Advertisers know they need to be culturally relevant, and the best way to reach a target audience is to speak to them through a partner connection that is authentic and data driven. But finding those partnerships can be difficult, especially during times when the environment is in flux.
Universal Music Group already had a robust, industry-leading brand partnership practice and the benefit of enormous scale. It’s transformed the space by making available the capabilities and innovation of UMG including UMG’s media properties to brands, agencies and their clients and media companies, globally and locally.
“We are a B2B group with a team that comes from a variety of backgrounds, so we have the ability to translate between industries to create results for our partners and artists,” said Richard Yaffa, executive VP and global head of the new UMG for Brands (UMGB), who spoke with Studio 30 about the group's efforts. “We have aggregated all of our capabilities as a one-stop shop. Our data, insights, creativity, media, artists, content, labels and new capabilities—including Web 3.0 for brands—are creating authentic partnerships that benefit our partners and our artists.”
Ad Age Studio 30: What is UMG for Brands’ origin story?
Richard Yaffa: Universal Music Group had always realized the tremendous scale of its artists and properties. While it already had a lot of great partnerships in play, we met with Sir Lucian Grainge, Michele Anthony, the leadership of Universal Music Group and our labels to connect the capabilities and resources of UMG. We wanted to unlock value for our company and maximize opportunities for artists and partners. This is our point of difference.
We also created a global central team dedicated to developing global, regional and local partnerships, including media sales. Our global executive team is led by Olivier Robert-Murphy, executive VP of brand partnerships in London; L.J. Gutierrez, general manager of brand partnerships in Los Angeles; Naomi McMahon, senior VP and head of strategic marketing and partnerships in New York; and Jimmi Riise, senior VP of live events in Copenhagen. We’ve just added Morgan Buksbaum as senior VP of media and properties in New York.
With our roster of artists, and inventory of trendsetters and music, we can help create storytelling that is woven through narratives in ways that are just very different for brands.
Ad Age Studio 30: Can you give examples of large-scale activations for clients?
Yaffa: In early 2021, the cookie brand Oreo wanted to do an innovative brand campaign based around spreading kindness. UMG for Brands collaborated with the brand and its agency partners on goals and objectives, which resulted in a collaboration with Lady Gaga. All aspects of the project and resulting products were influenced by her 2020 album “Chromatica,” including in the ethos, in the campaign’s color scheme, and tonally via the set of songs that preached kindness and acceptance. We also launched a one-of-a-kind, limited-edition pink and green cookie with Lady Gaga that garnered additional attention for the brand and which sold out around the world.
Another example was our year-long activation for Pokémon’s 25th anniversary, beginning in January 2021. Pokémon came to us as a strong cultural icon, asking how it could find a great partner that could expand its relevancy into different areas. We used data, insights, creativity and artists’ passions for Pokémon to create a multiartist, first-of-its-kind campaign to elevate the Pokémon brand.
We knew singer-songwriter Post Malone was a fan of Pokémon and had the unique twist of sharing the same 25th birthday, so bringing Post onboard to cover the biggest hit of that year, do a virtual concert and contribute to the anniversary album was a win for authentic storytelling.
Additional UMG capabilities activated during the campaign included the creation of custom content and merchandise spearheaded by our merchandise company Bravado. All efforts culminated in a special “Pokémon 25: The Album,” featuring songs by UMG artists like Katy Perry and the singer J Balvin. We won seven Clios and a Cannes Gold Lions for that partnership, which we are extremely proud of.
Ad Age Studio 30: What benefits does UMG for Brands provide that other partnerships can’t?
Yaffa: We utilize our unique capabilities, globally recognized artists and the unparalleled scale of UMG. The key areas that make it different are that our partnerships are informed by data and created and executed in a turnkey manner by UMGB. We are using our data to target specific communities to create culturally relevant and authentic connections for our partners in our capacity as a trusted advisor.
When we say partners, they include media groups and media brands, as well as agencies. It not only benefits the partners, but it mutually benefits our artists in an enormous way as well, because we're empowering their fan engagement and creating greater marketing amplification focus for their music and unique products.
Comscore recently ranked UMG as the No. 1 music company and No. 2 entertainment company based on digital audience. When the underlying principle is cultural relevancy, we are able to match up partners with artists via data, targeted demos and all the different assets that we have to connect the correct audiences for brands and create authenticity at an unprecedented scale.
Ad Age Studio 30: What are some other brand partnerships featuring high-profile UMG artists that the general public may not be aware of?
Yaffa: Our being the biggest music company in the world provides brands the opportunity to work with a wide variety of artists across our portfolio. We recently paired the artists Jonas Brothers and Troye Sivan with Lenovo Yoga and Intel Evo for their For All Creators program, which invited fans and designers to submit artwork for the musicians’ performances. The winners of Sivan’s contest created an installation that was displayed during a special performance that celebrated Art Basel Miami 2021.
A huge benefit of partners having access to our UMG media sales portfolio is that our artists create destination programming, and therefore our ads outperform on a percentage basis. When targeted consumers go online and want to see a UMG video, they will watch through an ad to watch that content because that's what they set out to see.
Ad Age Studio 30: Can you give us a preview of what’s coming down the pike?
Yaffa: We are constantly growing. We have teams in 74 markets and have recently launched UMG for Brands Canada. We have partnered with Tribeca Enterprises around a series of music-driven events taking place throughout 2022, with the first event being the world premiere of the music documentary “Mixtape.” And for another fun, food-related campaign, we launched a frozen pizza in Germany with UMG rapper Capital Bra. Based on its success, we will be expanding and launching pizzas in other countries, including France and the U.S. We have also partnered with Condé Nast to create a new media product around cultural moments to create value for our partners.
When you start with data and then combine that with the power of UMG’s artist roster and music—and follow the path all the way through that creativity and innovation to the targeting, media and amplification—partners get a great ROI. But more importantly, both our artists and our partners will reach and grow the cultural relevancy that they crave.