The Music & Brand Revolution: learnings from our Event

A few weeks ago we welcomed brand friends old and new to Spotify HQ, London for a chilled late afternoon chat about the future of music and brand partnerships, featuring a panel of thinkers and innovators from across the industry: Emmy Lovell, VP Digital, Warner Music; Joey Swarbrick, Manager, Rizzle Kicks; Lisa Buchan, Director Music and Culture, Monster Energy; Mark Sutherland, Editor, Music Week; Simon Burke-Kennedy, Manager, Professor Green; and Tom Kitchen, Head of Sales, Spotify.

Our theme was revolution and the potential of music marketing for brands: the revolution in music consumption – more music is being consumed today than ever before – and the huge and largely untapped potential of music to connect brands meaningfully and emotionally with consumers – especially Millennials, for whom music is one of the main passion points.

Here are our top 10 takeaways from the session.

1. Brands have a natural, expected and often essential role in music

Bands and brands is simply how things are today. Modern, mainstream artists are often measured by their fans and followers by who they surround themselves with. This very much includes brands. Simon Burke-Kennedy told us that “Professor Green has had 40-50 brand deals over the last 5-6 years.” Mark Sutherland added: ”Millennials expect brand collaborations to help them discover new music.”

Professor Green and Puma

2. Any brand can create an authentic role within music

And there are plenty of routes to authenticity. Tom Kitchen: “There is a role for brands you wouldn’t assume have a natural connection with music. For example you can find a connection in how people listen to music – context is important.” A long-term commitment can also deliver authenticity: the Mercedes and Professor Green’s partnership wasn’t an obvious match but has worked really well over a period of a few years. Simon Burke-Kennedy: “The Mercedes partnership was founded on aspiration. Mercedes wanted a bit of risk and edge.” But, as Lisa Buchan explained, it’s all about the idea: “The idea should come first, before the asset or artist.”

3. Collaboration is the key to a successful partnership

The word ‘partnership’ often gets misused. A successful relationship should allow both rights owners and rights users to extract equal value out of any deal. It should not be about a one-way financial transaction (which is often the case). Aligning marketing schedules can often lead to more substantial results, specifically when there is a common target market. Tom Kitchen: “Brands and labels both spend massively on marketing but often conflict – working together would be better for everyone, including the fans.” Joey Swarbrick: “The starting point is to merge what brand and artist want to do.”

4. The starting point for brands is to bring marketing in kind rather than rights fees

As record label budgets continue to plummet, artists and their management regularly search for new opportunities to reach new audiences in order to market and distribute their music. The brands have something that artists and labels don’t: reach, budget and often sophisticated marketing. At the same time, brands value the power of content. Agreeing on a strategy benefiting both sides is more likely to result in a win-win.

Mark Sutherland: “Brands have what labels don’t: money to invest in new talent. Labels are taking fewer risks.” Joey Swarbrick: “Brand marketing budgets are a key selling point for brand partnerships with artists. Beats by Dre will be part of Rizzle Kicks’ third album marketing planning.”

5. Too many brands take a short-term, campaign-specific approach

This is one of the reasons why so many marketers and artists are left disappointed. It scratches the surface of what is possible, uses music tactically rather than strategically, and often results in low ROI for both the brand and band. Joey Swarbrick: “The longevity of brand partnerships is important for credibility – not hit and runs. There is often frustration with short-term brand partnerships for short-term campaigns.” Tom Kitchen: “I rarely see a brand using a long-term music strategy. Just lots of brands trying to be cool and short-term.”

6. The sound of the brand is critical

Successful campaigns require planning and a proactive approach. Music is more often than not a last-minute after-thought (often with little or no budget and left to a junior member of staff to deal with). But it shouldn’t be. The ‘sound of the brand’ is critical and brands should be managing theirs in the same way that labels manage those of their artists. Every brand has a visual identity system with colour and design guidelines: they should also have sound guidelines. Why shouldn’t brands use a Pantone reference scheme for their sound? The ‘traditional’ brand approach is simply missing out music and missing out as a result.

