Idiareno Atimomo: Brands that made us dance

by Idiareno Atimomo


I fear that some musicians craft is being diminished by their association with brands. I won’t cite examples but it’s clear that when your focus shifts from delighting your audience (fans/general public) to driving brand messages, something in your craft is diminished.

In the year 1434, Cosimo De Medici (or Cosimo the Elder) used his rise to power as occasion to lead the Medici family on a path that immortalized their family name as patrons of the arts and humanities. The Medici family used their power and money to commission and publicize the works of artists in Florence and indeed helped galvanize the Renaissance movement across Europe.

They would commission artists for years (practically put them on retainer), pay for their supplies and buy the works of art they churned out. They even paid for periods of study for artistes to learn and perfect their craft. Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci and Boticelli were all artists they cultivated and supported; Galileo was on paid retainer to tutor the Medici children.

Any wonder why eccentric rapper Kanye West, while on a radio interview name dropped the Medici family in a rant on his frustration with Nike (athletics brand powerhouse) for not pulling all stops to push his Nike Air Yeezy sneaker collaboration project.

Said Kanye, “I am standing up and I’m telling you I am Warhol. I am the number one most impactful artist of our generation. I am Shakespeare in the flesh, Walt Disney. And who’s going to be the Medici family and stand up and let me create more? Or do you want to marginalize me till I’m out of my moment?”

Mad rant aside, Kanye West was highlighting the role that modern day brands can play in furtherance of the arts, music and our lifestyle culture trend. He juxtaposed modern brands as the current potential incarnation of the Medici patronage. Brands can promote musicians via ambassadorships (Alicia Keys & BlackBerry), collaborations on specific products/projects (Kanye and Nike) & outright partnerships (P Diddy and Ciroc)


Gold Rush

The Nigerian marketing space has seen an explosion of involvement of brands with music artistes. At a point in the year of our Lord 2013, if you were a music star and were not signed as a brand ambassador to a major brand, your star was perceived not to be shining.

From telecoms companies to online retailers, mobile phone manufacturers and even insecticide brands, signing a music artiste was the new cool marketing trick.  As with all things “faddish”, there have been different outcomes to signing of brand ambassadors.

With certain musicians also being ambassadors to multiple brands albeit in different industries, you begin to wonder who is in the driving seat. The brand or the artiste? There is a point you can get to as an artiste that your brand value is so extended across too many products and platforms that diminishing returns sets in for your multiple “Medicis”.

When musicians “take sides”, (by accepting to be brand ambassadors) it has an effect on their ability to perform at certain concerts/events sponsored by competing brands, their social media engagements change ideally their earning power should increase as well.

The jury is out on the last point but I suspect for some of these artistes their total earnings will increase only marginally though they get lump sums payments which help them with milestone expenditures. I will briefly review some brand moves in 2 industries that played big in music in 2013 (Telecoms and Breweries) before I close in on an outlook for 2014.


Industry Review

As a player in the telecoms industry, my opinions may seem biased but I have to give it some of the brands who have shown proper finesse in their marketing spend. My yellow cousins (you know who) signed up some very good musicians and have been pretty ruthless in milking the music they create for profits especially through charged Ring Back Tunes (RBT) at N50 monthly rental per tune.

The marketing support for this RBT drive has been heavy and covers radio campaigns, billboards, SMS campaigns, TV adverts, Event specific drive etc. its been a great year to be a music creator working with this particular network. This brand has gone into this ambassadorship not to promote their brand as such but to create a stronger revenue stream as voice revenue begins to decline.

So if you were lucky enough to sign-on real hit makers, your investment is good to take to the bank especially when you have 50m+ subscriber base. This is where the rubber hits the road though. Another player (with a darker green shade) has also signed many other artistes but their deployment has been geared towards creating brand association and imagery via advertising.

Without a doubt, this is a legitimate marketing tactic but also one fraught with some challenges. Key of which is to answer “what does the brand stand for?” When a brand signs more than 8 musical acts and uses all of them for advertising you begin to wonder what the key message the brand wants the audience to pick from the resulting brand association.

