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Fans tune in to musicians in ads: study

September 25, 2005

By Michael Paoletta

NEW YORK (Billboard) – In March, U2 was inducted into the
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Bruce Springsteen. By turns
eloquent and funny, Springsteen’s induction speech concluded
with a mention of U2′s partnership with Apple.

A man of integrity, Springsteen acknowledged that he was
shocked to learn that the Irish superstars received no money
for their participation in the Apple campaign.

Springsteen joked that anybody can do an ad and take the
money, but to do an ad and not take the money, well, “that’s
smart.”

Indeed, Springsteen is among a vanishing breed of artists
who have not embraced the power — and payoff — of brand
marketing. But he did offer a new angle on the practice. From
the stage he told manager Jon Landau to call up Bill Gates “or
whoever is behind this thing” and suggest a red-white-and-blue
iPod signed by the artist himself. “Now remember,” Springsteen
added, “no matter how much money he offers you, don’t take it.”

To paraphrase Bob Dylan — noted folksinger and Victoria’s
Secret pitchman — the times have a-changed.

What was once considered taboo for many artists has become
an integral part of many a marketing plan. And in these times
of a challenged and evolving music industry, where marketing
and promotion budgets are not what they once were, a
partnership with a national brand has become a significant
means of generating buzz and sales.

“The music industry needs to expose its wares to new ears,
but it doesn’t necessarily have the marketing dollars needed to
accomplish this,” says Josh Rabinowitz, senior VP/director of
music at Gray Worldwide ad agency. Conversely, a brand that is
spending millions of dollars on media — iPod, Chevrolet or
Jaguar, for example — can pull out all the stops in a national
campaign.

CHANGING ATTITUDES

And how do the fans feel about artists who join the
branding bandwagon?

In a new survey, 63.5 percent of respondents said an
artist’s participation in a TV commercial for a product did not
affect their attitude toward the artist. What’s more, 23.4
percent said such TV spots actually built their interest in the
artist. Only 13.1 percent said an artist promoting a product
turned them off to that artist.

The findings are part of a survey of 2,500 music fans
conducted in August by PromoSquad/HitPredictor. The survey was
commissioned by Billboard to measure fans’ attitudes toward
artists who participate in ad campaigns and to gain insight
into the effectiveness of those campaigns.

In the survey, 39 percent said it is “OK” for an artist to
take part in a campaign. Another 32.5 percent said “it depends
on the product” — echoing the common wisdom that bands and
brands must be carefully matched. Only 6 percent felt artists
should just say no to ad campaigns.

Most observers consider that high level of acceptance a
major break from past attitudes.

“Fans accept bands who hook up with products more nowadays
because acts like Run-D.M.C. and Busta Rhymes endorsed products
in their songs without the ‘involvement’ of the brand itself,”
Black Eyed Peas member will.i.am told Billboard. In this way,
they were “creating a band/brand lifestyle” long before it was
fashionable. The Peas have done spots for brands like Dr
Pepper.

Looking at a demographic breakdown of the results, black
respondents were considerably more accepting of acts’
promotional efforts than whites or Hispanics. Only 0.6 percent
of blacks said artists should not take part in ad campaigns.

Across the board, the respondents were even more open to an
artist’s songs being used in a campaign, with 48.4 percent of
the sample supporting this practice.

PRODUCT PLACEMENT A TURN-OFF

On the other hand, the respondents were sensitive to
artists accepting cash to mention a product in a song, with
31.9 percent saying such product placement “compromises an
artist’s integrity.” Again, blacks were more receptive to
product placement in songs, with only 12.9 percent expressing
displeasure with the practice.

Perhaps most important to the music and advertising
communities were the results reflecting the effectiveness of
brand/band marriages.

Nearly 30 percent of respondents said it builds their
interest in the product when they see an artist they know and
like in a TV spot. At the same time, nearly 24 percent said
these ads build their interest in the artist. In both cases,
younger audiences (ages 13-17) were more easily influenced.

The numbers in the survey jump when respondents hear music
in a TV spot by a new artist they have never heard before.
Nearly 40 percent said it builds their interest in the artist,
while only 9.7 percent considered it a turnoff. Again, black
fans were most receptive, with 47.7 percent saying a TV spot
could build their interest in a new artist.

Many artists who have appeared or had music featured in
recent TV spots see a direct correlation between such exposure
and their CD sales. Among successful brand/band hookups are
Joss Stone with Gap; Kings of Leon with Volkswagen; and U2,
Gorillaz and Caesars with iPod.

Stone’s Gap ads center on her singing or talking about her
favorite artist and song. She’s dressed in clothes from the
retailer, but the spot is as much about her and her music.

In the case of Kings of Leon, the RCA act’s song “Molly’s
Chambers” appeared in the Volkswagen spot this summer. Susan
Clower, VP of strategic marketing and artist development for
RCA Music Group, says sales of the band’s 2003 debut album,
“Youth & Young Manhood” (which includes “Molly’s Chambers”),
shot up during the campaign, as did sales of the track at the
Apple iTunes Music Store.

“During the summer months, we were selling 10,000 to 15,000
downloads of the single per week at iTunes,” Clower says. “You
cannot deny the benefits of working together with brands — but
it must be a natural fit, one that makes smart business sense
for the band and brand.”

Because, at the end of the day, consumers and music
enthusiasts know if something is contrived.

FINDING THE RIGHT FIT

In the PromoSquad/Billboard survey, 66.3 percent of
respondents said acts should do spots only for “products they
actually use and believe in.” But there was a disconnect for
the fans: Only 21 percent said they assume an artist endorsing
a product actually uses it.

This skepticism could be credited to the fact that today’s
consumers — particularly younger fans — experience music
wrapped around brands with tremendous frequency. Passive
branding occurs in stadiums and on Web sites and TV shows.

“Kids have become desensitized and oblivious to brands that
surround artists and music,” artist manager David Sonenberg of
DAS Communications says. “So, when you affirmatively make a
deal with a brand, it may not look so different from passive
branding.”

Still, a brand that is a good fit with the act can get the
job done for both parties.

“Consumers do not like to feel the money changing hands,”
Eric Hirshberg, managing partner/executive creative director of
the Deutsch agency, explains. “They fantasize that the band
just wanted to be part of the ad. Ideally, that’s how you want
it to be.”

Reuters/Billboard




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