Authenticity – the now of music marketing

In the last blog post we looked at the historical development of music marketing. Now, it’s time for an analysis about where the industry is heading at the moment. 

Until the early 21st century it was common to simply either pay a successful artist to sing about a certain big brand or product (like Michael Jakson, it’s good, it’s good, drink Pepsi!), make a catchy earworm with a slogan (this is still done nowadays but not so much as a part of modern branding) or bluntly show famous people using the marketed product (usually in very corny ways).

Nowadays music marketing is becoming increasingly subtle. In a nutshell, as consumers are becoming more and more aware that they’re being targeted, it’s becoming more crucial for brands to feel authentic instead of just blasting their products. There seems to be two different paths in the latest trends in music marketing to implement this new approach of not being a sell-out: either a brand has a big artist involved just like before, but now without the artist’s music, just presenting the artist being casual. In other cases companies are promoting young promising acts in order to create a feeling of being part of something bubbling under, and being part of empowering emerging acts. In both cases companies are looking for the feel of authenticity.

#1: Big artists being casual

Those classic, big artist collaborations haven’t disappeared, but the approach to this kind of collaboration has shifted greatly. Nowadays big artists aren’t promoting the marketed product per se and might not even have their music played in the commercials. Instead, big acts show their more casual and private side in a cosy and natural way.

Take a look at Justin Timberlake joining MasterCard in their two-year Priceless Moments campaign.


And Ellie Goulding joining Nike on their new A Melody of Movement campaign.

Obviously, these kinds of collaborations that feel very effortless and simple are actually the most pricey and well-planned of all the campaigns. It is also very important for the artist to be presented in a casual, authentic and empathic way without appearing as a sell-out. But his kind of subtle messaging isn’t as easy as it might seem.
One example that has been dividing opinions is Duffy collaborating with Diet Coke already in 2009. Although the industry standards regarding artists promoting various products has shifted towards more accepting, it still carries a sell-out shadow on Duffy’s career (just write “Duffy Diet Coke” on Google search and you’ll understand). In short, the collaboration fell short on the feel of authenticity as fans had a hard time believing Duffy would in real life drink diet coke and bike around suburbs just before her shows. Then again, Duffy is making another grand move with appearing on a new film Legend and Diet Coke has been collaborating with numerous singers ever since, so even a not-so-great commercial collaboration is not the end for anyone, just maybe a lesson for the marketing pros and music managers to be more considerate.

 #2: Big brands discovering and supporting new talent
 The other way companies are introducing authenticity with artists is by gaining credibility in discovering and supporting new talent.
In 2013, Coca-Cola’s campaign 52 Songs of Happiness weekly introduced a new artist and a song eventually amounting to a playlist of 52 new songs. Apparently something went wrong with the campaign, as the songs have just a few thousand plays on Spotify and artists haven’t really been able to leverage the campaign on their side.
On the contrary, this year’s biggest branding event so far is obviously Coca-Cola’s new slogan & sound. This time Coca-Cola teamed up with famous producer Avicii and fairly unknown singer Conrad Sewell on a collaboration for a new song, Taste The Feeling. Sewell has just a little over 50,000 fans on Facebook and the hit song, Taste The Feeling, doesn’t appear on his latest EP. Thus it seems Coca-Cola is being very precise in preserving the authentic vibe of the newcomer while pushing the song and their new slogan with maybe the biggest marketing muscles the marketing industry knows. As a little side note, the lyrics of the song have ‘coke’ mentioned in both verses which hints that the world hasn’t actually changed that much. It’s just becoming more nuanced and subtle.

Finally, another example of a big company creating a stage for newcomers is American Express with their UNSTAGED: Artists in Residence program. Amex has recently introduced another round of AIR artists, so it seems their program is beneficial for both the company and the artists.


As a conclusion, it seems authenticity is the driving force for many kinds of marketing collaborations. But though it might look effortless and easy, the unsuccessful examples show that creating a subtle yet precise message could be the most difficult kind of campaign to pull through. Yet the benefits of a fruitful and well-thought-out collaboration can be almost limitless.

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