In the multimedia society we live in, the sound of your brand is crucial to get right

7. Music is a complex landscape which most agencies lack the expertise to navigate

The various disconnected verticals (stakeholders) in the music business are very contact driven and complex for those with no experience, making it essential for brands to hire experienced specialist advisors with no conflicts of interest, working on behalf of the brand not the rights owners. Emmy Lovell: “Music is really complicated and the complexity can put brands off. We need to make ourselves more accessible.”

8. Brands need to accept the risks, but there is a big upside: risk can be good!

Brands need to move out of their ‘comfort zone’ and be prepared to take some risks in order to stand out and connect credibly, specifically with Millennials. The music industry takes risks – in order to truly embrace music, so must brands. Something brands such as Mercedes has understood. Lisa Buchan: “Risk can be a good thing as long as the brand is aware of what the risks are and might lead to. Whenever you work with creative people there is risk.” Joey Swarbrick: “If there’s no risk, if it’s completely safe, it won’t cut through.”

Mercedes ‘taking risk’ with UK grime artist Kano in a recent campaign

9. Success comes when preparation meets opportunity

As any top athlete will tell you, preparation is the key to winning. Defining what success looks like before entering into a deal is critical. Many brands have historically entered into relationships with the music industry, unable to define KPI’s – just believing that an investment in the property is right for whatever reason (quite often down to personal belief in an asset). By defining the needs and values of a brand and working to a tight measurable brief, both brand and artist are more likely to benefit and succeed. Tom Kitchen: “Success should be about what you actually want to deliver at the end of the day. Something which is generally overlooked.”

10. The revolution is taking place now – timing is everything

The seismic shift taking place within music is happening now. With the ongoing battle for streaming, increased number of live music events and turf wars amongst other content distributors (the likes of Facebook, YouTube and Netflix) and brands such as Apple showing they can credibly be part of creating culture, there is a window of opportunity amongst artists, labels and management where brands can pioneer and establish the future ways in which things are done. Furthermore, the rights owners are listening… Emmy Lovell: ”We are moving at such a rapid speed of change and evolution – Things are now open that once weren’t.”

 

If you are a brand marketer interested in discussing how to be part of this revolution and use music as part of your marketing strategy, get in touch with Arnon Woolfson, Head of Entertainment at Synergy.

Sports Fans, Social Media and the Millennial Myth

The world’s biggest brands tirelessly strive to deliver rich, digital, sports marketing experiences that stimulate fan conversation, ignite fan interaction and create new fan communities. But, is this what the millennial sports fan really wants? Our ‘Social Sports Fan’ research strongly suggests not. We present a much simpler perspective on what motivates global millennial sports fans to use social media. We expose some perhaps inconvenient truths for an industry more inclined towards ‘new ideas’ than ‘good ideas’ – those built on the solid consumer insights we all know feed the most exciting and effective campaigns. The headlines: - It is not interactivity and rich content experiences that millennial sports fans want from social. It’s real-time content, immediately and easily accessed. - It is not the most official and trustworthy content that millennial sports fans want. It’s a wide breadth of perspectives – they don’t care where their content comes from. - It is not recognition and reinforcement of their identity that millennial sports fans want from social. It’s much more ‘to me’ than ‘from me’. We explore the above and much more in depth. We discover that younger millennials behave quite differently to older millennials. They do want to share their opinion. They do want to use social as a means of expressing who they are.

Our aim is to help brands and rights holders come up for air and see through the relentless development of new social platforms, communities, products, apps and widgets…to focus on what sports fans really want from social media. Our mission is to champion a smarter breed of content. To cut through the crap and deliver the kind of results that can be achieved when the superpowers of sport and social come together. Enjoy the read…
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Breaking the Model

Sports marketing was invented in the US at a time when broadcast TV was most definitely king.  The problem is that shifts in audience behavior and technology have made the media environment much more fluid.  In a recent survey we commissioned with Deep Focus/Intelligence Group (our Sister Agency at Engine) questioning nearly 4,000 people on their sports consumption behaviors, a whopping 83% agreed that the way they are consuming sport has changed significantly over the past 5 years. Quite simply, the traditional sports marketing model hasn’t kept pace with this change – it’s time for disruption.

