You know the hardy perennials of any conference panel on brands and music: it’s not just about a big cheque; it has to be authentic; it has to be a meeting of creative minds, etc.

Would the ‘I’m With The Brand’ session at AIM’s Indie-Con conference in London today provide some more tangible advice for independent labels and artists hoping to strike better brand deals? Read on to find out.

The panel included Vice’s Alex Hoffman; Fuse’s Zoe Stainsby; Converse’s Jason Miller; Rhodri Evans of Levi’s; and The O2’s Emily Scoggins, who has previously worked on music campaigns for McDonald’s and New Look. The moderator was Beggars Group’s Anna Neville.

What are brands and agencies looking for from an artist partnership, especially in the earlier stages of their careers?

“One of the key things is that we are a global brand. When it comes to working with a new artist, it’s usually part of a global platform,” said Miller. Converse tends to concentrate its resources on cities: London, New York, LA and Shanghai. Its Rubber Tracks is a platform for new talent, activating it a few times a year rather than all year round.

The first thing I’d say for a young artist would be write down a list of brands you like. Look in your wardrobe and look at what you drink! See the people you already have some sort of affinity with. Because the things the brands are looking for is a genuine, authentic relationship,” said Scoggins.

“Don’t worry about being a big proposition for them. Don’t be worried about being starting off in your career. They have content videos going out that you could do the sync for. You don’t have to walk up and say ‘we’re going to be number one next week’. Small is beautiful, but start with something that’s authentic for you.”

Evans talked from a Levi’s standpoint. “I do think the authenticity thing’s important. In the early stages of a campaign you’re not always looking for the big star…. you’re looking for something that meets the needs of the campaign. Just get yourself out there in terms of contacting brands,” he advised.

People see these global brands as big corporate machines. But on a day-to-day basis we’re just people who really love music… It is just be brave, be bold and put yourself in front of brands.”

Miller said that existing connection between an artist and a brand is important. “Think about that when you’re approaching brands. A lot of the time, there are certain artists who I know have pitched to 10 different people, and it’s the same email. I don’t think they really know why they want to work with Converse… I need to know you understand the brand and what we’ve done before. And why it’s a two-way conversation.”

“Detail matters,” agreed Evans. But how do brands and agencies assess internally what makes for a successful partnership with an artist?

Stainsby said there’s a really strict criteria. “What you’re looking for for a campaign. It’s making sure that there is an equal match and there is a value exchange. If we are looking for an artist to work on a big global campaign that is quite commercial, and one of the metrics from the brand is to have huge social reach, then obviously it would make sense to work with an artist who has huge social reach, and will be engaged and a voice for the brand,” she said.

But other campaigns might focus on artists who are “really true to themselves” but haven’t done a lot of brand work before, and perhaps who even aren’t that active on social networks, she added.

What happens when brands and artists are at odds over the goals of a campaign, wondered Neville, and how can they get the balance right? “A lot of this is just about being very transparent from the start,” said Hoffman.

“A lot of brands are understandably very keen to work with massive artists, and that’s great sometimes, but there’s a lot more to the decision process than that… internally we get decks with amazing ideas [for example] with Thom Yorke and Aphex Twin doing something, and it’s just not realistic.” Because those artists would not be up for it.

He added that an artist “who’s done 20 campaigns, and this is just the next one, they’ll do a tweet and move on” is not ideal either.

Scoggins said that lateral thinking is vital for artists: for example, asking how the brand can help them promote their next single on social media, or whether they have stores in the same cities as they are playing live, to do some extra performances.

“Don’t just think of it in terms of a cash, think about it in terms of all the other things you can get out of that relationship,” said Scoggins. “If it starts with a cheque and a contract, it’s never going to be successful,” agreed Stainsby. “If it just starts with the deal and the money, I don’t think it’s going to deliver for the talent or for the brand.”

“Audiences are savvy. They can tell when it’s bullshit,” said Miller, espousing Converse’s mantra of “own don’t rent” – in other words “we want to own that relationship… when you go deeper with the artist, it lets you build up that campaign.”


The panel were asked for their favourite examples of brand/artist partnerships, and Miller praised Nike’s work with fka twigs. “Everyone involved in that campaign was super-young, but it felt really fresh and relevant. It didn’t feel like they’d just bought her,” he said.

Stainsby agreed. “The content was so emotional, and there was such subtle product integration,” she said.

“But the campaign that I’ll take to the grave and wish that I worked on was Stormzy / Adidas… from the quality of the content, the high production value, the capturing a moment in music culture. And purely from a marketer’s point of view, the fact that it was a first: announcing the signing of a football player through a piece of music… I’m really envious that they actually managed to execute that!”

Evans hailed the fka twigs and Stormzy examples, particularly because they went beyond the “shiny big broadcast piece” – for example, getting young photographers involved and making a story out of that.

Evans also cited Red Bull’s work with music across all of their campaigns. “The product isn’t coming into this discussion: it’s actually what we can facilitate, what we can do to change things culturally,” he said. “We can’t just shout at consumers any more and say ‘buy our product, buy our product’. We have to create experiences… It starts off with ‘we’re going to do some cool stuff you’re going to enjoy, come and be a part of it’.”

“The word authenticity has been used a lot,” noted Neville, before praising fka twigs for the way she stuck to her creative guns in her work with Nike.

“To me she’s a perfect artist,” said Miller. ” I know from talking to her people, music is just one facet of her whole brand… she understands exactly what she is, what her aesthetic, and how she wants to be represented when she works with brands… When you work with those kinds of artists it’s the dream, as opposed to someone coming through the door saying ‘give me some money and I’ll do a gig‘.”

The panel talked about some prominent artist/brand campaigns, starting with Clean Bandit’s infamous advert for Microsoft’s Cortana voice assistant. “Who thinks that reflected well on the artist?” asked Neville, to a clear show of no hands at all from the audience. What went wrong?

“I think the brief was basically we’ve got £500k to spend, we want an artist that’s number one in the charts, can you get us an artist?” said Miller. “There’s just no link to music whatsover. There’s no reason to have a music artist in that add at all: it could just be actors,” said Stainsby. “You’re getting relevance is probably what they thought: it’s a literal example of that kind of payment for services,” said Evans. “It was probably a last-minute deal,” suggested Miller. “It even could have been the marketing director just liked that record!” said Scoggins. “I worked in one job where every morning my boss would go ‘Have you got me Adele yet?’”

“It doesn’t seem to have affected their career,” noted Hoffman. “Maybe people will be thinking they should do this. They did it, everyone took the piss, but now they’re number one,” said Hoffman.

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The conversation moved on to Iggy Pop’s ad for car-insurance firm Swiftcover. “The Iggy thing bothers me. He’s such an iconic figure… it’s like he’s sold his whole image. But the other side to that is, when he was at his peak with The Stooges, he probably didn’t earn much money… So a lot of us were like ‘fair play’. It might not be the coolest thing. But there was a bit of a backlash, because that company didn’t actually insure musicians.”

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Then the panel screened Stormzy’s Adidas ad, which was used to announce the company’s signing of footballer Paul Pogba.

“I cannot find fault with it at all. It is an absolute perfect match,” said Stainsby. “Sometimes people forget the product in the mix of a campaign. But here you’ve got the artist, the product right and it resonates with the consumer they’re trying to reach,” added Miller.

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