Advertising & Music in the Era of ‘Selling In’: What Makes the Best Brand-Band Collaborations Work?

When it comes to the relationship between music and advertising, the jingle is just the beginning.

Over the past few years, the brand-band bond has become ever more dynamic, with brands not just commissioning a little ditty from low-profile artists but fully collaborating with big-name musicians. The Atlantic recently reported that in 2014, such ventures totaled $347 million globally.

The trend is a win-win for both sides: as digital streaming services rise and traditional channels for music distribution decline, musicians need new options. (The U.S. music industry’s revenue plummeted from over $20 billion in 1999 to only about $7 billion in 2014.) At the same time, brands need new ways to reach consumers inundated with marketing messages.

Once upon a time, commercial partnerships may have been viewed by artists as “selling out.” But as Alex da Kid, the music producer, songwriter and head of music marketing venture KidinaKORNERCreate, has said, it’s now embraced as “selling in.”

“Brands aren’t trying to sell themselves with just themselves anymore,” Casey Harris, X Ambassadors’ keyboardist, told “They’re trying to sell themselves by aligning with an ethos and a type of lifestyle or a type of art that they appreciate and think their customers will appreciate.”

A recent Jeep ad featuring X Ambassadors’ song “Renegades” is a prime example of this new kind of band-brand collaboration.

Convinced that the song was just the “type of art” that could speak to its target audience, Jeep based its campaign on the band’s song, which was then in the works. Ultimately, it reached No. 1 on the Billboard and Clio Music Commercials chart, powered by Shazam.

"What really made me feel that [“Renegades”] was the campaign was the way they speak of the millennials being the modern renegades. The genius here is that you tie the name of the car, which is 'Renegade' to the mindset of the target, which is the millennial target," said Fiat Chrysler CMO Olivier Francois in an April Adweek article.

This seamless integration is what made Jeep’s collaboration with X Ambassadors such a success. Said Harris of the partnership: “The best part about working with Jeep for us is that they…didn’t try to mold us into any particular shape or form…. They recognized if they just let us do our thing, that alone would be a real appeal to people in the sheer authenticity.”

That kind of authenticity is the key to successful brand-artist collaborations that can garner consumer attention – and even win industry accolades.

X Ambassadors’ song “Jungle” was featured in “The Game Before the Game,” an ad created by R/GA for Beats by Dr. Dre that won a Grand Clio in Use of Music at the 2015 Clio Awards.

Other notable collaborations over the past few years include Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll” appearance in the 2002 Cadillac spot “Break Through” and Apple’s 2007 iPod Nano commercial featuring Feist’s “1234.”

“We come from the generation where it wasn’t necessarily the coolest thing to have an ad campaign with your song,” said X Ambassadors guitarist Noah Feldshuh. “So I remember the Cadillac campaign where they got the Led Zeppelin song. That was sort of the turning point.”

“Now [brand partnerships are] as potent as getting your song on the radio,” X Ambassadors vocalist Sam Harris noted. “There’s less of a taboo placed on that nowadays, and it’s another way…to expose your music to a wider audience.”

Watch the backstage interview with X Ambassadors on YouTube.

The Clio Music Awards, in partnership with Billboard, underscores the visceral power of music to connect consumers and brands. Clio Music, presented by Citi, was highlighted at the 56th annual Clio Awards on September 30, with host Melissa Etheridge and performances by X Ambassadors and Salt-N-Pepa.

Entries for the 2016 Clio Music Awards open Feb. 1, 2016. Check out some of the 2015 Clio Music highlights here, and learn more at