 

The fact that broadcast TV ruled the roost when the model was established meant that broadcasters were able to set the rules.  One of these rules was a precedent whereby broadcast contracts contained an obligation for the rightsholder to guarantee a minimum level of spend with the media owner.  This obligation, in turn, is passed on to the sponsors. In pretty much every sponsorship contract we see in the US, there is a significant “minimum media spend” clause. (As an aside, that kind of clause simply doesn’t exist in the UK, thanks to the non-commercial nature of the BBC.)

This arrangement clearly makes perfect sense for both the media owners and the rightsholders. The media owners significantly reduce their financial risk as the guaranteed income partially offsets their rights fee, while the rightsholders ensure a minimum level of activation from their sponsors.  Sometimes, the rightsholder is the media owner, which makes that clause particularly attractive!

 

The problem is, in this day and age, the “minimum media spend” clause is nothing short of a disaster for sponsors.  The only thing it guarantees a sponsor is a sub-optimal activation campaign.

Firstly, it can force sponsors into inefficient media strategies. For example, one of our clients is an asset management firm whose (significant) media budget is targeted squarely at Financial Services professionals. Primarily, that means advertising outdoor in financial centers (eg. posters, taxis, airport takeovers etc.) and advertising on TV, online and in print with the key financial channels and business titles. Forcing them to spend any of their media budget with the rightsholder’s media partners is literally forcing them to waste money. Of course this is a relatively extreme example. In most cases the sponsor will choose to use a portion of their media budget with the broadcast partners anyway as a means to reach the audience of the sport, teams or events they sponsor.  But, if that’s the case, why do we need the “minimum media spend” clause at all? That’s the kind of “protectionism” the US usually stands against.

The next consequence of the “minimum media spend” clause is that it leads sponsors towards advertising-heavy activation campaigns.  With so much cash committed and so much inventory to fill, it’s obvious that the activation starts with advertising. The problem is that with such a large chunk of the budget accounted for by the media obligation, the activation often ends with advertising as well.

Over 60% of US sponsors use their advertising agency as their lead agency on their sponsorship campaigns, but that just re-enforces the issue.  Advertising agencies might create great advertising campaigns – but great sponsorship campaigns need to be so much more, because the fact is that fans are consuming sport in a completely new way.

This was clearly demonstrated to us in New York recently, when we went to a sports bar to watch the Mets take on the Dodgers in the NLDS.  Clearly, the crowd were glued to the TV during the game, but it was a completely different story between innings.  While the TV played advertising (much of which was from official sponsors), almost everyone in the bar was looking at their phone – checking their social media platforms of choice for more information and opinion on the game they were watching.  So, collectively, brands were paying millions of dollars to be on TV – but no-one was watching.

 

In the same Deep Focus/IG study we discovered that around half the people under 35 are constantly checking their social media channels during a live game. The reality is that audiences are spending more and more time beyond the reach of traditional advertising, and sponsorship campaigns have to follow them.

This reliance on advertising also means that sponsors have lost the initiative when it comes to finding new and innovative ways to engage with the audience.  They are leaving it all to the rightsholders, who are coming up with an ever-increasing list of “micro-assets” for the sponsor to buy.  As this blog in April explored, there’s nothing wrong with the “FedEx Air and Ground Player of the Week” or the “Maytag Filthiest Play of the Day”, as long as there is a great campaign around it.  But, too often, there’s not, which is probably the reason why these micro-assets don't resonate with the audience.

We tested this theory in the Deep Focus/IG study by giving the audience a list of 30 micro-assets and asking them which ones they recognised.  The twist was that 21 of the micro-assets were real and 9 were completely made up.  The result: the 2nd most-recognised micro-asset was completely made up (Dunk of the Day presented by Dunkin Donuts) and there was no statistically significant difference between the average awareness levels of the real and made up micro-assets.

