When bands and brands collide
// Jeff Maertz

What’s the connection between LMFAO and KIA? Madonna and Pepsi? The Black Keys and Subaru? If you watch a lot of TV, then you know that each of these musical groups have had their songs used in the brands’ commercials. Whether we like it or not, bands will continue to license their music to brands, simply because it is so lucrative for both parties.

Back in 2007, Apple unveiled its new iPod Nano, and to do so, it enlisted the help of Canada’s indie darling Feist. With her song “1234” playing on the Nano’s screen, the commercial introduced much of the world to Feist’s catchy hooks and charming melodies. Apple, in turn, solidified its brand image as the hip, more creative younger brother to a PC. After watching the ad, I suddenly had the urge to go out and get one of those colourful iPods. So, like some consumerist automaton, I drove to the Apple store and bought one. It wasn’t until much later that I realized that Apple had cunningly used an age-old marketing trick on me.

David Allen, a professor of marketing from Philadelphia, explains the technique: “[Apple was] following a classical conditioning model feelings generated from hearing liked or disliked music in combination with a product can positively affect product choices.”

Apple had just used the classic conditioning approach on my weak little mind. This theory suggests that I associated good feelings with the Feist song, like a summer road trip down the Oregon coast, and when I heard the song on the commercial, I associated those good feelings with the iPod.

Using popular songs has other benefits for brands. Terry O’Reilly, author of The Age of Persuasion, points out that “most products don’t have emotions. But when songs are added to commercials, the products are given emotional resonance.”

Consider the Kia commercial that featured the LMFAO song “Party Rock Anthem”. When you hear that boisterous song, you can’t help but feel energetic and bouncy. What KIA wants is for you to transfer those emotions from the song to the car. If consumers see the commercial and then perceive the car as energetic and fun, then KIA has succeeded.

Essentially, the objective is to associate the values of the song and artist with the brand to realign or strengthen their brand image. When Chevrolet built their truck campaign around the Bob Seger song “Like a Rock”, they wanted to strengthen their brand image. To many, Bob Seger personifies the archetypal “all-American man” and Chevy wanted their truck to be seen as the strong, American truck. The campaign was a wide success, and unfortunately, I still find myself humming that song whenever I see a Chevy pickup truck.

However, it doesn’t always work out so well. In 1989, the pop genius Madonna debuted her song “Like a Prayer” on a 2-minute Pepsi commercial. Initially, it seemed that both artist and brand profited from the cooperation. That was, until Madonna released the official “Like a Prayer” music video on MTV a couple of days later. As you probably remember, the video showed a burning cross and a bunch of other Catholic symbolism, which didn’t sit too well with the Pope.

The Catholic institution called for a ban on Madonna, Pepsi, and all Pepsi-affiliated companies. Amidst the controversy, Pepsi promptly dropped the singer like a smoldering hot cross bun, stopped airing the television ad, and withdrew is sponsorship for her upcoming tour. Despite these measures, the damage was done. What could have been a stroke of marketing genius became a reminder for ad agencies to make sure the singer’s brand aligns with the values of their own brand.

Then there are the bands that outright refuse to have their music used as a tool for marketing products. They may be afraid of being labeled as a sellout, or believe that associating with a brand may tarnish the purity of their craft. There still is a stigma attached to advertising.

Other bands and musicians accept some commercial licensing, but are strategic about which brands play their songs: Moby turned down a few requests for car commercials (but not all), and Chumbawamba (remember them!?) turned down a $1.5 million offer from Nike, but then accepted a different offer from GM. Each band draws a line in the sand in a different spot. Are these bands being overly idealistic, or just trying to maintain their integrity?

These days, though, with record sales floundering, musicians have become more receptive to the idea of having their song used to promote a product because they need the money. The Black Keys, for example, have licensed their songs out to a plethora of brands, including Subaru, American Express, Pokerstars, and AT&T.

Many fans were calling them sellouts, but when asked to respond to those claims on CBC radio, the boys aptly defended themselves: “I would never call anybody a sellout for taking money to help them make art. And besides, would you rather hear our music in commercials, or Nickelback and Fergie?”

For many bands today, their prime source of revenue doesn’t come from the traditional ways – selling records or concert tickets – but from commercials. In addition to licensing fees collected, commercials allow musicians to reach a broader audience and tap into the mainstream. How many songs have you been introduced to via a car commercial? If you’re anything like me, quite a few.

The partnering of bands and brands can be a real win-win for both parties. Brands build stronger personalities – identities that are emotional and human – and bands collect licensing fees and have their songs heard in the living rooms of millions. As for you, you get to hear some good songs in between your Breaking Bad reruns. I, for one, will be contemplating the band-brand synergy as I watch the scantily-clad Victoria Secret girls strut around while M83’s “Midnight City” plays in the background.

Jeff Maertz is a fourth year student of the Capilano school of business with a focus on marketing. Over the next few months, he will touch on topics ranging from small businesses to examining the effect current events may have on students. He is aiming to make the business world accessible and relevant, regardless of their field of study.

// Jeff Maertz, columnist

Enjoy it? Share this on Facebook


© 2011 The Capilano Courier. phone: 604.984.4949 fax: 604.984.1787 email: