Bands, Brands & Fans – It’s all about getting closer…

A few years ago, we witnessed the start of some major changes in the music industry, with traditional revenues from record sales taking a big blow due to an increase in piracy. This coincided with the general public’s perceived value of music diminishing with the record labels continuing to exploit their assets with very short term targets in mind, licensing music for the likes of cover-mounts to the media industry, earning income, spiking sales for newspapers and magazines but further reducing the consumer’s perception around the value of music (which was ultimately being offered to them for free).

Some high profile artists benefited from this at the time, including the likes of Prince who released his ‘Planet Earth’ album exclusively via The Mail on Sunday. This earned Prince substantial revenues. It provided marketing for his 21-night performance at The O2, London and sold a lot of newspapers, so many would argue was a big success. It did, however, contribute towards the longer-term psychological perception amongst the consumer that music has been devalued.

It was at this point that I started to understand the fact that it was the job of both artists and the labels surrounding them to start re-thinking about how to add value back to the album format and demonstrate a reason for the consumer to continue purchasing in the future. It feels natural for artists and their labels to start packaging all of their assets into one deliverable (an app) with the aim of connecting with their fans on a deeper level, owning a bigger part of the relationship with them. The depth of relationship between artists and fans for me has always been the key to success.The rise of Spotify, followed by the multitude of other streaming businesses then created a distraction, tackled piracy and actually incentivised consumer spend, albeit reduced. The real value in music today, however, is primarily in the live business (concerts), but there are various attempts taking place to breathe life back into music beyond just experiential.

It seems the subject matter of how artists and their labels should be pumping value back into their product is heating up. Clearly, deepening the relationship with their fans seems to be becoming more understood amongst artists, with a number of technology players now moving into this space. Until now there has been little focus in the media about this, with most still focused on the battle of the streaming businesses (Spotify, Apple, Google, Deezer, Amazon etc).

If a fan wants to know what Beyoncé wore last night, they check Instagram. If a fan wants to know where Ed Sheeran is performing next, they check Twitter (as long as he’s not decided to take a ‘time out’). If a fan wants to know what Ariana Grande has been up to today, they are likely to watch her Snapchat story. Social Media has brought artists and fans closer together than ever before. It has solidified the artist and fan relationship, offering access never previously seen before. These relationships via social networks offer the ability for artists (and their partners) to promote themselves, sell music, tickets and merchandise. It also provides instant feedback whether it be about newly released music or any other promotional activities. Importantly, it is this relationship, combined with artist-generated content (music, film, games, etc) that can be extremely attractive and powerful.

When Björk launched ‘Biophilia’ a few years ago, she offered her fans an entire suite of content – much more than just music. She successfully continued to build that ever-so-important connection with her fans, giving them much more than they expected, with lots to talk about and engage with.

Since then, a number of artists have attempted to enter this space. A few businesses from the tech world have also moved into the ‘Artist & Fan’ relationship space – their approach being to enhance the overall fan experience, whilst providing insight and learnings about their fans back to the artists and their representatives.

These start-ups include the likes of: Gigrev, Lionshare Media and Disciple Media. BuddyBounce was another great business very much in this space, recently selling to Crowdmix which was due for launch later this year but unfortunately went into administration earlier this month, prior to its official launch. Additionally, Supapass is a new multi-artist platform that has recently come onto the scene, offering not just single artist relationships but the opportunity for fans to engage with a multitude of their favourite artists. An interesting one to watch…

The idea is that fans subscribe to an artist/label channel (costing approx £1 per month). The artists and their rightsholders then earn a substantial % of the revenue share from their fan subscriptions. One generally finds with fan-based marketing that there is always a top-tier core fan who will traditionally spend on artist product and this will specifically appeal to those. By offering multi-artist content, SupaPass are spreading the risk and potentially offering greater impact for the platform. It feels like it makes sense.

It is these artist-to-consumer platforms that will not only ensure continued growth and depth of relationship between artists and their fans, but could also potentially offer a very interesting space for brands to engage. According to the Cassandra Report, Millennials, in particular, expect brands to offer more than just their product or service, and if a brand can be seen to be offering a closer relationship between fans and an artist, the credibility and love for that brand could very easily dramatically improve. Additionally, the learnings and data available could really help not only the artist, but also brands, understand how to interact and behave with these fans, potentially offering a three-way win-win(-win) symbiotic relationship for band, brand and fan.

