Music Deals Called Successful by Microsoft, Sony and McDonald's

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The deal: Marketers like Sony PlayStation, Microsoft's Xbox and McDonald's Corp. work with the House of Blues Entertainment to create sponsored tours and live concerts that aim squarely at young music lovers.

The result: Xbox, for one, plans to broaden its House of Blues-created tour beyond its alternative rock and pop roots, expanding into Latino and hip-hop genres to reach different target audiences. The next tour will launch later this year or early 2006.

House of Blues Entertainment appears to have come up with a winning branded concert formula for marketers.

Major marketers aren't shy about writing fat checks to be associated with some of the most successful bands in the world. There's Ameriquest's multimillion-dollar sponsorship of the current Rolling Stones tour, and Fidelity Investments' ongoing partnership with Paul McCartney.

Some brands, though, want to do it differently.

Sony PlayStation, Microsoft's Xbox and McDonald's, among others, have paired up with the House of Blues Entertainment to launch their own brand-centric concert series that intertwine the brand’s message with bands like New Found Glory, Ozomatli, Fabolous and DJs Z-Trip and LCD Soundsystem.

Psychographic profiles

Executives at House of Blues Entertainment's sponsorship division, who are stepping up their activity in the area to meet marketers’ demands, said the process begins with asking what the brand wants to achieve and then finding a willing band that fits the psychographic profile of the marketer's target.

"This is where our ability to narrowcast comes into play," said Paul Sewell, senior VP-sponsorship, House of Blues Entertainment. "You have to connect a genre of music with a demo that the marketer is looking for."

Beyond settling on the right band, the tours need to weave the brand throughout in an unobtrusive way. House of Blues Entertainment books shows for its clubs and a number of other venues around the country. The branded tours take place at a variety of those locations.

117 Xbox shows

For the "Xbox Presents" tour, which put on 117 shows from June '04 to June '05, House of Blues executives stocked all the green rooms with Xbox hardware and video games, and supplied the participating bands and their crews with consoles for their tour buses.

Around those shows, on nights dubbed "X-Box Live Night," a number of band members participated in the X-Box's ongoing "Game with Fame" promotion where they played X-Box Live games with fans online before they took the stage. That direct interaction between bands and fans further cemented X-Box's place with young gamers, said Bill Nielsen, director of marketing for X-Box in the U.S.

Xbox was featured on e-mail blasts to music fans in the House of Blues database, in the clubs, on the concert tickets themselves and on the in-store monitors dubbed HOB TV. In some venues, there were Xbox kiosks so concert-goers could sample the product.

The stage remains logo-free, but other spots are fair game within reason, Mr. Sewell said.

"We like to design programs with our partners, and the House of Blues has been very flexible," Mr. Nielsen said. "We think the ROI has been really good with these tours."

Artists who are also game geeks

X-Box will continue to work with a number of partners in the music industry, such as the ongoing connection to pop punk band Green Day. It's vital that the artists are part of the X-Box faithful.

"We only want to be associated with bands who are actually gamers," Mr. Nielsen said.

He credits some of the marketers' music-based initiates with helping X-Box Live shoot to 2 million subscribers.

As part of Sony PlayStation's “DualPlay Tour,” now in its third year, the marketer gets a heavy presence in clubs as well-known DJs spin dance, house and electronica music. As club goers dance, their images are projected onto screens and mixed with footage from PlayStation game titles. The current tour features DJ Z-Trip and LCD Soundsystem. There's an accompanying PlayStation sweepstakes that sends winners to a live show and gives them a pile of Sony merchandise.

'Are You Mac Enough?'

McDonald's, looking for a music-related connection for the Big Mac, worked with the House of Blues Entertainment on a three-week "Are You Mac Enough?" promotion that gave consumers a chance to win concert tickets and other prizes through codes found on Big Mac boxes. The deal, which helped McDonald's boost sales by 3%, launched with two shows, one in Chicago with rapper Fabolous and the other in Los Angeles with Latin-flavored band Ozomatli.

Executives who barter deals between bands and brands say the business has moved toward the current House of Blues model.

"Brands want something to take ownership in," said Rob Tonkin, exec VP and head of the West Coast at Ignition, an Atlanta-based experiential marketing company. "They want to build a program with equity and a lifespan that they can use to make face-to-face human interactions with consumers."

'Marketing levers'

Mr. Tonkin, who recently merged his L.A.-based music marketing company The Marketing Factory with Ignition, has worked with Honda for six years on its Honda Civic Tour.

"It's not just about a broad association," Mr. Tonkin said. "The brand needs marketing levers to activate their involvement, and the artists need to understand that there's work that comes along with a sponsorship."
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