My band has worked with brands as an alternative to major-label funding for three years now, and I'm happy to report that so far all of the brands we've worked with have been more communicative, more transparent and more supportive than the folks we used to deal with back when we were on a big label. But only a few brands have actually pushed our creativity to new heights, and the keys to these successes have been the same in every case.
First, they only tried to achieve goals that made sense for both our brands. Their brand may be huge, and may be the one signing the checks, whereas ours is just four dudes with instruments and some good ideas, but if we look dumb when we collaborate with them, they look even dumber. Luckily, the crossover in our goals is huge: We both want to make something that reaches the largest audience and means the most to them. If we make something great together, the audience loves all of us more, and that 's a lot of value. Where brands go wrong, though, is thinking that every piece of communication has to scream every brand message. It's unlikely that a rock video is the right place for their product's features list, and even more unlikely that something wonderful and fresh and resonant is going to come from cramming that square peg into that round hole.
Second …. the best projects have come from a brand giving us a brief or a challenge, rather than their agency sending us a polished treatment in which we show up and play the role of ourselves. Last year, Google Japan asked us what we'd do with the new capabilities of HTML5, and Chevy asked us what we'd do with a car. In both cases, we responded with projects we'd never have come up with on our own—they were responses to an interesting set of parameters proposed by the brand, our collaborator.
[Finally], risk is required. In our projects, the risk usually comes in the form of inefficiency. Most folks in the content-making world do all of their imagining in advance; they plan and storyboard everything out carefully, and then execute as efficiently and precisely as possible. It's the best way to get the absolute maximum out of their resources, but they're limited to what they imagine ahead of time. We invest a lot in the middle of the process: Once we have the basic idea, we get in situ and start playing to see what new ideas emerge. It means we might rent a location for three times longer than we'd need it if the idea were fully formed, but it also means we can have an idea no one else has. This type of inefficiency is the risk that comes with our process, but it's just one of thousands of rules that brands may have to break if they want to really push creativity forward.