Marketers Often Overlook Music in Campaigns, but Here’s How They Can Start Weaving It Into Strategies

It's easier to connect with a brand that has a positive association for consumers

Music is an integral part of a marketing campaign and helps connect consumers to a brand. Getty Images
Headshot of Gabe McDonough

Music and artists are the backbone(s) of culture. They frame fashion, drive social media conversation, invent dance moves and memes and are a loss-leader lynchpin of the first trillion-dollar company. We’ve watched brands like Kanye West’s Yeezy and Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty turn entire categories on their head and generate millions in profit as a result.

TV spots can be turned from mediocre to iconic with the right song selection. Most CMOs will tell you how important music is, but many have no idea how to get involved in any meaningful way. It’s weird out there in music land, but there are some basic things you can keep in mind as you try and get in the mix.

Think about music

Before you have a project on the go, take a breath and take a minute to think about your brand, the places music naturally intersects with it and what role you might want music and/or artists to play in the future. Think about your marketing budgets and if you could possibly carve a chunk of that out for more music-focused projects. Be realistic. Maybe you’re a small brand that wants to cultivate a grassroots relationship with up-and-coming artists through product sponsorship. Maybe you really just need a good deal on a super recognizable song for your yearly Super Bowl ad. Or maybe you just need a resource for some affordable stock music for your endless online videos. Giving some bandwidth to think about music before you actually need it will turn a last-minute scramble into a well-prepared execution.

Investment, commitment and the end game

Music moves culture and resonates with people in profound ways, so it’s priced accordingly. Be prepared to invest an allocated budget and be in the game for the long term, whatever your music game plan is. This applies equally to brands like Apple, who have consistently set a tone by working with artists on the cusp of being the next big thing, to brands like McDonald’s, who have dedicated their paid media dollars to making their five “I’m lovin’ it” notes one of the most recognized melodies by placing it in every single spot. Also, if you want to play the “we want to break a new artist” game, it’s actually not tough to do—just spend a ton on the media buy. Cool creative won’t do it. A one-off high-profile spot won’t do it. Brute force will. But that’s what you’re buying media for in the first place, right?

Take a minute to think about your brand, the places music naturally intersects with it and what role you might want music and/or artists to play in the future.

Think about the end game when you’re making deals, too. Do you really want to be the brand that’s known in the music business for squeezing artists for ridiculously low fees, or would you rather be known as a reliable artist ally who gets the first look at the best opportunities and is seen as a legitimate collaborator?

Who’s calling the shots?

The magic of music is the fact that it affects people enormously and that it also affects everyone differently. An astounding number of multi-million-dollar music decisions come down to simply a gut “I’m into it” or “I’m not into it” feeling by the person in charge of green-lighting the ad, which is certainly proof that the power of music exists beyond the realm of rational decision-making. However, that also means that no matter how demographically on-point your music strategy involving Migos is, if your CMO hates hip-hop, it will never, ever get the green light. I’ve never seen anyone talk someone into liking music they don’t like—so plan accordingly.

Be prepared to be uncomfortable

It’s not an overstatement to say that the music business is the Wild West. Artists curse, have political points of view, feud and sometimes they even reveal each other’s marketing plans in the name of beef. Artists are driving culture, but doing business with them can be messy and requires stepping out of your pre-2018 comfort zone. Brands that are able to do so are rewarded with attention and relevance, but also have to navigate uncharted waters, convoluted contractual negotiations and the occasional PR dust-up.

Beyond ads

The next frontier is not simply soundtracking marketing materials but involving artists in product development. The link from artist to ROI for artist-created brands (OVO, Fenty, Yeezy) are clear, but the initial investment is substantial. That doesn’t mean your brand can’t play in the space. Something as simple as having Tyler, the Creator pick out the colorways for Converse’s One Star relaunch last year drove them to sell out in a day. Even PornHub got into the artist collaboration game when they had hip-hop artist Young M.A. direct a film for them, which drove reams of press.

None of these cases were brands simply borrowing equity from a song and slapping it on an ad to affect consumer preference down the road. These were true artist collaborations with immediate, measurable returns on investment.

Now more than ever, the most successful artists are polymaths, as skilled at guiding graphic design and social media finesse as they are at writing hooks. Their triumphs are a result of their work as creative directors marshaling multiple songwriters, producers and publicists on their team to have the public hanging on every word. What more could a modern brand want in a marketing partner?

@gabemcdonough Gabe McDonough is partner/executive producer at MAS (Music and Strategy).