Beyonce’s late-2012 pact with Pepsi, reported to be worth as much as $50 million in talent fees and media spend, marked the much-needed end of an era for a certain type of endorsement deal.
Not only did fans and mom groups alike call out Beyonce for shilling sugary soda to her young fans (back-pedaling, the singer later told Flaunt of the partnership, “It’s all about choices.”) But more importantly, nothing became of what the New York Times touted as a “multimillion dollar fund to support the singer’s chosen creative projects” — save for a fairly standard 30-second spot featuring the pop star.
But Pepsi’s $50m loss has only proven to be a gain for music industry in the years since, as dealmaking between artists and brands has only gotten smarter, leaner and more mutually beneficial. Brands are increasingly asking artists, “What can we help you achieve?” and artists in turn are willing to slash their normal fees in exchange for a larger cut of marketing spend that can help them plug an album, produce a pet project or champion a cause important to them.
As a former marketing journalist for both Advertising Age and Billboard, and now a VP at US music sponsorship and experiential agency MAC Presents, I’ve reported on and now been a part of brand partnerships of all shapes, sizes and success. Here are five of the most recent examples of brand deals done right.
- Drake, Apple & the power of long-term partnership: Drake passed up on gifted equity in Jay Z’s Tidal in exchange for a lucrative multi-year partnership with Apple that has already resulted in his own radio station (OVO Sound), exclusive single premieres (Hotline Bling), commercials featuring himself and Taylor Swift, and, earlier this month, a record 250m streams of his album Views in one week via Apple Music. The partnership has already proven so successful, Apple just signed on for its first-ever tour sponsorship when Drake hits the road with Future later this summer,
- Bud Light Pumps Up The Jam sessions: As the largest beer sponsor of US festivals, Bud Light needed a way to connect its seemingly disparate support of diverse festivals like Austin’s South By Southwest, California country festival Stagecoach and Chicago’s Lollapalooza, among many others. The solution: branded onstage jam sessions anchored by stars like The Roots and Sam Hunt, who each brought out special guests at their respective sets at South By Southwest and Stagecoach. The surprise moments play up Bud Light’s “Up For Whatever” tagline, create surprise-and-delight moments for festival-goers and have generated tons of positive media buzz for the beer brand in the process.
- Absolut Gets A (Virtual) Reality Check: Anticipating the groundswell of VR technology advancements that have already taken place in 2016, Absolut Vodka’s in-house creative unit Absolut Labs wanted to get an early look at virtual reality use cases. So in July 2015, the company partnered with emerging electronic duo Bob Moses for the industry’s first live VR stream of a private concert that inspired 600 private house parties among Absolut drinkers, who averaged 19 minutes watching the 360-degree stream.
- Billy Joel Makes New York “Citi” History: In 2013, Billy Joel wanted to break records by becoming the artist with the most sell-outs and consecutive headline dates at iconic New York City venue Madison Square Garden. To help him achieve this, Citi sponsored the Garden’s first-ever music franchise, through which Joel started playing shows every month of 2014. Not only did all 12 shows sell out, the programme was renewed for both 2015 and 2016, with a 2017 edition expected on the horizon. Not only did Citi cardmembers get once-in-a-lifetime experiences with a music legend (including exclusive pre-sales, backstage tours, sound checks, lounges and meet-and-greets), New York native Joel got to make a mark in his hometown (Full disclosure: MAC Presents brokered the deal between Billy Joel and Citi.)
- Imagine Dragons Take Flight With Southwest Airlines: Imagine Dragons (top photo) was the biggest rock breakout of 2013, and smash single Radioactive broke the Billboard record for the most consecutive weeks on the Hot 100. So when the band was getting ready to launch its second album and arena tour in 2015, the group wanted to reward its most loyal fans with an intimate concert. Rather than play a standard one-off private showcase with a brand, the band partnered with Southwest Airlines for Destination Dragons: a four-city club tour that visited three cities where the Dragons first blew up, as well as Atlanta, a priority market for Southwest. Not only did the programme break all of Southwest’s records for press and fan engagement around a music program, the band’s album Smoke + Mirrors went straight to No. 1 on the Billboard 200 on the last day of the Destination Dragons tour. (Again, MAC Presents brokered the partnership between Imagine Dragons and Southwest.)
Need more proof that these types of partnerships are the wave of the future? Look at OneRepublic’s just-announced partnership with Budweiser for the release and music-video of the band’s new single Wherever I Go, which features frontman Ryan Tedder posing for a series of cheeky vintage ads for the iconic beer brand – an idea from the singer himself. As Tedder told Adweek of the tie–up, “Music and advertising have always gone hand in hand, but oftentimes they’re not collaborative.”
As long as brands and agencies keep listening to artists’ needs, hopefully we’ll continue to see plenty more sustainable music-marketing programmes where these came from.
Midem 2016 will feature a host of music+brands+sync conferences, including a keynote from Mary Ramos, Quentin Tarantino’s music supervisor. Check out all the sessions here…