Sunday, 9 November 2008

Are brands the new record labels?

There's a few things I've seen this week that reminded me of this Media Week article from a couple of months back. Firstly the Nokia Comes With Music campaign launching (actually there's a Comes With Music blog that looks like it is Nokia's work as well - including a Blogger video widget that should play the TV ad, but doesn't work. I would play it here, but there doesn't seem to be an easy way to embed it. To be honest, it isn't good enough to bother actually spending time adding, so I guess it is an example of why all content that a brand creates should be easily shareable). Now there's no surprise that mobile brands are positioning themselves as music curators with ever increasing desperation... after all, if your marketing is so far removed from your R&D that you have to rely on it to create artificial product differentiation, you are in a pretty bad place as a brand. If you are in that position (which I'd suggest that Nokia are) and your main competitor is Apple, who wrote the book on designing products that market themselves, then you really are in trouble. Anyway, it is another step in the erosion of value in music content.

02 are also raising the stakes in the battle for control of the live music scene, announcing their sponsorship of the Academy venues across the country, giving O2 customers priority ticketing and content access to the main mid size gig venues in London,
Birmingham, Bristol, Glasgow, Liverpool, Newcastle, Oxford, Sheffield & Leeds, to add to the existing O2 Arena and Wireless Festival. This one makes sense to me, as it is more about the brand facilitating experiences (gigs) that are hard to access (as Academy size gigs sell out in hours. Well, Brixton certainly does) than abount positioning O2 as an aggregator of musical content.

That isn't too say that branded content is a bad thing in music, rather that Nokia's approach seems a bit desperate! What really interests me is the work that Intel are doing at the moment.

All of the bands mentioned in the Media Week article were established artists who wanted more freedom than they could expect from the major labels who had built their careers. Neither Groove Armada/Bacardi or McFly/McDonalds is a particularly cutting edge choice of partner for either party. Likewise neither Paul McCartney nor Starbucks had very much to lose when cosying up for an instore release. What Intel are doing is interesting because it focuses on the unsigned acts, where there is a much bigger potential payback for the brand investing. Bedroom bands are of course the natural territory for Intel, whose processors power demo recording across the world, but unsigned bands don't cost much compared to Paul McCartney or Groove Armada and there is far more kudos to being seen to support one.

Of course, this is not really any more radical an idea than a battle of the bands for the X-Factor era, with added advertising support from Intel's deep pockets. However, it raises the interesting question of what Intel will do with the winning band. If this develops into a crowdsourced talent scouting operation for the first signing to their label, then we could be seeing the first move towards brands as record labels in the traditional sense - ie. not just marketing music, but supporting the artists that shape popular culture.

There are still plenty of rumours that Red Bull are going to do this properly (still surprises me that they haven't, after having run the Red Bull Academy for 10 years now). However, it is the agency holding companies that really seem to be slow off the mark. Global agencies, whether creative or media, still seem to think in terms of audio-visual. Fair enough, that is what made their fortunes, but surely branded content divisions should be employing the A&R people who get pushed out as the economic crisis starts to hit the already contracting major label market. Agencies have always had the power to make artists' careers (hello Moby, Dandy Warhols, etc), but the real potential for client brands lies in discovering acts at times in their careers when they most need to trade.


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