Previously posted in sourceEcreative

By Mark Beckhaus, executive producer, Nylon Studios

Only a short time ago, Madison Avenue coined the phrase ‘branded content’ to capture the growing fusion of entertainment and advertising: in a branded content world, marketers fund the creation of everything from TV shows and films to webisodes and videogames, implicitly delivering a brand message, and explicitly entertaining audiences far and wide.

Within the branded content arena, though, music is still finding its place. While the advertising community has always understood the power of music, from the jingles of yesteryear to the hit song licensing deals of today, there must be something new for music in the branded content arena.

In fact, there is. We believe we are on the exciting cusp of a new era in branded music content, where marketers have evolved their role to that of a record label. Where today some marketers are engaging musical artists for ‘one-off’ advertising initiatives, we imagine a slightly different world, where big brands actually conceptualize and create bands, nurture the artist throughout their career, and act as an ongoing marketing and financial resource.

Think about it as reverse engineering in music. Whereas once the recording industry broke new bands to the mainstream, now brands have the opportunity to conceptualize, create, and market a band, from scratch.

Several trends are colluding to make this ‘brands and bands’ movement possible: given the disintegration of the traditional recording industry, artists are looking for new ways to connect with audiences. With the tremendous media spends associated with an advertising campaign, artists can gain valuable exposure through a marketing initiative that they might not find elsewhere. Artists used to be fearful of selling out, but now 360 degree marketing deals are commonplace and artists are open to them.

The advent of digital technology, too, makes it easier than ever to break an artist through social media platforms like MySpace and Facebook. Consider social media a modern day focus group: if fans don’t groove on a band’s MySpace introduction, a brand can reconsider further plans.

Plus, five to 10 years ago it wasn’t cool for a band to associate itself with a brand. These days, consumers only care if the music is good, it doesn’t bother them that music might be generated through an advertising initiative.

Brands understand the appeal of owning their own branded music content, while taking part in the success of the artist and all the business benefits a hit song brings to them. Given these powerful shifts in thinking and behavior, there now exist limitless opportunities for brands and bands. In the future, we anticipate brands launching a new artist with all the bells-and-whistles: a full album release, followed by concert tours, in store appearances, merchandizing and other promotions, will be the order of the day.

In other countries the assimilation of artists with brands is nothing new. In Japan, record companies typically go to an ad agency first (as opposed to radio stations) to find a place for their artists’ music. In China, Pepsi recently launched a record label (AdAge, 8/12/09, “Pepsi Rocks With a New Generation of Chinese Bands”).

At my company, Nylon Studios, we have explored the bands and brands strategy for Famous Footwear, Benadryl and JC Penney. For Famous Footwear we created an artist of our own imagination and marketing, Valentyne Krush, who in turn created the music for the global shoe brand. First, a spot featuring a :30 track entitled “Hold Tight” was introduced to consumers. Then a full 3-minute version of the song was made available on ITunes and can still be heard in its entirety at http://www.myspace.com/valentynekrush. In conjunction with agency Campbell Mithune, we are responsible for launching, merchandising, marketing and selling the band’s music, while simultaneously representing Famous Footwear’s brand strategy. Singer M Gilbert is the band’s frontwoman, while Nylon composers O.C. Chang and Scott Langley wrote and produced the songs. The agency wanted to reinvent the Famous Footwear brand in a more contemporary way so it made sense for us to introduce Valentyne Krush and the band’s music in a way that would convey true pop credibility.

While the ‘bands and brands’ strategy is unique, big brands, agencies and music studios are exploring other new and different ways to work with artists to create branded music content. Japanese clothing retailer Uniqlo has an ongoing relationship with DJ/producer Tomoyuki Tanaka (aka Fantastic Plastic Machine) and most recently asked him to create the soundtrack for Uniqlo’s screensaver/widget, the Uniqlo Calendar.

Another innovative example of branded music content: Microsoft tapped rock musician Tim Vanhamel to perform in banner ads promoting Belgian bank Axion’s Banner Concerts campaign. The Banner Concerts campaign, an online battle-of-the-bands-type scenario developed by agency Boondoggle, found viewers voting for the best band after seeing them perform within the banner ad medium; the agency even asked the bands to art direct their banners while the artists themselves publicized their Axion Banner concert on social networking sites.

For a brand/band initiative to be successful, it has to be cool. This is paramount. While consumers more readily accept the notion of a brand sponsoring the creation of music, they remain leery of anything that feels pandering or promotional. This means that overeager marketers must exercise restraint and integrity: tagging a mnemonic at the end of a song’s track, or putting a brand logo on the CD cover…will be the kiss of death.

The strategic challenge then becomes to ensure the band fits with the brand. If an agency develops a band, it is critical the artist reflect the marketer’s ethos.

The upside for marketers and artists is tremendous. A brand, in its exclusive representation of a band, creates incredible affinity with people through a hit record. Consumers benefit the most: the rich world of music is again brought to their doorstep, this time, from a brand near you.

For more info on Nylon Studios' Globel EP Mark Beckhaus or Nylon visit NylonStudios.com