SoStereo's 2018 New York AdWeek Panel Recap: How To Make Brands Memorable Through Music

SoStereo recaps their panel at AdWeek on how brands can leverage music to make their message more memorable with consumers and how to best authentically integrate into the culture.
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SoStereo AdWeek 2018 Panel

(L-R) Javier Farfan, Alisa Alexander, Neil Shah, Eric Johnson, Salo Sterental

On October 3, SoStereo hosted a panel on "How To Make Brands Memorable Through Music" as part of Advertising Week in New York City. Alisa Alexander, Global Head of Music, Anheuser-Busch InBev, Javier Farfan, Strategic Advisor, J-Wolf Advisors, Eric Johnson, SVP & Executive Integrated Music Producer, McCann NYC and Neil Shah, Global Marketing Director of Smirnoff joined SoStereo’s cofounder Salo Sterental who moderated the panel. The goal was for the speakers to share their experience and knowledge while providing insights on how brands can best leverage music to connect with consumers with their brand and its message.

Salo opened the talk with some remarks on just how important music is to humans in that it helps you recall things, it is an important way to communicate and it makes you feel something.

A big focus of the panel is how as a company you approach music and do it the right way. They use their own experiences and others such as Red Bull, Converse or Spotify, which tied into the culture of music and didn’t just use it as a soundtrack for a commercial. As a brand you have to be in the right space and be there authentically, so understanding which music culture would fit your brand, approach it correctly and then sticking with it is key. The speakers commend brands like Red Bull and Converse who have been a big part of music culture for many years and stuck with it, even when it hasn’t gotten all of the headlines.

While all partners work in some way with electronic music, Smirnoff has worked extensively in electronic music for the past seven to 10 years, focusing on making the genre more equitable. Neil Shah spoke about how they have had female DJs mentor other female DJs, sponsored festivals with equal lineups and partnered with Spotify to launch the equalizer. The equalizer analyzes users listening behavior (if they opt in) and could see how equal their listening patters were and based on the data, a playlist would recommend artists for them.

An important piece is how you first identify how to connect music to your campaign. Alisa Alexander spoke about how to identify the role of music for the consumer, and then understand how your brand fits into that. If you have different brands in your company, see how they each interact with the music and consumers. Farfan made the key observation that music is something you really have to live in and understand more than other parts of the business, like Shah said, “you can’t be a cultural tourist.”

A major shift in the business is how data has changed how music’s impact can be measured in campaigns. Johnson, drawing on his years of agency experience, spoke about how in the past everything was largely based on gut feeling, but now with data science, companies can use data to help guide their decisions in tandem. When it is used right, they work together, not one leading the other.

The panel ended with an audience question about working with emerging artists. Alexander took the lead and said that while working with established artists can be great for reach, collaborations can be harder. Emerging artists can be easier and better to work with since you can offer more resources and exposure and they are more excited to promote you. It also makes you more credible since you are working with emerging acts.

That point should be made again and again for brands that think that only working with big artists is worth their time. It is lazy to think that partnering with an established act is the only route for a brand to take when launching a campaign. It can give the brand reach at the outset, but it will be costly to sign them and the artist may be apprehensive to do more for you unless you prod them with more money beyond the initial launch. Emerging artists will feel more grateful for the resources you are giving them and may be more open to ideas like partnering on a new song for the brand, an innovative concert series or pop-up activations. It will also embed you more in the culture, which can pay dividends down the road if you want to make inroads within it. Just as Sprite or Hennessey have become a strong partner in hip-hop, Vans in punk or Smirnoff in electronic music, there is plenty of room for brands in genres that show genuine interest in it and start with authentic, emerging acts.

A symbiotic relationship that Javier Farfan spoke about with one large artist and a bunch of smaller acts they want to support could also work, but it would have to be for the right campaign. Working with the smaller artists gives the added advantage of a strong fanbase who feel invested in their career from the start and could feel that same attachment to your brand if the artists send them to the brand. The return on investment is a long term one. You won’t have to spend tons of money right away to invest in artists, but you can build out a longer campaign that then leads to other opportunities and potentially create a brand partner for years to come. Investing in music should be something your brand works to do as a long-term strategy, not just in short bursts. If you invest in the culture, the culture will invest in you. If you invest in the artist, the artist will invest in you. If you invest in those and do it authentically, the consumer will see it and invest in you. 

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