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From brutal hits to the sound that sells – global trends of brand and band connection from an Eastern European point of view

A post by Eastaste Eastaste on June 19, 2013

When Terry Gilliam said in 2011 that brands are the equivalent of 19th century patrons of art, it wasn’t a wholly arbitrary statement. The last few years saw more and more exciting and lucrative collaborations between brands and bands, which caused not only Gilliam’s appreciation, but a nice boost in the income of music industry – no wonder that by 2011 RIAA felt the urge to include synchronization revenues in the year-end numbers, which showed growth for the first time in these torrent-struck years. These innovative campaigns, with Gilliam’s interest, the ‘American Express presents Unstaged’ among them, are outstanding examples of music-brand connections, though not the only ones: music marketing has undergone a spectacular development in the past years. Let’s see where it has got us here, in Eastern Europe, and around the world.

First there was the jingle, and then came background music. There has been a serious amount of research about the effects of sound and music on a brand’s image and sales potential since the ’80s. As each confirmed a positive relation, it was only a matter of time for someone to realize that a commercial can be built around a single song – which, of course holds some specific characteristics for it. That’s when Apple and Heineken joined the story, as in the 2000s they gave us the finest ad classics regarding music. With their strategic choices they gained a prestige that didn’t only affect them – bands and artists who got a worldwide showcase this way saw their careers take a sudden upward turn. Jet, Caesars, The Ting Tings, Feist, The Asteroids Galaxy Tour – these were scarcely known artists before the commercials, but became household names afterwards.

That said, the recipe for the perfect ad seems quite simple: take a fresh sound that suits the atmosphere you’re trying to create, from a practically unknown musician, synchronize it with the visuals, et voilá: you get the perfect commercial that stucks in people’s memories and sneaks money out of their wallets. Still, if we try to recall a Hungarian example, there is maybe one that comes to mind: then session musician Jamie Winchester and Pannon GSM.Winchester’s song ‘It’s Your Life’ and the telecommunication brand became quite inseparable in Hungary’s brand history as the TV spot with the wired teen couple got to be the favourite ad of a whole generation. If this could work out once, how come we can’t remember any more like it? To find the answer we spoke to Hungarian insiders on the topic.

Bela Kovacs, account director at McCann Erickson Budapest gives us three main aspects of choosing music for ads. „Style, tonality and the overall mood – we’re selecting according to these characteristics. It happens very rarely that a client places strategic importance on the music. Most of the time they give us songs of famous bands in the brief, and we use them as references during our work.” It’s not at all surprising that these famous songs tend to become the chosen music. „It’s a usual thing, getting a call on Thursday that the agency needs the rights of Tina Turner’s Simply The Best by Friday” Ildiko Falus, marketing manager of Schubert Music Publishing (Hungarian representative of Sony/ATV and other international publishing companies) tells us. „These unrealistic needs are common around here, given that the 1 million forints (3400 euros approximately) they tend to have in the budget is just a partial amount of the money the desired song’s rights are worth. We always offer our help in choosing a cheaper, but just as much fitting song, or a less famous cover version, but since this takes time, which the clients usually don’t have, they move on.”

And that is when agencies turn to writing sound-alikes, Csaba Kalotas, film and commercial composer informs us. „A nice number of my commercial orders start like this: „We’d like almost exactly the same song, but we’re not willing to pay for the copyrights or go to court.” And it’s not the only thing agencies act on with comfortability. I don’t really get other instructions on the music than „Let’s make it happier!”. I have the sense of creatives sticking to the idea that if we pour some shiny pink sugar on any brand, that will make it sell. I’v met a much higher extent of openness during my Norwegian and even Russian projects – but of course, they don’t have to pass tests in Szabolcs-Szatmar-Bereg (a quite poor and undeveloped region in the far east side of Hungary).” Kalotas notes.

To be fair, we have to add: it’s not totally true that you can’t find Hungarian original music in the flood of covers for commercials. However, as the selections goes, relevant fan base and popularity turn out to be the most important factors. Djuice (mobile service provider for youth) chose Hosok, Irie Maffia and Soerii & Poolek for its ‘Osztod vagy mondod?’ (something like ‘Share or tell?’) campaign. Soerii’s member Kovacs Geri says: „We never had the feeling of selling ourselves, as we united with the creative concept, not the brand. Nor do I see any changes in our popularity or even the number of tickets sold to our concerts. We did make a music video, though, from the seven-figure payment for ‘Brutalis nyar’ (‘Brutal Summer’) and that is something.” But what do we miss to have more uplifting, revolutionary brand plus band stories? Those interviewed see the problem in the lack of openness and courage, and the preponderence of personal relations in decisions. Bela Kovacs points out the lack of proactivity from the music business side – he complains that advertising and musicbiz people work separately from each other.

There are signs of contradictory tendencies, though. Renato Horvath saw this latent need when he co-founded Eastaste, a music licensing agency, that aims to connect Eastern European artists with clients from all over the world. „A whole generation has grown up here, who produce music that copes with any high quality project around the globe, but haven’t any connections to the client world – not just to Hollywood, but not even to the ad agency round the corner. We intend to change this, as this is clearly a loss for both sides. Naturally it is more obvious to the musicians, but the other side seems to open up increasingly. A fresh example is a Coca-Cola commercial: we offered several Eastern European band from our catalogue, and a We Are Rockstars (Hungarian indie pop/rock band) song won in a particularly strong competition, simply because of its quality and connectivity to the brand.” Horvath explains.

It is quite clear that there are untapped opportunities in this field and discovering them would not only serve those who have a direct interest – and having said that, let’s go back to Terry Gilliam. While Hungarian brands and bands still play double faults against each other sometimes, a little farther West from here an interesting business interconnection has evolved among them, resulting in strategic collaborations with a cultural value, like the aforementioned Amex Unstaged campaign. Dan Pink, the American business bestseller writer once said that to understand branding we should look at it as a conversation between brands and individuals. It seems that more and more brands become aware of the fact that it’s helpful to start talking about music: Absolut Vodka used Swedish House Mafia, H&M picked Lana Del Rey and Beyoncé, HTC went with Birds of Tokyo, HP with No Doubt, Chevrolet and other brands teamed up with OK Go and Ford used a whole bunch of young, up-and-coming artists like Alt-J, Alex Clare, Ed Sheeran, Charlie XCX etc. to converse about.

And where are we according to these, here in the not so far East? Maybe closer than we’d think. We have one Midem competition winner campaign, Vodafone’s Soundmapping with Yonderboi, although none more like that. But as marketing expenses and the TV ad market are reducing, and – thanks to the growing importance of social media – those hardly reached by traditional advertising are becoming even more relevant, businesses will eventually have to get on terms with this innovative, music-centred approach. Attila Nyeki, digital and branded content director at the Budapest-based international production company, Umbrella is optimistic, too. „It may look like we are left behind because of different shortcomings, but I think that improvements are taking shape. This open, brand-conscious and opinionated group of consumers is not what you’d call numerous here, but they are progressively well-represented to clients. Until there’s still an everyday chance of having their region office or departments closed, it won’t be easy to be brave for decision-makers, but I’m absolutely positive that there will be more and more good music marketing campaigns around here in the next few years.”


 Text by Dorottya Toth, a member of the Eastaste team.

This article was featured in Hungarian on Recorder, one of Hungary’s top music magazines, so Hungarian-speakers, here we go.