What we are left with is far too many sponsorship campaigns that consist entirely of advertising (to fulfil the “minimum media spend” clause) and “micro-assets” to tick the fan engagement box.  And if sponsors do look to push things through different channels like PR or experiential, then it is usually some isolated activity that is not connected to the central campaign idea.

There is clearly a better way to think about sponsorship campaigns.  One which is rights, media and channel neutral; which plays out one central idea through the very channels that the audience is actively using; which has no conflicts or vested interests; and which encourages rather than restricts innovation and creativity from brands. One of our favorite recent campaigns is the Madden '15 GIFerator.  Innovative, built on a solid fan insight, social at its core and not an ad or micro-asset in sight.

But this kind of disruption isn’t easy.  The fact is that there is so much vested interest already in play, as the existing players (from media owners to large agency groups) aim to protect the revenue associated with the status quo. So the only ones who can disrupt this market are the brands.  Brands who recognise that it takes more than an ad and some off-the-shelf micro-asset to connect with fans and who understand that they need to be driving creativity and innovation in this space. Brands who realise that we need to break the old model and replace it with something born in the connected era.

Millennial Movie Fans: The Battle of the Five Armies

It’s a time of war.

Five forces, locked in bloody conflict, light against dark, in a fight to the death. Old adversaries clash in bitter skirmishes, as fresh rivals reveal new fronts to a timeworn battlefield. All the while, uneasy alliances are forged in the face of the common foe: malevolent and intangible, a shadowy presence hiding in plain sight, its bitter poison laying waste to the very earth itself.

It’s an ancient battle for a very modern prize: the love (and lucre) of the Millennial movie-watcher.

An appropriately dramatic analogy, perhaps, but the point is still clear: Studios, Multiplexes, Streamers (think Netflix and the like) and Brands are facing up against an army of Pirates in a conflict set to shape the future of film. So now, with the battle lines drawn for 2015, how can brands best prepare themselves to strike a telling blow in the war for Millennial film fans over the coming year?

With this question in mind, it’s worth considering the relatively unprecedented context presented by 2015: in cinematic terms, this could well be the single biggest year the industry has ever seen.

Not one, but three billion-dollar movies will be hitting screens in the coming 12 months. In May, we have Avengers: Age of Ultron – sequel to the third most successful movie of all time ($1.5bn worldwide gross, according to Box Office Mojo); Spectre, the follow-up to Skyfall (at $1.1bn, Bond’s biggest ever outing), appears in November; and that’s not forgetting a small production in December by the name of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the latest episode in the $4.2bn box office mega-franchise.

On top of that, in sequel terms, we’ll see the conclusion to The Hunger Games (the preceding movie having made $695m worldwide), Jurassic World, Ted 2, Mission: Impossible 5, Furious 7 and Magic Mike XXL. When you add in Pixar’s Inside Out, Josh Trank’s reboot of comic book The Fantastic Four and – ahem – Fifty Shades of Grey, there’s something in there for just about everyone.

So where does this leave Millennials? After all, a trip to the cinema represents only a single touchpoint with Film as a passion point…and an expensive one at that. With the average price of a cinema ticket in the UK now £6.53 (a 26% hike since 2007, with London seats topping £13) and US tickets hovering around the $8 mark, it’s not hard to see why a trip to the movies is becoming less of an impulse decision. In 2014, research published by Nielsen in America identified a 15% drop in attendances from the previous year amongst 12-24s.

The average Millennial’s world is fast-paced and relentless. Whether picking up emails from work or endlessly checking feeds for social currency and connections, they are seldom ‘off’. For the Multiplexes, this creates an interesting and relatively unique dilemma: while the cinema is considered by Millennials as one of the last places where they can still genuinely disengage from life, attendances amongst this group are still declining.

