As the head of music for VML and a juror for the 2018 Clio Music Awards, it's an especially meaningful time of year for me to look at some of the best uses of music across brand categories and get a firsthand look at ways in which brands are leaning into music to create innovative, unique and engaging content.
Whether it's an exciting new artist, a decade-specific recognizable tune, an original composition or just a perfect song by underground artist "X," the beauty of music is it gets right to the point—sometimes better than a voiceover ever could—and can bring a creative idea to new heights, or even be the creative idea with the right piece.
What's most exciting about the future of creativity—as it relates to clients' objectives—is the many ways music can be the medium of brand messaging and convey equity-building, effective campaigns. And because of the endless stories (and inherent potential) we find in music, old and new, I believe we will see more music-centered executions than ever over the next several years, specifically within four proven approaches:
1. Music as the medium to bring light to underrepresented audiences and stories
In America, children in underprivileged urban areas face poverty, murder and drugs as part of everyday life. The issues are clear, but most people ignore them. Youth Ambassadors, who grow up in violent neighborhoods, write, draw and paint as part of the healing process. To get potential donors' attention, VML and Wojahn Brothers Music tapped into their childhood by creating a friendly puppet show featuring educational songs that teach horrific life lessons as experienced and quoted by real children.
2. Music as the medium to blur lines between content and entertainment
Wendy's dropped a mixtape earlier this year, dissing a well-known fast-food chain with two golden arches by leaning into hip-hop beef culture (as evidenced by the recent Pusha T and Drake feud). The result was some of hip-hop's most acclaimed publications celebrating the witty, clever and bold nature of the songs, garnering millions of streams and countless positive impressions; the beats are fire, check it out.
Another unique example of this approach was VML's work for the city of Nashville, where together we crafted a full-length feature documentary telling the story of one of the most important forces in music—the Nashville songwriter. "It All Begins With a Song: The Story of the Nashville Songwriter" features songwriters and artists Jessi Alexander, Garth Brooks, Mac Davis, Mikky Ekko, Brett James, Claude Kelly, Shane McAnally, Brad Paisley, Ray Stevens and dozens more.
As Butch Spyridon, president and CEO of the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp, said, "This kind of film is a complete departure for a destination marketing organization. … At the heart of Nashville's success as a destination is our music and creative community, represented best by our songwriters. Through them, we present Nashville as a unique, authentic and creative destination unmatched anywhere in the world."
3. Music as brand DNA
Marketers like Apple, Samsung and Adidas heavily invest in music culture and music-centered executions, given the return on their brand recognition, recall, familiarity and affinity. With this approach, it seems there is a consistent rule of thumb: If the content piece feels like a music video for the song itself and equally maintains the brand mission, it's going to be a win-win for the brand and artist.
4. Music unveils the story
Music has the plasticity to become the story itself and set the stage in the right context of a creative concept. Take Elton John's "Rocket Man" teeing up Samsung's inspiring story of a seemingly flightless, courageous ostrich, or the recently reimagined theme music of Narcos. Season 4 of Netflix's acclaimed series moves locations from Colombia to Mexico and communicates this with the visual of a mariachi band covered with cocaine and a reimagined theme song. One note of the mariachi cover instantly takes the listener directly to Mexico and communicates the new locale more efficiently than any conventional storytelling could.
While these are just a few approaches where music can be the effective medium of a campaign, what's next? How do we execute with music as the medium? Connect the dots from your brand/client to emerging indie artists, and study how they operate and market their own brand or content. Bring your in-house music department or music director to the creative briefing from the get-go. Take notes on what's working (and what's not) through pop culture's reaction to A-list artists' music and album release campaigns.
The next innovative campaign could be waiting patiently within the dusty grooves of some wax in your crates. Next time you find yourself in a client briefing, don't be afraid to put music first. After all, music is the basic building block of emotions, human communication and connection.
—Nick Keenan is head of music at VML and a 2018 Clio Music juror
FINAL DEADLINE TO ENTER THE 2018 CLIO MUSIC AWARDS IS FRIDAY, JUNE 29TH.