The Grammys, OK GO, Kanye and Growth of Music-Centric Branded Content

By Tom Bannister

This week, Lady Gaga and Nile Rodgers partnered with Intel at the Grammys to create an interactive David Bowie celebration, including a hologram and “digital makeup.” Apparently, Gaga’s partnership with Intel had been in the works for six months, as artist and brand tried to figure out how to incorporate the brand’s technology into her live shows.

That may have been the most high profile example of music-brand integration of the week, but it was just one of many.

OK Go dropped their latest branded music video: a choreographed, zero gravity performance, sponsored by S7 Airlines and released exclusively on Facebook. Wiz Khalifa announced a partnership with RiverRock Products, for an upcoming line of marijuana products, which, along with Snoop Dogg’s Leafs By Snoop brand, opens up the potential for some interesting brand-funded content in this immerging category. And, last but not least, over at Fashion Week in New York, Kanye West released his latest album on the same day as his fashion show and continued to plug his Adidas and Tidal partnerships, crashing the latter, even channeling some of his odd family dynamics into battle of the brands (Puma versus Adidas).

West’s work is indicative of a number of the top music performers (and YouTube stars) for whom the actual performance is one component of a larger enterprise around the cult of that personality — West as a streaming entrepreneur, fashion company, media network, and capitalist hustling to pay back his investors, as well as a musician. Thanks to digital, the artist has become the new media conglomeration. Taylor Swift, Drake, Diplo have also gotten in on the action, but and Dr. Dre and Beats are likely the most financially successful brand-music marriage. Indeed, the success of Beats is probably the best recent example of a brand using music to make itself culturally relevant, not just in their choice of music endorsers, but right down to the inspired music choices in their commercials. It’s reminiscent of Apple’s great resurgence on the back of the iPod — clever musical campaigns, partnerships with bands such as U2 and, more recently, its attempts to stay relevant with initiatives like Apple Radio.

Some of the most innovative brand-funded content of the past year has been in the music category. Whether its brand-funded tracks, music videos, live performances, radio stations, endorsements, impromptu live events, flash mobs or even musical in-flight safety videos, music is a great way to connect emotionally. Cannes Lions shined a spotlight on Sony’s Ad Skip Festival, an innovative use of YouTube’s pre-roll placements and the Berlin Wall of Sound, a great partnership between City of Berlin and SoundCloud (Germany’s most successful streaming platform), in which they acoustically reconstructed the Berlin Wall. And, from 2014, who can forget Interlude’s interactive Bob Dylan music video? It remains one of my favorite digital films of all time.

Digital music services are getting more and more sophisticated with their brand partnerships. Spotify are creating playlists for Starbucks and Reebok, and companion sites with McDonalds. IHeartRadio has an extensive partnership with Coca-Cola including First Taste Fridays, Summer Concert Series and branded podcasts. Vevo has the UNSTAGED partnership with American Express for live streaming concerts, along with a burgeoning branded entertainment department, with their first production, a DJ competition series, hosted by Tiesto. And we are seeing Beatport, major record labels and new platforms like Go90, begin to cut music oriented, branded content deals. Pandora seems to be less active, leading one to wonder whether it has an incentive to make its commercials more annoying to get listeners to pay for the paid service (Spotify has other incentives for premium service). Even Pandora’s post-Thanksgiving Snoop spots felt interruptive and unwanted. The Most Interesting Man in the world shows just what you can do with short form radio advertising.

The mechanics of music production and consumption suit many of the underlying realities of working with a brand on digital platforms, versus, say, traditional scripted programming. Music is global like the medium and the largest advertisers’ businesses. It stretches across culture, race and age. It is relevant, in the moment and organized into communities of fans and interest groups. Its star-centric, and, unlike the majority of the acting world, those stars have led social media, with many of the biggest celebrities on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter being musicians. Music generally has a shorter production timeline (songs and music videos) than traditional programming. The elongated cycles and complexity of production of long-form audiovisual can often be prohibitive to brands, whereas a branded performance can be organized a few weeks out. Music touches people in an emotional, rather than a cerebral way. It encourages viewer participation. It can be associated with good social causes that people want to be connected with, and it appears more in the valuable “awareness” phase of the purchasing cycle, than the later information gathering phases, when a consumer is already on their way to purchasing a product.

Thinking about all the changes digital is having across every area of life (not just music and advertising), I would argue, purely subjectively, that music is one of those areas where the changes have resulted in a better final product (perhaps not so in politics). I think the popular artists are better now than ten years ago and the consumer experience is way better than the days of the same five songs (Nellie, Diddy, Spears, early Timberlake, etc.) playing endlessly on Z-100. Looking back at some of the interviews David Bowie gave 15 years ago, he was prescient about these changes, predicting streaming, fan participation, and the musician as business and branding entity. He didn’t judge it as good or bad, just as what would be.

Consumer brands find themselves facing similar changes and challenges as musicians do today. Jay-Z should be trying to market Tidal less as a Gatsby-esque, play for the American dream and more as a cause that viewers can participate in. Gatsby isn’t cool anymore.

This post was penned by VideoInk publishing partner, a one-stop shop for branded entertainment. features and catalogs the best branded entertainment campaigns from around the world.

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