Don't Turn a Deaf Ear to Music Branding

New Technology Allows Marketers to Target Consumers Aurally on a Variety of Platforms

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Gerald Schwartz
Gerald Schwartz
Music. Records to some, jingles to others, a theme, a tune, a few bars or a beat -- it's music, yes, but it's more: It's branding, music branding, and the sound is music to corporate ears.

Senior marketing executives are listening hard, and not solely to the clink-clink of coins. The National Guard, for example, recently took a shot and recruited Kid Rock to reach 17- to 24-year-olds with an upbeat message. Yes, the U.S. military commissioned a tattooed rock star to boost its image and enlistment, with an aptly named song, "Warrior," and a synchronized video that played on movie screens across the country.

"Music branding is not new," said Martin Mueller, executive director of the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York. "In the 1950s, the spread of television sparked America's humming of 'Rinso White, Rinso Blue' as much as the opening score to 'Bonanza' and 'I Love Lucy.' First, it was the jingling of bells on a Good Humor truck; then it was the electronic tune of the Mr. Softee truck ruining my nap on a warm Saturday afternoon."

Role of technology
What is new for marketing executives is technology. Technology did more than kill cassette tapes; it created a spectacular encore. Dot-coms such as CDNow and Kazaa competed with illegally cheap or free music and debuted the ability to reproduce high-quality digital music on many different platforms.

More than radios, tape recorders and record players, suddenly computers, iPods, birthday cards and toys sing and play instruments -- and ever more cheaply. The size of reproduction has shrunk from a big wood-and-metal box to a thin plastic case, and the quality has only improved.

CMOs and their consultants found they could brand their businesses and products in ways never conceived and created a chorus of campaigns using memorable melodies played on multiple media or platforms. A new field was born -- music branding, not jingle writing -- and now everyone's jumping on the digital bandwagon.

It's inescapable. Consumers can close their eyes but not their ears. Long ago, Muzak had the right idea -- strategic melodies, in offices and elevators subliminally influencing happiness and productivity.

New technology enables a smart leader to brand a business with a symphony of synergies. The multiplatform National Guard campaign ran on TV and movie screens, in theater lobbies, on popcorn bags, and online.

Getting in their heads
CMOs cannot afford to turn a deaf ear. Music can give rise to excitement, smiles, tears -- and product purchases. Imagine the theme of Sesame Street playing on your cellphone via Bluetooth technology while you're passing a toy store in a mall, or Jiffy Lube's theme on your car's GPS system while driving to work, triggered by an electronic roadside billboard. Music enables a marketer to fine-tune an audience by demographics and geography based on genre – hip-hop, rock, blues, country, oldies -- in a way sports or cultural events can't.

Gerald Schwartz is president of G.S. Schwartz & Co., New York, and co-founder of Digital Power and Light, New York.
Major corporations have long sought branding through the music of the stars. Twenty-five years ago, Pepsi pioneered first with Michael Jackson and then Madonna. Now, use of pop tunes is, well, popping. Creatives are composing new uses for Frank Sinatra, Otis Redding and others when trying to segment a market's demographics by tugging at the heartstrings of aging boomers.

Even the commercially resistant have found additional sources of income in product marketing and advertising in concert with their agents and the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, perhaps most famously the Rolling Stones with "Start Me Up" for Microsoft and more recently Bob Dylan for Victoria's Secret.

Who owns it
OK, music is a marketing tool. But who orchestrates the creative, the strategy and implementation -- the CMO, the ad agencies, the promotion joints or the PR firms? The talent or their agents and managers?

"Seems fair game to me," says Robert Urband, a Los Angeles-based entertainment manager and lawyer. "Any business consultant can own this if he can hum a few bars and grasp the technologies, the media and applications. The key is orchestrating the application across the different platforms, live and digital. Of course, you have to choose a relevant song and negotiate a sound deal, especially when it involves long-term use in many unexpected ways."

Perhaps music branding, with all its opportunities for selling products, services, ideas and images, is as big a playing field as sports marketing. And given the dollars at stake, the field's future looks just as great, for artists, agents, promoters, marketers and their products to score big.

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