Each artiste stands for something and appeals to a demographic so when you deploy them all “willy nilly” the question that begs to be answered is “what central message do all these acts help you sell?” Even more worrisome is how you deploy music acts in ways that are not consistent to what they are known for. I literally cringed watching a great rapper cameo as a football player in an ad when the whole world knows him to be a basket ball player!

Cringe worthy I tell ya. I’m a message purist and I believe you deploy your marketing resources where they are believable and reinforce themselves. They have some work to do here. Their execution of a TV commercial with the Hip Hop twins that used their very popular single with a known dance step was very well done and should be the minimum standard they deploy in my opinion.

Not being privy to their marketing war room meetings I would give them the benefit of the doubt and conclude they know what they are doing for the long term.

The breweries companies were not left out in their patronage of the arts but from a slightly less committed stand point. None of the big players signed any music acts to be definitive brand ambassadors in the year under review (2013) but some big moves stood out for me.

Earlier in the year, Nigerian Breweries, parent company of the Star brand unveiled the Star Music App. Ostensibly it was to be the digital platform to position Star as a brand that had music as a strategic lever in its engagement of its defined target market.

The app would be the destination of choice for the target audience to learn about breaking news from local and international music stars and get to watch the latest music videos first from artistes they love, all exclusively on the app.

The launch was followed by a major blitz on online platforms, banner ads, Yahoo page take overs and even Outdoor billboards. I just had to take notice of these guys marketing footprint

I quickly downloaded the app (it’s available for Android, iOS and BlackBerry) and found it quite rich in the promised content. In due course, Wizkid dropped the video for “Azonto” exclusively on the Star Music app followed quickly by Olamide, one of the breakout revelations of 2013, who dropped the video to “Durosoke” first on the Star app.

In keeping with their normal on ground engagements, Star Trek came through and had on display some of the reigning musical stars in Nigeria on display in a 7 city music concert too that earned rave reviews.

As is the tradition with many brewery companies, they tend to change the packaging of their brands bottle from time to time. Star recently announced and unveiled a new bottle termed the “Rock Star” bottle. Their decision to put a marked price premium on this bottle is however worrisome. It might be the only aspect of the beautiful campaign that requires some tweaks. Overall, the brand consistency with their “Music” theme 2013 must be applauded.

The Guinness brand came a bit late to the music party with a brand unveil for their new bottle styled “The Colorful World of More” concert. Undeniably one of the best concerts in 2013 – audience reaction, stars on line up etc – but the total end to end marketing play in the music space seemed abrupt. They had the concert only in Lagos (a big market for sure) but is Guinness now a Lagos brand?. Is there no need to delight other drinkers across the nation? Knowing how marketing could be I trust they would have loved to do that but I’m not sure why they didn’t.

Don’t mind me… I love to see a follow through on a marketing theme. In their industry, I think Star took the crown in 2013.


Let the music play

In 2014, how should brands engage their audiences using music and musicians? Marketing is essentially a contest for minds, hearts and eventually wallets. This contest must however build up the utility of all tools it deploys…in essence, if music is to be used in this contest we must not reduce the quality of the music, nor diminish the craft of the musicians.

I fear that some musicians craft is being diminished by their association with brands. I won’t cite examples but it’s clear that when your focus shifts from delighting your audience (fans/general public) to driving brand messages, something in your craft is diminished. Never forget that brands only engaged you because they felt you were highly regarded by the public. If eventually this high regard starts to wane, rest assured that brand managers have no qualms in discontinuing such relationships. That’s a hard fact.

Musicians must focus their time and energy on the creation of music that delights their fan base. Honing the stage craft to hold a concert spell bound while remaining connected to the rippling undercurrent of consumer sentiment that makes one song a hit and another a disaster.

In essence, musicians must themselves act like brands. They must have a loyalty first to their consumers in all they do. It is in their healthy awareness of this need that their long term relevance to brands is sustained. Their associations must be with those brands that help them create more, extend their reach and become more original from day to day.

The brands will take care of themselves. Their sales figures keep many of their brand managers alive to their real constituency – the public and not their brand ambassadors. They will refine their association with musicians, dropping some, signing on more. I only hope that the deployment of music and musicians is more strategic, contributing more closely to the bottom line than ever before.

If music be the food of sales, play on.



Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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