To conclude, the music industry is continuing to change rapidly. There are no rules and an array of interesting opportunities for brands (as well as artists) to tap into, offering previously impossible access to potentially long-term relationships with fans. The ‘Artist & Fan’ relationship is the ‘Holy Grail’ within the music industry. For a brand to be a critical part of that could be an extremely powerful space to occupy.

Glastonbury Festival: Bands Before Brands?

It’s that time of year again when 135,000 ticket holders stomp their muddy wellies upon Worthy Farm and pray for five days that it won’t rain. Glastonbury Festival, the largest greenfield festival in the world, has been running for 46 years and appears to show no signs of slowing down.

With the world’s best music artists in attendance (depending on your view of Kanye West) a guest-list of celebs which rivals a red carpet event, and a 900-acre site packed with people from all walks of life, there’s an obvious commercial opportunity for brands. Yet, Michael Eavis does a great job of avoiding the inevitable cattle market brand takeover, with the reality being that Glastonbury is very much a ‘rightsholder’ bucking the trend when it comes to brand involvement. So the question is, how does he do it?


Since day dot (the ’70s), Glastonbury Festival has always attributed itself to being a positive force for change. With the likes of Water Aid, Greenpeace and Oxfam as partners, the underlining message of the festival is to protect the environment, often in alternative ways. This year will be another first for Greenpeace, with a virtual reality dome where you can experience David Attenborough’s spectacular visit to the Great Barrier Reef, to highlight how it’s under threat through climate change.

Although these ‘showpiece’ elements from such ‘not for profits’ definitely resonate with the festival’s values at large, if you look further into the other brands involved with the festival, they may have more in common with each other than you might think.

Having attended Glastonbury for the past three years, it’s only now when I sit and think about it, that a few brands stand out. Upon arrival, if you can still manage to muster a smile having trekked miles with your temporary home on your back, there are people offering you a mapped guide to the festival, in a Yeo Valley canvas bag. That canvas bag becomes a part of your body, and as a result, free marketing for Yeo Valley, as you march from field to field carrying around your tinnies.

This is  a great example of subtle yet practical branding, with no sign of yogurts or dairy products being pushed in ‘Yeo’ face! Notably, Yeo Valley are actually a local brand (being from Somerset), which demonstrates another element of Glastonbury’s ethos – to support local businesses.


I asked my fellow festival-goer housemate what brands have stood out to her, if any, when she’s been at Glastonbury. Her immediate reaction was Thatchers Cider, which probably says more about her own festival experience, but a great example nonetheless. Thatchers recently agreed a deal which extends their prominence as the ‘Official Cider of Glastonbury Festival’ for the next five years.

Again, Glastonbury succeeds in associating itself with a local, family-run business, supporting them in becoming accessible to thousands of international festival junkies. Yet, I can’t help but wonder – especially at a festival when food and drink is permitted from outside festival boundaries – whether Thatchers need to offer something more… An experience, perhaps, that says a little more about them to potential customers than just pitching up a series of bars across the grounds.


One brand defiant in demonstrating their prominence at the festival is mobile network EE, who are truly living up to their name of ‘Everything Everywhere’. EE became Glastonbury’s Official Technology partner in 2014, and have certainly made themselves a brand that’s in demand by adding to the experience of festival goers.

Initially introducing the ‘recharge bar’, they gave revelers, and more so, millennials, the chance to become the envy of their friends by having instant access to social media throughout the festival with WiFi hotspots available across the site.

This, in turn, is of huge benefit to the festival itself, with Glastonbury being the talk of the town (or more so the country) across social media channels, as well as being a great success for EE. In fact, in their first year of sponsorship, they signed up nearly 900,000 users to the network between January and March, well on their way to the target of six million 4G customers by the end of the year.

This year, EE have taken it one step further by creating the ‘EE Festival Essentials Pack’, which has the addition of a waterproof phone case and a poncho, showing that not only do they know how to please potential customers, but also that they understand the British summertime! Although they’re somewhat of an outsider when it comes to fitting with the festival’s core values, they’re making their presence at the festival invaluable. By engaging with the festival audience, and allowing seamless social media sharing for customers they’re offering the advantage of free-marketing for Mr Eavis in the process.


Although Glastonbury Festival has appeared to strike a positive balance between brand and consumers, it doesn’t always work out for everyone. In 2008, Reading and Leeds called time on their partnership with Carling, who had a 10-year sponsorship with the rock festival series, after failing to connect suitably with audiences.

