Commentary by Scott Donaton


How Steve Berman Mixes Marketing and Music Stars

By Published on .

Are you ready to go to the next level?"

That's the question a hyperactive record exec asks as he waggles an action

Scott Donaton, editor of 'Advertising Age.'

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figure in the face of rapper Common in a comic scene from the launch spot for Coca-Cola Classic's "Real" campaign. The record exec, who's also heard in a skit on The Eminem Show CD in which he's gunned down by that rapper, is one of the few corporate suits smooth enough as an actor that he could give up his day job. Except for this: He's very good at his day job and clearly ready to go to the next level.

Meet Steve Berman, a 39-year-old ball of energy universally described as one of the smartest marketing minds in the music business and one of the nicest guys in Hollywood. Berman runs marketing for Interscope/Geffen/A&M, the Vivendi Universal labels overseen by Jimmy Iovine. That gives him a leg up to begin with, since Iovine is one of the most powerful players in the music business.

Musical roots
Berman's musical roots run deep. His grandfather, Sy Waronker, was a studio musician who co-founded Liberty Records in the '50s. His uncle was an executive at Warner Records, where Berman started work in the mailroom in the early '80s. Berman hooked up with Iovine a dozen years ago and has been a key player on his team since.

He's also one of the more vocal advocates of the intersection of music and advertising, seeing in the alliance ways for two industries to confront challenges by propping each other up.

Interscope cut one of the biggest such deals when it linked with Coca-Cola and Berlin Cameron/Red Cell on the new Classic campaign, for which Common and singer Maya recorded "Real Compared to What," which they perform in the spots and which could be a single on Maya's forthcoming album.

"We went to Maya and Common, not with a product endorsement, but with an idea that would give them exposure while giving Coca-Cola something that would be at the core of their message," Berman said over coffee at the Cafe Montana in Santa Monica, sunglasses on, his red hair damp and pushed back. "From our perspective, it's not a commercial; it's a record and a visual interpretation of that message."

Trying to make a buck
Music industry problems are business-related, he noted. "Music is more popular than ever, but figuring out how to monetize that is difficult in a world where CD sales have shrunk 20%. If you tap in to a culture, the market is

Steve Berman takes it to the next level in a Coke commercial.
still there," he said, pointing to Eminem, 50 Cent, Avril Lavigne and Norah Jones.

One way around the challenges, he figures, is to partner with marketers. "We've decided to work with strong brands where we're targeting a similar audience," Berman said. "We're always challenged by budgets and have to come up with alternative ways to market our artists. A record company can't compete on traditional marketing platforms. For a major release, the entire TV budget might not equal one prime-time spot.

"On the other hand, we've gotten very good at the youth-culture, lifestyle-marketing thing. We offer a tremendous amount of expertise. Together, we can really penetrate in to the consumer and make stuff happen."

A happy coincidence
Berman, like many in the Madison & Vine space, believes the "accident that caused this whole thing" was an art director's inclusion of a Jaguar in the video for Sting's song "Desert Rose." The singer's manager sent the video to Jaguar and Ogilvy & Mather, which ran it as commercials for the car.

"They built their campaign around that and we saw an explosion in sales" of Sting's CD, Berman said. "As it evolves," he added, "you're going to see a lot more of that sort of thing."

Or, as he says to Common in the last lines of the Coke spot, "Let's go all the way."

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