Time-poor, experience-rich

With the average length of the year’s highest-grossing movies up from 118.4 minutes in 1992 to 141.6 minutes in 2012 – not counting the incremental half hour of adverts and trailers – starved of smartphones and live pausing, Millennials need to commit or quit when considering a trip to the cinema.

What’s more, it’s fair to say that the cinematic experience itself at the Multiplex is generally not up to par for the young, free and single Millennials. As born multitaskers and social animals, there’s an expectation that a night out offers more than just silent contemplation of an IMAX screen. Look at the popularity of Secret Cinema, the immersive movie experience encompassing themed costumes, food and event production, whose 2014 UK screenings of Back to the Future saw 17,000 of the available 66,000 tickets sell out in under five minutes. There’s even proven to be an audience for East London’s Hot Tub Cinema pop-up events, with the Hot Tub Time Machine 2 surely a shoo-in as content for screenings this year.

Similarly, more ‘regular’ viewing experiences are available for the Millennial multitasker, with the Electric, the Everyman chain and the Roxy Bar and Screen leading the charge in London in terms of luxury and/or homely seating, refreshments and even mid-movie debate. Grab a beer and order some food; make a night of it; feel sociable and connected.

While brands may struggle to have an impact on the long-term Multiplex experience itself, there may be a mindset shift occurring here, with Cineworld’s acquisition of the independent Picturehouse chain in 2012 a conscious (albeit controversial) move to recognise and grow both brands in tandem.

The question is, what can brands learn from the independents that they could take to a national level in partnership with Multiplexes? One of London’s most popular independent theatres, The Prince Charles Cinema, a stone’s throw from Leicester Square’s Empire, ODEON and Vue, provides a few clues as to how sponsors might help the chains get a little more creative, whilst engaging relevantly with Millennial audiences.

Double-bills, seasonal themes, franchise marathons, fancy dress evenings – even sing-along events (Frozen being the spectacle du jour) – you name it, the PCC could be the ultimate incubator when it comes to replicable in-theatre ‘moments’.

All you can eat content

Whether the big chains like it or not, the Millennial perception of acceptable pricing policy is changing. The Streamers have it right: at £5.99/$8.00 per month, Netflix/Amazon/Hulu have this audience wrapped up, feeding the Millennial binge-watcher a constant supply of on-demand content, all for a low (or, at least, acceptable) monthly charge. So why haven’t the Multiplexes adopted the same approach to generating a regular subscriber base? To date, of the UK’s major chains, only Cineworld offers this with its Unlimited card, £16.40 granting you as many screenings as you can fit into a month.

Stateside, the cross-chain MoviePass subscription service lets users go to a film a day for $35, a ‘premium’ version of which (think 3D and IMAX showings, not just standard 2D) AMC – the second biggest Multiplex in Northern America – is also now trialling.

The question is, if the Multiplexes aren’t offering this themselves, then how could a sponsor make this happen? And we’re not necessarily talking for free: Orange Wednesdays – arguably the biggest thing to happen in cinemas in the past 10 years – was essentially a customer BOGOF. With EE now having walked away from the offer, perhaps a reboot is in order (this is the cinema, after all), especially now that Aleksandr Meerkat and chums are now involved.

How about adding a premium bolt-on to your monthly mobile phone tariff and then using your NFC-enabled smartphone to claim tickets as often as you like, every month?

I’d buy that for a dollar (or even twenty).

Instant gratification

Another area where the big boys – in this instance, the Studios – could learn from the Streamers, is in how they deploy Video on Demand (VOD). The hacking of Sony Pictures’ systems in late 2014 – their very own Nightmare Before Christmas – actually went some way to demonstrating that whilst physical distribution in theatres is critical, it’s not essential.

Following the decision (by the major cinema chains, rather than the studio) to pull the release of the North Korea-baiting comedy The Interview, Sony Pictures finally released the movie as VOD content, making $15m in the process. Sure, this is still short of the reported $44m production budget, but (if you believe the financial documents released by the hackers) just about covered stars Seth Rogen and James Franco’s fee.