Carling took over in 1998, and rebranded the two festivals as the ‘Carling Weekend’ – although perhaps the fact that this didn’t catch on may have been a tell-tale sign of what was to come. The title sponsorship was fairly limited in what it brought to the party – merely making Carling available at festival sites wasn’t quit connecting suitably with consumers.


This lends itself nicely to the last and final way, I believe, that brands who aren’t directly sponsors of the festival are able to succeed. It’s no secret that celebrities hold the key to giving your brand a boost, and with greater access to social media allowing fast and efficient product promotion, it’s a winning formula. Over recent years, much like its successful counterparts such as Coachella and Burning Man, Glastonbury Festival has become a celebrity hot spot, that plays host to a pool of influencer consumers, delivering brand opportunities in abundance.

The first brand success of its kind came in the form of British supermodel Kate Moss, who famously wore Hunter wellies to Glastonbury Festival in 2005 , which, much to the delight of Hunter, practically rescued the company from imminent administration. It is unreported as to whether this was merely a stroke of luck or genius, but nonetheless the trend has been picked up across the years from celebs attending the festival, with consumers naturally assigning Hunter to the festival itself.

Despite the potential celebrity endorsement takeover within Glastonbury Festival, this type of marketing has huge appeal for millennials due to their unbounded enthusiasm for Instagram trend-spotting and the like. This does its job of ticking the box of ‘creating a better brand experience’ for those in attendance. It is something which brands wishing to associate themselves with Glastonbury should have at the forefront of their minds, for not only the punters, but for the artists attending too.

What we’ve seen is that brands can succeed in adding value to the festival experience – which is, after all, the sign of great sponsorship in action. It’s clear that the sponsors that share Glastonbury’s ‘Love Worthy Farm, Leave No Trace’ ethos resonate well with their audience, creating a positive relationship between the festival, brand and potential customers.

The challenge for Glastonbury Festival for the future is to retain the balance of independence and positive brand involvement without getting stuck in the mud.

UEFA Champions League Final – Does Alicia Keys have what it takes?

This year's UEFA Champions League Final being held in Milan this weekend (May 28th) will look and sound different: as part of a revamped music-driven opening ceremony, Pepsi will be presenting a live performance by Alicia Keys of her new material. Media interest is building, yet I find myself in two minds about the partnership.

On one hand I really want to see a music and sport event tie-up in Europe work and deliver for all parties, to prove that Europe can, as the US has been doing for years, successfully blend entertainment with sport on a big sporting stage. It would be brilliant for everyone: fans, the music industry, the sporting world and of course brands - in this case Pepsi.On the other hand I'm concerned that the approach and strategy behind the partnership is not going to work for the audience and, as a result, the brand. This could have a knock-on impact on whether future major European sporting events and/or artists invest in replicating what has proved to work in the US, in particular at the Super Bowl.

Once more we are seeing the music industry thinking on a very short term basis. The main gain in this case for the label is reach - 220 countries tuning in to see the Champions League Final and hearing Alicia’s new music: as success in music is so reliant on as many people as possible hearing your music, this works well for Alicia and her label RCA.

In order for music to connect with its audience on an emotional level, what is required is familiarity or a simple, catchy hook. But from what we understand, Alicia is planning to perform tracks from her new album. So the TV and stadium audience will be hearing new, unfamiliar music, which will clearly affect their interest and engagement, and may even result in negative reaction.

The stakes for Pepsi are high and you have to ask why they thought Alicia was the right artist. At our recent #TalkinRevolution event about the future of music and brand partnerships, we highlighted that successful brand-led music campaigns generally start with the idea first and the artist second. So: was Alicia chosen before or after Pepsi decided on the strategy?

I have no issue with Alicia Keys - on the contrary, she is a loved, accomplished and talented artist. Her new single 'In Common', is a beautiful song. She has a big digital footprint, with 38m Facebook fans and 23m Twitter followers; so from the perspective of a brand ‘media buy’ I understand the thinking. But what about thought about connecting with the audience? With the Final being held in Milan, Alicia's Italian ancestry maybe offers 'an angle'. But other than that, what's the fit? Is Alicia not naturally more fitting for a female audience? I can't imagine the stadium and viewers will be predominantly female...


Above all, I question whether Alicia can light up European football's Super Bowl moment and, therefore, Pepsi's involvement. If this is going to work for Pepsi, the sound and feel of the music must match the mood of the fans and viewers.

