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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

When brands meets bands


Claire Barrett reveals how beverage brands can build cultural relevance and connection through the power music 

Some brands have lucked out when it comes to musical tributes: Hennessy has long been mentioned in rap; from 2Pac’s 1992 Hennessy; to Snoop Dogg’s Hennessy N Buddah in 2000. More recently, Drake expressed his love of the brown liquor in One Dance. 

Music can often reflect, if not spearhead, broader cultural values and shifts. For example, we’re far less likely to hear musicians expressing their adoration of alcohol today: according to 2023 research, references to being “drunk” in music have declined by 79% since 2017. It’s perhaps little surprise that Gen Z’s music has a noticeably more sober feel than the millennials’ and Gen Xers’ before them, given their impact in growing the no and low category.

But while its references change, music’s influence on the zeitgeist is ironclad. Look no further than the cowboycore trend emerging following Beyonce’s release of Cowboy Carter: searches for cowboy boots increased by 163 percent since it dropped. In the race for relevance, music is a tool that can fast track a brand’s cultural kudos with specific audiences – if they take the right approach. We can’t all sit back and wait to be name dropped on a track, so with a summer of music fast approaching, there are more proactive and powerful ways to activate your brand through music:

Festivals as innovation testbeds

Live Nation revealed that 2023 was its biggest year ever in terms of attendance (up 20 percent), ticket sales (30 percent) and sponsorship revenue (13 percent to more than $1 billion), indicating that the end-of-lockdown spike in live music has solidified into the new normal.

Image: Live Nation

With Gen Z one of the demographics most enthusiastic about experiencing live music, festivals have always been a key way for brands to connect with their target demographic during a peak passion point. Already 70% of global gig goers have agreed that brands can enhance their gig experience making them prime ground for activation, but another superpower of showtime is their ability to be a testbed for innovations.

Festivals offer unparalleled access to regional audiences in an exploratory mindset. Plus, they come with an expectation of unique activations from brands to enhance their experience. This is the perfect time to try out your more out-there innovations and get on-the-ground feedback in order to test, learn and iterate.

Capitalise on seismic cultural events

With Madonna, Beyonce and Taylor Swift all on tour, 2023 was rich with opportunities for activations and campaigns. Pre-concert is a key moment for brands to tap the cultural zeitgeist with bespoke advertising, for example, or novelty pre-show serves. For the Australian leg of Taylor Swift’s The Eras Tour, Aussie beer brand Toohey’s chose an out-of-home campaign. Located just outside Sydney Airport, a sponsored billboard featured the message ‘Welcome Trav, just in time for the real footy to start’. The on-brand ribbing of this message to Swift’s boyfriend, National Football League (NFL) player Travis Kelce, married two cultural events: the Sydney leg of The Eras Tour concerts and the then-upcoming 2024 National Rugby League (NRL) season.

And it’s not just about targeting existing cultural occasions. Brands that create their own events offer the potential to connect with specific demographics, such as in Jameson’s Sofar Sounds partnership – a series of intimate music events. These targeted Millennial and Gen X music fans: those aged between 25 and 44, “who are identified as L.A.D.S – Learning, Active, Down-to-earth, Social connectors,” says a Jameson spokesperson. The partnership was largely born of the insight that Jameson drinkers are “three times more likely to buy products from companies who sponsor exhibitions or music events,” according to the brand.

Stay true to you

In music, there’s nothing worse than trying to be something you’re not. As with any campaign or collaboration, brands need to ensure that their own values truly align with the music or musicians it works with or facilitates. If the partnership feels out of step with a brand’s positioning, fans will see straight through it.

To create the right sort of emotional connection in the right moment, think about what facets of the brand to hone in on. Consider how to make the activation inimitably yours. To this end, Ballantine’s partnership with American rapper and producer RZA taps into music, whisky and design to create experiences that champion authenticity, aligning to its ‘staying true’ brand message.

For its “Welcome Sessions” campaign in 2021, Jim Beam partnered with artists like Jack Garrett and Fontaines D.C. to create music videos filmed at the venues where they launched their careers. This approach harnessed nostalgia and the emotional connection between music and place, resonating with fans while promoting the Jim Beam brand.

Deliver sonic experiences

Today’s audiences are aware when they’re simply being ‘sold to’ – they’re wise to the tricks of marketing and advertising and can make more conscious, informed decisions around the brands they do decide to buy.

It’s time to think in terms of more sophisticated expressions and intentional, brand-led experiences that reward participation rather than simply offer a transaction. Think inspired collaborations that result in the creation of something totally new, facilitated by a brand. While beverage brand experiences can easily lean into the taste, smell, look and feel of a liquid, unlocking the sense of sound can offer an even more immersive experience.

Now, advances in technology are enabling brands to connect with audiences by creating novel sonic experiences. A standout example is Johnnie Walker Blue Label’s collaboration with producer DJ Honey Dijon on a track to launch its special edition, Elusive Umami.

The partnership was all about heightening the drinking experience with sound – the track apparently riffs off flavour profiles within its melodies, as Dijon used PlantWave technology to extract vibrational sounds from the oak tree used to mature the whisky.

Square your iconicity

For brands with large budgets, a fame-building piece with a musical icon is a fun way to convey a new tactical direction. Pepsi’s work with Cardi B and Lil Jon for its ‘More Than Ok’ campaign is in keeping with the brand’s run of iconic musical collaborations over the years. While not every brand has the freedom or budget to play with such stellar artists, this meme-ification of advertising can bolster brand memorability.

Finding new ways to deepen connections with customers is an ongoing focus for the beverage industry. Starbucks and BLACKPINK’s collaboration for the Asia Pacific region sees two icons on an equal playing field align around fandom. The bright, poppy design of a new BLACKPINK-themed Frappuccino, drinkware and limited-edition merchandise embodies the K-Pop brand’s style.

Designed as eye-catching reusable drinkware, the merch also encourages fans to make the switch from single-use drinks containers, demonstrating a wider brand commitment to sustainability.

Tapping into music can be a powerful shortcut to connecting with a specific, highly attuned audience. Once there, the experience brands offer fans can’t be surface level, simply riding the coattails of musicians’ hard-earned popularity. To earn real relevance and build positive connections, brands must innovate to find ways to co-create and enrich the experience.

Pop culture holds up a mirror to the zeitgeist; meaning that music is always a vehicle for cultural relevance. For brands, understanding that enduring connection is vital.

Claire Barrett is Head of Strategy at Thirst

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