Musical Mergers

Sales of Sting’s 1999 album Brand New Day were lagging. In early 2000, Ogilvy & Mather in New York used footage from his video for “Desert Rose” in a Jaguar spot, which the client supported with an estimated $19 million worth of airtime. The ad, one of the first video/commercial hybrids produced, has been credited with jump-starting sales of the album and, ultimately, reviving the performer’s career.

“We learned a big lesson from Sting and Jaguar,” says Steve Ber man, head of sales and marketing for Interscope Geffen A&M Rec ords, home of Sting. With the music industry struggling (album sales are down 13 percent this year, according to Billboard), Interscope is now aggressively seeking more deals with marketers.

And as marketers look for novel ways to capture the attention of TV viewers, they’re increasingly interested in joining forces with performers, underwriting videos that in turn get edited into commercials. The hope is that the commercial/video combo will help forge the link be tween the performer and the brand in the minds of the target audience. And if viewers watch the commercial because it’s disguised as something else, all the better.

Interscope artists Sev and Ms. Jade star in current music videos and commercials for Pepsi Blue and the Hummer H2, respectively. Last week Pepsi Blue broke another spot in the $20 million campaign, featuring DreamWorks Records band Papa Roach.

To whatever rock ‘n’ roll purists are left, such blatant collaboration with an advertiser would smack of selling out. But the stigma of shill ing has been steadily losing its bite. If the once anti-establishment Clash allowed Jaguar to use “London Calling,” who’s left to point the finger?

“[Brands’ underwriting videos] is a critical piece of the future of the modern record company,” Berman says.

Beyond the publicity from the commercial, the band gets more money to produce its video. Exec utive producer Bill Sandwick at HSI Productions, producer of the Papa Roach spot, says the band’s video has substantially higher production values because of the Pepsi affiliation. In return, he says, “brands don’t have to pay a fortune for the artists.”

For the Pepsi Blue spot starring Sev, BBDO in New York came up with the video concept first—a band performing in an Italian castle, with monks chanting at a monastery nearby—and then shopped it to the rec ord label to find a match. After the agency chose the rock/rap band and its track “Same Old Song,” creatives suggested adding monks chanting to the remix used for the video, directed by Kinka Usher. The band, which released a debut album in June, liked the remix so much that they included it on the single.

Sev vocalist Danny Schools is thrilled about the collaboration. “What band in their right mind would not want to do something like this?” he asks. “Exposure is what it’s all about. That’s why we’re so excited. We’re finally going to get the break we’d been waiting for for so long.”

For marketers, the video/commercial hybrid “is a way to reach kids through music and this other art form [of] music videos,” says Bill Bruce, executive creative director for BBDO New York. Linking the video and the spot is “Pavlovian in a way,” he says.

The hope is that young viewers might just feel that they’ve discovered the new beverage for themselves rather than through commercials, a Pepsi representative explains.

Hummer is trying this tactic with rapper Ms. Jade’s song “Ching Ching Ching,” producing a video that prominently features the H2 model and spots that use the same foot age. Liz Vanzura, advertising director for the General Motors brand, says the commercial/video link gives the vehicle a “grassroots” appeal.

Hummer’s agency, Boston-based Modernista!, collaborated with Ms. Jade producer Timbaland from the start. Agency creatives helped write the song and produce the video, which broke last month. Hummer largely stayed out of the creative process.

In the video, Timbaland and up-and-coming artist Ms. Jade drive H2s, the cars bearing “Hiz” and “Herz” license plates. The two, playing ex-lovers, conduct an argument as they ride side by side. The 30-second and 60-second spots are just shorter versions of the video, with no overt references to Hum mer: no flashy logo or catchy tagline. Because FCC regulations require some kind of tag, the agency came up with the Web site www.ching ching ching .com—which contains information about the Hum mer brand, as well as Ms. Jade, Timbaland and Inter scope—as an identifier at the end of the spot.

Free airplay via a music video can be tricky. MTV’s programming department has stepped up its scrutiny, rejecting overt pitches in videos. MTV asks that a shot be removed if it “has absolutely nothing to do with the concept of the video or the music,” explains Amy Doyle, vp of music and talent programming. “Our approach so far is to take each one case by case.”

In one version of Sev’s “Same Old Song” video, a band member takes a swig of Pepsi Blue. In the version running on MTV, that shot has been cut.

In producing the “Ching Ching Ching” video, Modernista! set out to ensure the product is a natural part of the work. “We were interested in keeping it authentic,” says agency co-founder Lance Jen sen. “Every body knows videos are commercials for the artist. It’s not like the word ‘commercial’ is a dirty word. But ‘forced’ is a dirty word. We wanted to make something that didn’t feel forced.”

Wieden + Kennedy has used the commercial/video concept in a different way, creating commercials and then making longer versions that mimic the look of a video. Last year’s Nike basketball “Freestyle” spot from the Portland, Ore., agency ran in a two-minute version—with a track created by Afrika Bambaataa, incorporating sounds from the court—in a commercial slot on MTV. It was originally formatted like a video, with similar credits at the beginning, but MTV requested that the credits be removed.

For this year’s World Cup, Wie den in Amsterdam remixed Elvis Pres ley’s “A Little Less Con ver sation” for a spot, “The Secret Tour na ment,” which was produced in a three-minute version. The track topped the charts in the U.S. and the U.K.

Paul Hunter, director of “Free style,” has re-created the video style for Dasani, Miller and Dr Pep per. In last year’s Dr Pepper campaign from Young & Rubicam, for example, Garth Brooks, Mark McGrath and Thalia sing a song that calls viewers to “Be you. Do what you do.” Upcoming spots will feature LL Cool J and Cyndi Lauper.

Wieden’s philosophy is not to set out to make a video but to find a format that best suits the content. And attracts the most attention. “Any time you create a piece of advertising you want it to be something that people seek out,” says creative director Hal Curtis. Factoring into the equation, Curtis says, is that to capture the attention of a shrinking TV audience and to counter ad-zapping technology such as TiVo, agencies are producing more commercials in a longer format. Wieden has been producing more 90-second commercials for Nike, he says.

For bands, of course, the attention can be invaluable. “Ching Ching Ching” made it to No. 9 on MTV’s Total Request Live during its first week on the air. After the video debuted, says Modernista!’s Gary Koepke, the agency started getting a call a day from recording artists. “They’re looking for new outlets” for promotion, he says.

Established bands like Papa Roach, however, are more concerned about balancing the exposure with the risk of offending fans. One source says the band refused to be filmed drinking Pepsi Blue for the video, for the song “Time and Time Again.” Ac cording to Sandwick at HSI Productions, that’s where a commercial director with an understanding of the music world can make the difference. HSI’s Sam Bayer, whose credits include Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video, directed the Papa Roach spot.

“We can flag things the music guys aren’t going to do,” Sandwick says, and find ways for them to interact with the product that will sit well with fans.

Sev’s Schools, however, says he “could care less” if people call the band a sellout, noting that they received only a few e-mails criticizing their affiliation with Pepsi. “When I was younger, I even probably called people sellouts,” says the 28-year-old, “until I realized, it’s not selling out. It’s buying in.”