For FIFA World Cup 2014, I co-wrote and delivered the tournament's Official Anthem. As the World Cup was handed to Germany in the Maracana, our music played in sync to a spectacular firework display and I witnessed the result of the studio work, as 78,000 people jumped up and down to the song we put together. That is emotional engagement.

I really want Alicia's performance to work, but I fear that the mismatch between brand, artist and event may prove too great, and that we could be looking at a repeat of Coldplay's Super Bowl 50 halftime show performance, which famously failed in stark contrast to Beyoncé and Bruno Mars. I hope I'm wrong. With more than 220 countries tuning into the UEFA Champions League Final, there are a lot of people who want to see this partnership succeed. Only time will tell if it will. The future of music (and related brand partnerships) at major European sport events may depend on it.

You can hear Alicia Keys new single on Spotify here.

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.

Millennials’ no.2 passion point is music… So why are you making an ad?

We spend more of our time listening to music than we do watching TV. So why are marketers still so reliant on TV and so few using music as a marketing platform?

Whilst there’s a lot of negative press about the ‘decline’ and ‘downturn’ of the music industry, with artists and labels witnessing a fall in revenue, behind the headlines it’s anything but bad news. The introduction of streaming and the shift of artists’ focus from record sales to live means that more music is being consumed than ever before.

IFPI (which represents the global recording industry) recently published their annual report outlining a total growth of 3.2% to $15.0 billion for recorded music, partly due to a 45% streaming growth with subscription revenue (excluding revenue from some services’ free tiers) jumping $58.9 million to $2 billion, with subscribers growing 66% to 68 million.

The Album Equivalent Sales (AES) industry metric, which measures the volume of music sales combined with streamed audio continues to rise – from the last numbers released, these are up 3.7% from 117.2m albums in 2014 to 121.6m in 2015 in the UK. And the retail value of the UK recorded music market is up 3.5% to £1.06bn in 2015, from the previous year’s £1.02bn.

Whilst we’re always-on, always-connected, we’ve also never been more into the visceral, immersive, analogue experience of a live show. QED: LiveNation, the largest live entertainment company in the world, just posted a record year in 2015, with revenues up 11% to $7.6 billion.

The Nielsen annual Music 360° report shows that 93% of the American population listens to music, spending more than 25 hours each week ‘jamming out’ to their favourite tunes. In fact, 75% of Americans say they actively choose to listen to music, which is more than they claim to actively choose to watch TV (73%). According to The Cassandra Report (from our Engine Group sister agency, Deep Focus), what U.S. Millennials aged 14-34 share online are: 1) Pictures 57%, 2) Music 43%, 3) Videos 43%, 4) Status updates 38%, 5) Jokes 32%, 6) News articles 28%, 7) Memes 25%, 8) GIFs 21%. Clearly the reason why Facebook recently introduced ‘Music Stories’ its music sharing capability, is to deal with the #2 most shared commodity – Music.

So we spend more of our time listening to music than we do watching TV and share more music than videos. So why are marketers still so addicted to TV ads, when it’s way more likely that their target market is listening to music – especially the world’s two billion Millennials, for whom music is one of the main passion points?

Having personally spent many years talking to senior marketers across many blue-chip brands of the world, one tends to hear similar needs from them all – usually including the need for passion, emotion, connectivity with a demographic and, of course, shareable/viral content. Music is content and comes pre-loaded with all of the above. The lyrics are storytelling and the melody engaging on an emotional level – music can make you laugh and cry…and everything in between.

Music is one of the most shared and recommended commodities online. It’s the most spoken about social conversation, and it fuels the biggest social media sites out there. It simply isn’t being used efficiently and effectively by most brands. Nor is it fully understood. The issue brands have is that active involvement in music is perceived to be both complex and costly – not helped by the traditional historical approach of the music industry, who have seen brands as a cash-cow.

Many brands have had painful experiences and traditionally ROI has been low due to the tactical, one-off approach many brands have adopted. Additionally, with the array of rostered agencies surrounding brands, there has often not been a custodian of the brand in place responsible for controlling the ‘sound of the brand’. The ad agency creating a film for an ad is generally tasked with thinking about what piece of music might bring the film they create to life from a creative standpoint, not always with planning at the heart. Putting it in a brand campaign is only one tiny part of how a brand can use music, yet this is still what many brand marketers consider as ‘being involved in music’. For what really being ‘involved in music’ should look like, brands should take a leaf out of the sports marketers’ playbook – a playbook that at its best eschews tactical one-offs in favour of long-term partnerships with events, teams and athletes.

