2008 Top 5 Branded Music Initiatives

In 2008, the worlds of music and branding aligned in a unique and resounding way. This resulted in several noteworthy initiatives, partnerships, ventures, etcetera, as well as some incredibly cool track usages for broadcast TV and Web advertisements.

Sadly for some music industry hopefuls, the branding equation wasn’t the savior they had sought. But as the music industry continues to evolve into a digital- and media-led business, branding remains a vital way for those who create and produce the music to monetize it.

Here are my top 5 list of newsworthy branded-music initiatives and top 5 track choices for 2008:

1. TAG Records. In April, Procter & Gamble partnered with the record label Island Def Jam Music Group to launch a recording imprint tied to its TAG men’s deodorant and body spray. Jermaine Dupri, the Atlanta-based rapper and music producer, was named president. Brand-alliance guru David Caruso of Acme Branded Content brokered the deal. Hopefully, his music will meet his and (even) consumer expectations. Red Bull, Mountain Dew, Levi’s and others are beginning to take on the role of nouveaux-record labels.

2. Chris Brown’s “Forever” single, or shall I say jingle? Brown’s top 10 hit was actually — and to some, surprisingly — an extension of a jingle done for Wrigley’s via Translation Marketing’s Steve Stout. Wrigley’s apparently paid for the recording sessions for the updated re-do of the “classic” Doublemint jingle from the 1960s. The campaign also included Ne-Yo doing his take on a Big Red jingle and Dancing With the Stars “country singer” Juliana Huff’s take on the Juicy Fruit jingle. Fans of the hit were bewildered when they heard Brown sing/croon, “Double your pleasure, double your fun.” But it all made sense (and cents) when the jingle, produced first by Polow Da Don in February, hit the airwaves months after the single’s Jive Records’ March release. It reportedly took Brown 30 minutes to write it. Some have called it a seeding of the jingle in the single. Hmm, is the jingle the new single?

3. Groove Armada, Bicardi. In March, Groove Armada and Bacardi struck a partnership that will see the British electronica act issue its forthcoming tracks through the drink’s brand and teaming up on its international music events throughout 2008. As part of the one-year deal, Groove Armada performed live at various Bacardi-branded events across five continents throughout the year. Apparently, the band’s members, Andy Cato and Tom Findlay, have been drawing a salary from the liquor brand. Not a bad way for a band that was hip 10 years ago to stay afloat.

4. Sarah Bareilles’ “Love Song.” This was the Grammy-nominated first single released from Bareilles’ 2007 album, Little Voice. It’s rumored that the tune was written as a retort to her record label Epic for requesting that she write a “marketable love song. It was also featured in a Rhapsody commercial and, in June 2007, was the iTunes single of the week. Yet, it wasn’t until the first week of 2008 that the song cracked the Billboard Hot 100, jumping to No. 9, where it stayed for four non-consecutive weeks before peaking at No. 4. The Recording Industry Association of America recently certified the single 2x platinum. It’s amazing and ironic to see what successful non-record label media placements can do for record sales of a song that’s about how much an artist disdains her record label.

5. Will.i.am’s viral music video “Yes We Can.” In January, producer and artist Will.i.am teamed with director Jesse Dylan to release “Yes We Can.” The Bob Marley-like anthem turned Barack Obama’s Jan. 8 New Hampshire primary-night address into lyrics performed by almost 40 celebrities, including John Legend, Scarlett Johansson, Herbie Hancock and Nick Cannon. Here we have an example of great music reverberating through passionate artists with a strong message. Now that’s branding!

Now for my top 5 tracks:

1. “New Soul,” Yael Naim, Apple. Naim’s track became a global smash when it was used in Apple’s “Air” ad. The track’s simple refrain, coupled with Naim’s French-Tunisian-Israeli-tinged English and backed by her out-of-tune piano vamp, tattooed the song in millions of consumer-cum-fans’ frontal cortexes.

2. “The Star-Spangled Banner,” Marvin Gaye, Nike. If like me you watched Gaye sing the national anthem at the 1983 NBA All-Star Game in Los Angeles on TV armed only with a first-generation drum machine, you tried to find a copy of it, but to no avail. Thank goodness for YouTube and thanks to Nike’s “United We Rise” ad for tapping into the magic.

3. “Journey,” Michael Montes/Sacred Noise, Canon. Canon did a crazy cool advert called “Journey,” in which the producers accumulated 70,000 photographic images from the Rebel One camera and created a beautiful, 30-second narrative of a child’s football journey. The soundtrack, soulful, spiritual and mesmerizing, was composed by Montes. Thousands of people have watched various enthusiasts demonstrate how to play the piece on YouTube.

4. “Space Oddity,” Cat Power, Lincoln. Power’s cover of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” used in the Lincoln MKS ad may not be the penultimate version of the classic song, but man, does it grab your attention. Her unique styling makes the song her own and thus, in this case, makes the MKS seem worth owning. I guess the car guys had enough money back then to convince her to record the song specifically for the ad.

5. “Her Morning Elegance,” Oren Lavie, Chevrolet. The song was a great choice by Chevy Malibu in the spot entitled “Baby.” Lavie’s voice conjures up memories of Nick Drake to some, whose song, in my opinion, is one of the best uses of an existing master on an ad. Apparently, Lavie didn’t own a car when Chevy licensed the tune.

Josh Rabinowitz is svp, director of music at Grey Group. He can be reached at joshrabinowitz@grey.com