways to enjoy the musical experience where they want and in the manner of their choosing,” says David Ring, executive VP of business development and business affairs for eLabs, UMG’s new media and technologies division. It’s also expected to appeal to individuals who aren’t willing to pay for music online.

And by having the likes of UMG on board, brands now have notable artists they can enlist to lure consumers — artists like Jay-Z, Lady Gaga and Rihanna. In the past, most marketers had to turn to up-and-coming bands because their songs are cheaper to license. For example, Wendy’s is backing a new “Fresh Faces” Web series to introduce new musicians with MySpace Records, while JetBlue has been producing the Live from T5 concert series, featuring new bands.

That’s attractive at a time when marketers have cut back on their ad budgets. But it’s tough for an advertiser to generate much demand with artists that consumers likely haven’t heard of.

Because brands are paying for the song downloads, however, money could still prove an issue: A brand must pay for the popular song it chooses. And while it’s not known which advertisers have signed on to use Guvera, it’s hard not to envision a place for a service that can use music to directly connect a company like Wendy’s with teens who crave a Triple Baconator.

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