What is so different in music? Why is there is there so little long-term, platform-based planning going into music and entertainment? Take Red Bull as an example. Dietrich Mateschitz’s love and belief for extreme sports has led the business to truly ‘own’ that space, to the point of becoming a major owner of extreme sports content. Why not take Red Bull’s best practice approach to sports and apply it to music? When will marketers talking about ‘content being king’ start taking music on-board on a more serious basis as part of their content strategy?

Brands that get this right will find themselves embedded at a deeper, emotive and instinctual level with their audiences. Surely music to any marketing director’s ears…

We discussed Millennials and the power of music as part of brands’ marketing strategy at our Synergy Entertainment event, ‘Talkin’ About A Revolution’, which was held at Spotify HQ, London in April. Our panel included Emmy Lovell (VP Digital, Warner Music), Joey Swarbrick (Manager Rizzle Kicks), Lisa Buchan (Director Music & Culture at Monster Energy), Mark Sutherland (Editor of Music Week), Simon Burke-Kennedy (Manager of Professor Green) and Tom Kitchen (Spotify). The event was a huge success and edits from the panel will be posted shortly.

For any further information about Synergy Entertainment and how we help brands navigate and deliver solutions in music, please contact:

What the art of storytelling can learn from a whale called ‘Big Blue.’

A few months ago we made a beautiful short film telling the inspirational story of a big wave surfer from Maui. We spent months scouting the island for perfect locations, practicing with drones and underwater cameras and developing the narrative, storyboard, script and soundtrack. All this with a view to making not just a film but a ‘social content pack’ of main edits, making-ofs, YouTube trailers, Instagram teasers, Twitter posters, Facebook gifs and media editorial. The success of this ‘film’ would be defined by its social engagement, which these days means (infuriatingly un-ambitiously) how many people watched more than half of it on YouTube!

The production team decamped to Hawaii for the shoot with storyboard in one hand and camera in the other. On day one we shot out in the ocean, grabbing footage of our surf star paddling his board, silhouetted against the setting sun. Nice work if you can get it. And then, out of the blue, quite literally, a humpback whale rose majestically out of the water, ten feet from our man. She gave him the beady eye, shot a gentle ‘hello’ from her blowhole, rolled to the right…and went back down from whence she came.

Blimey. A massive whale. A real one.

It took us a while to take in what had happened. Our new surfer friend hadn’t experienced anything quite like it before – you can see his reaction on film. Our Director was frantically checking to see what we’d caught (it was good). Our client’s excitement blew their ‘this wasn’t on the storyboard’ concerns out of the water. ‘Big Blue’ – as she became known – had thrown us a bit of a curve ball.

Over the coming weeks, across the rest of the shoot and throughout the editing process, Big Blue had quite an effect on things. Fundamentally, we now had a ‘killer shot’ to play with that we hadn’t planned for! How should we use it? Old-fashioned storytelling suggests you might save it for a climactic moment. Today’s YouTube metrics tell us to stick the money shot up front and secure the eyeballs early on. But, more importantly than all this, Big Blue reminded us of three fundamentals of the art of storytelling:

1. Create stories that have room to breathe. Any story that only works if every shot is captured as sketched on the storyboard and every line of script is delivered word-perfect will never have the emotional depth of a story that can go it’s own way. Yes, we need the brand story to sit strong at the core. The trick is to keep the narrative big enough to allow some freedom.

2. Be creatively ambitious, not a slave to media metrics.
Story first, channel second. A great story, well told to a receptive audience will overpower all the cynical media metrics you can throw at it. We didn’t use Big Blue’s surprise appearance for our opening shot. We drew the viewer in with a subtle underwater sequence…then hit ‘em hard with the whale! From then on, you know you’re in for a ride.

3. Always be open-minded about where a story could go on set. True creativity doesn’t like rules. Yes, you need a core narrative to stay true to – and in the world of marketing this is quite rightly what the brand wants to get across. But, beware the storyboard written in stone. Keep your narrative tight enough to say what you want to say, but loose enough to allow different ways to say it.

Channel proliferation, cynical media metrics and ‘best practice’ techniques are leading the art of storytelling down a commoditised and formulaic path.

When Big Blue said hello that day, she didn’t just help us make a great film. She reminded us that we should always be ambitious and stay open to that little bit of magic that could come along at any moment. When hopefully the cameras will be rolling…