Opportunity knocks but both sides don't answer

The notion of music as a key component of brand DNA is nothing new. Levi’s, Coca Cola and Disney have long recognized the deep emotional bond that melodies (whether by known or breaking artists) can create with their customers.

Likewise, thanks to a reeling music industry, artists and record labels are increasingly embracing corporate partnerships with unprecedented enthusiasm, exploring sponsored downloads, embedded CDS, audio logos, videogames, ringtones and exclusive releases as valuable new sources of revenue and exposure.

Clearly, brands and the music biz can enjoy a wonderfully synergistic relationship — so why are so few of them skipping to the same beat?

The question was posed by Stockholm-based marketing consultancy Heartbeats Intl. at this year’s Midem conference. Its “Sounds Like Branding” survey, based on research with 70 global brands, sought to illuminate why music remains one of the most underused aspects of brand advertising.

The findings showed that most brands (97% of them) say they love the sound of music, with 41% acknowledging that music could help them build a consistent brand image (think Led Zeppelin’s opening “Rock ‘n’ Roll” salvo for Cadillac).

Yet very few of them are putting their money where their mouths are — on average, they spend just 5% of their advertising budget on music. To Heartbeats Intl. founder and CEO Jakob Lusensky, that spells one thing: missed opportunity.

“Globally, consumers are paying less and less attention to traditional forms of advertising,” he says, adding that their patience is running especially short with visual advertising. Heartbeats Intl.’s research shows that while consumers screen out up to 75% of ads, they are still very open to music.

“Unfortunately, most brands still see music as a complementary media tool,” says Lusensky. “Many don’t even have a music budget.”

Japan, where visual advertising has already reached saturation point, is a few beats ahead of the rest of the world, he says, especially in crowded cities like Tokyo.

“Tokyo has so many people living in such a small space, they’ve had to progress much quicker than we have in terms of using sound as a means of mass communication,” he says. “There, even subway stations are sonically branded.”

Indeed, short melodies play when a subway train approaches a station, “branding” each station with its very own sound.

But it’s not enough to just pick a catchy tune or lasso a big pop star and expect magic to occur. Finding the right sound for the brand, a process known as “music profiling,” is key.

It doesn’t help that brands and record companies share a long tradition of getting their wires crossed.

“It’s a missing-link situation,” says Valerie Chollet of the Matching Room, a marketing consultancy that, in essence, acts as a matchmaker between brands and music people. “Record companies, tour agents and big promoters — they don’t know how to speak to brands, how to advise and to supply a strategic consultancy to them,” she says.

Likewise, brands need to realize that “owning” an artist isn’t necessarily in the best interests of the brand or the artist.

“The way it often works is that record companies say, ‘OK we need cash — so let’s go to a brand and ask for it,’ ” says Chollet, who recently leveraged one-off, co-branded event between the singer Rihanna and luxury goods company Swarovski. “And then the brand thinks that because it is paying a huge amount of money to the artist that the artist has to do everything they say, which is impossible.”

Even the biggest of brands, those with proven track records in music marketing, are still liable to make mistakes. Chollet cites Diet Coke’s recent affiliation with French artist Olivia Ruiz. Consumers, she says, were largely puzzled by the union — Ruiz presents herself as a fiercely “indie” artist, and her image didn’t fit with such a mainstream soft drink. In addition, several of Ruiz’s albums contain the word “chocolate” in the title, which struck viewers as odd considering the drink is aimed at dieters. Chollet founded her company, she says, in order to help brands avoid “expensive mistakes” like these.

Mat Morrisroe of Sound Connections, a music and brands consultancy based in London, says brands wishing to explore this area shouldn’t drag their feet any longer. “The rules have changed,” he says. “Artists, labels, management and fans are much more willing to understand why these corporate relationships should happen.”

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