The controversy of this particular film aside, from a sponsorship perspective, the lack of a physical presence for a movie in theatres presents an opportunity for the right brand to create the necessary real-world touchpoint for consumers. Whether through Coke Zero’s excellent ‘Unlock the 007 in you’ Skyfall tie-in, or more standard marketing real estate, sponsors have the unique ability to meet Millennials half-way, and bring them closer to the movie itself.

Another related consideration for brands is that of simultaneous cross-platform release schedules. This is not a new phenomenon, with examples of ‘opening days’ synchronised across multiple media stretching back at least a decade, from such film-makers as Steven Soderbergh and, more recently, Ben Wheatley. Although unlikely to ever replace the release model for the summer blockbuster – where even the most extravagantly proportioned household flatscreen will fail to do justice to the scale and seat-juddering spectacle of a good movie theatre set-up – the provision of both immediacy of content and a choice in how to view it are drivers for Millennials across the globe. This would likely also prove popular for Gen Xers with childcare issues…

How about a sponsor-driven release day, with loyal customers or promotion winners provided unique access to either a VOD stream, DVD or viewing party – rather than just the typical activation of a local premiere we’ve come to expect? The trick is realigning the Studio- Multiplex licence agreement, which generally provides a 3-month exclusivity period to the theatres before movies can be distributed as hard copies or as digital pay-per-view content.

Any sponsors wanting to demonstrate how much they ‘get’ the Millennial film fan would also do well to consider supporting lower budget movies through this instant medium. With the blockbusters often hogging screen time at the Multiplexes, the opportunity for brands to use existing VOD technologies to drive audiences to the best new, yet otherwise unheralded films may help rather than hinder some of these productions. IMDB’s #1 rated movie amongst users, Frank Darabont’s The Shawshank Redemption, was almost completely overlooked when on general release, with only VHS bringing it into the homes and hearts of millions across the world. What if yours was the brand that had first said ‘Welcome to Shawshank’, and facilitated bringing a masterpiece to the masses?

If you love something, give it away…or, more likely, share it

It’s the ultimate double-edged sword for the industry.

Avatar, the most successful film of all time ($2.87bn worldwide gross), is also the most pirated (hitting 21 million individual downloads as far back as 2011) – demonstrating a curious co-existence and begging the question of which came first.

Whilst it’s often digitally savvy, legally unfazed Millennials who help perpetuate online piracy by viewing and distributing studio content, there’s little doubt that sharing is critical to the movie marketing ecosystem.

Without word-of-mouth recommendations, film forum debate and the excited re-posting of trailers and outtakes, there would be no cult classics or sleeper hits, and viral teaser campaigns for movies such as The Dark Knight or X-Men: Days of Future Past would fall flat.

Encouraging Millennials to share what you want about a movie (rather than just its BitTorrent download address) is the key for studios. This is something that the team at our sister agency Trailer Park know all about. By building excitement about the Multiplex experience, they maximise their profits, and by drawing attention to the must-see lower-budget films – which perhaps don’t get so much airtime on general release – even the little guys get to benefit.It only takes a short flick through Twitter, Facebook or Reddit to discover a wealth of talented individuals lovingly creating their own take on the films that touch them. From alternative homage posters, brain-bending FullMovieGIFs and the niche but nifty 8-Bit Cinema animations – the democratisation of design has enabled credible, cool fan-made marketing campaigns to live and breathe across the social networks.Marketers that could appropriately leverage the creativity of the talented masses to deliver genuinely shareable content or relevance to the Millennial audience will win here.

As we enter into 2015 proper, for the big players in film the audiences have never been more empowered, and the stakes have never been higher. One thing is clear, however: in the Battle of the Five Armies, it’s the Brands – in particular, the sponsors of film – that have a genuine opportunity to help raise the standards for the conflict ahead.

It’s showtime…

Jonathan’s blog comes from Synergy’s Now, New & Next sponsorship outlook for 2015, which can be viewed in full here.