Fame, Music and Advertising

December 15, 2015 / Features

By Jack Carrington

How Adland is affecting the charts.

In advertising we talk a lot about fame. We talk about making brands famous. We praise ‘famous work’ – and planners especially talk about ‘fame’ as a vital component of effectiveness. An outsider listening in on all this patter would be forgiven for thinking we’re in showbusiness.

And perhaps that’s not too far off the mark. One look at the music charts recently, and you might mistake advertisers for hitmakers. Currently riding high in the top 10 are Fleur East’s ‘Sax’ and ‘You Don’t Own Me’ by Grace (feat. G-Eazy), both of which owe a large chunk of sales to their respective support from Asda and House of Fraser’s recent Christmas campaigns.

But how did this happen? Once upon a time, having a hit record was all about having the full resources of a record company behind you to get that vital radio support. Nowadays, the digital disruption of the past decade and a half has reduced record company marketing budgets to a fraction of their CD-era peak. And the bulk of music marketing practice is social, digital and subcultural (read: low spend, low risk).

In the early noughties, Simon Cowell realised the correlation between fame-making and TV formats and has dominated the charts ever since. But even Cowell’s talent show formats have gone stale and the biggest mass media support behind a record release can come from something as strange and old-fashioned as TV brand advertising. And the payback to brands having a hit record is huge.

The TV-Shazam correlation is a giant advertising platform in itself – and a win-win for artists seeking sales, and for brands seeking attribution from their TV spend. Perhaps the resurgent role of advertising in showbiz should come as no surprise. If we look back at the history of our business there’s a rich legacy of fame-making from which to draw inspiration.

Ever since Barnum brought the circus into town, there’s been a strand of unashamedly populist thinking which tells us that creating spectacle and buzz is the best way bring in the punters. And even today we have a lot in common with the most successful fame-makers in the music business. With more shared interests than ever before, both industries have had to deal with dwindling profits and find clever ways to do more with less. We also have a lot to learn from each other.

Agencies often talk about real time sales data (and dream of getting their hands on it). It’s a daily reality in the corridors of a record company. The music biz has a level of reactivity that agencies can scarcely fathom. But what does this mean for advertising?

Too often we leave the burden of the fame part entirely to the creative department – ‘we need to make this brand famous’, goes the brief. Or worse (and often) to the PR agency after the event.

The fact that music is an incredibly important part of making effective work isn’t news. From Phil Collins and a drumming gorilla to Tom Odell’s John Lennon cover, some of the most talked-about work has had music at its heart. The music choice needs to be more up-front in the campaign planning process. Not as something that has fallen to the bottom of the list as a creative afterthought.

Back to Fleur East and Grace who are happily sitting well inside the Top 10 who show that when the music choice is properly planned in advance, it really works. What does that involve for agencies? It might involve (gasp) giving up a little creative control. It will also involve talking to the rights-holders – i.e. the record companies – up front. Cutting out the middle man (don’t use a music search agency where you can go direct). Developing closer relationships with the record companies, ones that let you look at the year together. That way, we could map the record release schedules against the big advertising seasons and see where the money is going (and where it’s not). If you get on really well with them, you could allow the record company to advise you on which artists might fit the brands you work with.

Most labels now have planning/strategy functions and can tell us a lot about which cultures and subcultures a particular artist has access to – and which brands they might work best with. But what’s really helpful is that they have unrivalled access to the artists themselves. And that means that if you can get everyone onside, brand partnerships can be about shared values and long-term premium, rather than short-term transactions.

I’m not suggesting that we all need to be like Droga5 and partner up financially with a talent business, but there’s a lot of value to be won by simply talking to our fellow fame-makers.

Give up a small degree of creative control, and fame could be yours.
That’s the perennial offer of showbusiness after all.


Jack Carrington is a Strategist at 18 Feet & Rising.

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