This year’s Midem conference includes a big emphasis on brands, with several big-brand executives showing up to talk about how their companies work with musicians and labels.

The first keynote session in that strand came from Olivier François, chief marketing officer and head of Fiat brand at Chrysler Group and Fiat Group Automobiles.

“I’m standing here as a Frenchman whose heart still belongs to your industry,” he said. “Many CMOs can talk about how important music has been to their campaigns, but for me, it has been a soundtrack to my entire career.”

François actually started his career as a music producer: “If you frequented the wrong clubs, you have probably danced to one of my tracks! And regretted it the next morning…”

But he said this has made him shocked when “so many campaigns use music as the finishing touch to a commercial, to make it look good… at Fiat or Chrysler, music won’t ever be a finishing touch. It will always be a core of the idea.”

Before starting his job at Chrysler, François had been listening to a lot of artists from Detroit, even if he wasn’t quite up to speed on all the city’s musical history. “At the time, I had absolutely no clue that Detroit and Motown were exactly the same thing,” he admitted, before later noting that he felt “a little bit like Bill Murray in Lost in Translation” as he got to grips with his new role.

François went on to talk about Detroit’s musical brand: “The fighting spirit, the resilience…” and noted that when he was thinking about his first Chrysler campaign, Detroit-born rapper Eminem was preparing to release his ‘Recovery’ album. Cue a clip of an arresting TV ad featuring the star, which “started a big fire, a movement of pride”, as well as becoming a symbol of Chrysler’s comeback.

“The sales went up from 600 a month to 6,000 a month,” said François, before talking about how the campaign came together. “Eminem always made it very clear that he would never do a commercial…. Marshall was willing to license Lose Yourself and even star in the spot because he recognised we were selling not a car, but a city and a nation.”

He continued: “He trusted we would treat his brand with the same care that we used for our own brand. Most marketers see music as a commodity. They come to artists focused on money. We see it as a bigger win: more than a commodity.”

How does Chrysler put a campaign together? “First you find a track, then you build the spot around it,” he said, showing another ad for the Dodge Dart, using a track from Jay-Z and Kanye West. “Without ‘Church in the Wild’ there would be no spot on TV,” he said. “It has a cadence, and that cadence couldn’t be replicated: the track literally drives the voiceover and the pace of the image.”

François also talked about “co-partnerships” with artists, with the most recent example being a partnership with OneRepublic with their track ‘Counting Stars’, whose sales rocketed after its use in the ad. “It makes us look like we’re a little ahead of the curve as far as pop culture is concerned,” he said.

Everyone needs promotion in this industry,” he added. “Even J-Lo needs promotion, and needs a video. What matters is co-marketing, which should be very organic and very natural.” Cue a Jennifer Lopez music video featuring her in a Fiat car, which was then cut down to be used as a TV commercial. A similar approach was used for Lenny Kravitz and a Jeep ad.

We sat together in a recording studio in the Bahamas, he played the album for us, and we just picked the tracks with the best fit for Jeep,” said François. “This made all the difference: that’s how you make it authentic and organic… If it feels commercial, we all lose. That’s why we always stand for the artistic integrity. That’s how we will be rewarded with the coolness every brand is looking for.”

François also stressed the need for the stars to align in these kinds of campaigns. “If it aligns, it makes sense, it’s perfect. If it doesn’t, it’s probably better to pass,” he said. “The truth is, we are not always that fortunate.” For example? A conversation with label Interscope about Robin Thicke’s ‘Blurred Lines’, which Chrysler didn’t really have a campaign that would fit.

“You know when you miss your plane and see it taking off in a clear blue sky in a window from the airport? That’s what I felt like!” he said, segueing into an example of the stars aligning once more for Chrysler: Pharrell Williams’ ‘Happy’, which is about to be used in global ads for the company. “Hopefully it proves I haven’t totally lost my ears as a producer!” he said.

The next level of marketing: a “triangle” between Chrysler, an artist and a product or service – in its case, headphones maker Beats, with ads starring Dr Dre and Will.I.Am with Beats’ in-car tech. But he quickly moved on to a newer partnership with Motown founder Berry Gordy, which he stressed (again) is not about the money.

If money can buy it, it’s lazy. Good marketing is not about buying someone’s brand equity. It’s about being authentic,” said François.

A fourth way in which Chrysler works with the music industry: music videos featuring its cars, where it uses its production budgets to co-produce music videos – something referred to earlier in the talk. For example, Arianna ft. Pitbull’s ‘Sexy People (Fiat Song)’, where the commercial and music video were shot at the same time.

“Everything here was footage we needed to produce anyway for our commercials. Did we have the track, or did the track have us? I don’t really know, but maybe it doesn’t matter, as long as everyone wins,” he said. “I’m not saying music needs marketing in order to live, and conversely, marketing doesn’t always need music… Either you have one perfect track, and use it. Or don’t use music at all.”

Or… “Go into the studio and create your own piece!” said François, showing an ad with a score created by a composer for Chrysler, as well as trumpeting a piece created for the brand by Ennio Morricone. Carla Bruni is another artist who recorded a new track especially for the company too – albeit a cover of ‘Bang Bang – My Baby Shot Me Down’.

“It was right before she married the president, so timing was clearly on our side! But this is clearly what makes great marketing: the right deal at the right time, a little bit of luck and a lot of magic…”

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