The acclaimed artist and producer (and former MidemNet speaker!) is decidedly bullish about brand-music partnerships, judging by his energetic participation in a panel with ad agency Digitas, music video platform Vevo and Universal Music Group at advertising festival Cannes Lions today.

When asked if musicians still considered brand partnerships as “evil,” he replied that, au contraire, “brands are necessary for today’s acts.” Indeed, says Williams, “brands have gravitated towards the internet’s accessibility much quicker than the recording industry has. So it makes sense for me to work with Louis Vuitton or Revlon and then go make chairs. But what about the artist that hasn’t been encouraged, who has only one shot on American Idol ? It’s got to be about being honest.”

There could be a great future for music that doesn’t depend on brands but sees music live a lot better juxtaposed to brands,” continued Pharrell, decidedly on a roll. “Music is a part of everyone’s senses, memory. What’s a commercial without a song ? So this panel is really important because this is the day of reckoning, when something great can happen.”

Digitas’ Laura Lang agreed: “the challenge brands have today is that they have to engage in something people care about. When you talk about music and touching every single one of us, the future of these partnerships is about using music as a way to connect passions: not just putting music on a 30 second spot.”

Lang added, equally bullishly, that “half of (the music industry’s) revenue in a few years time could come from brands. That role has to be defined ; we’re only at the beginning.”

How this role is defined, the panel agrees, depends on one thing: understanding the consumer. Vevo’s Rio Caraeff said Vevo was created as a “platform for fans to engage” with music; “that was necessary to help reorient music around person that matters the most: the fan.”

Pharrell concurred. “It’s not about marketing to people, but understanding human pysche,” he said, singling out Apple as a company which truly understands its consumers. “Right now, Steve Jobs could make macaroni and you’d trust him,” he quipped. “For me, in music, there’s recording industry and the content industry. Vevo handles content. Other companies don’t understand why companies like Apple and Vevo are succeeding. It’s because they focus on customer mentality.”

Caraeff agreed that it often comes back to the “age-old debate in our industries, of content versus distribution. I wanted to get content companies into distribution so they could understand how that works.” The result is 63 million viewers and 400 brands on Vevo, just 18 months after its launch.

“What Apple & Microsoft do very well is servicing human beings,” concluded Pharrell: “the recording industry is still asking ‘how do we sell records?'”

“That’s exactly where brands are at right now,” said Lang. “What really matters is what do people want. If you consider 1 out of every 2 mobile searches will soon be for music: That alone is a huge opportunity for brands.”

Universal Music Group’s president of global digital business Rob Wells also cited an example of UMG using its global reach to work with Reliance, India’s third largest telecom, to offer music to its subscribers. “Universal has been very active in going out and seeking (such) partnerships,” he said, adding that “the future is about brand association. Those partnerships will be worth a significant amount of cash for us and for our artists moving forwards.”

The session then closed with two videos: one listing successful music+brand partnerships such as Lady Gaga+Starbucks+Polaroid; Justin Bieber & WalMart; Pepsi & Britney Spears; The Black Eyed Peas+everyone; Pharrell+McDonalds+Reebok; and, in TV, Microsoft+Jerry Seinfeld and Eva Longoria.

The second video presented “Unstaged,” last year’s music initiative organised by Digitas for American Express, which notably saw Terry Gilliam direct Arcade Fire live in concert.

Viewers could choose their camera angle, vote for songs, chat about the concert via Twitter & much more. Could this be music’s future? Time will tell, sooner rather than later…

About Author

James Martin is Head of Social Media for Midem organisers Reed MIDEM. This includes defining and rolling out Midem's social media strategy, editing midemblog, influencer outreach, developing Midem's fanbase of 75,000+ music professionals and more.


  1. Francine Chin on

    When Pharrel opines that “Brands are necessary for today’s acts” he is correct.

    However, his argument does not hold for the vast majority of musicians who will never hit the big time. We need to hear and work at methods for those smaller acts (who are the majority). How can they create and attach themselves to other brands?

    The focus on the “big name” act is a limited solution to a huge story. We need organizations like MIDEM to encourage productivity and revenue earnings for the majority of MIDEM’s attendees. Pharrel’s speech is a piped dream and shows his limited understanding of the make up of this industry.

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