SXSW Panel: Are Brands the New Music Tastemakers?

By Laura Ferreiro

While most of Austin was still asleep or nursing their hangovers, a few dozen of us gathered in the Austin Convention Center on the last day of the South by Southwest music festival to discuss how brands and musical artists can effectively work together to create mutually beneficial campaigns, and the role brands can play in being musical trailblazers.

In a panel titled “Are Brands the New Music Tastemakers?,” representatives from major consumer brands including Kerry Doyle of Ford Motor Company, Brenden Miller of Under Armour, and Raul Ruiz of Corona, explained the value that their brands see in partnering with musicians, including those from several genres that run the gamut from hugely popular to up-and-coming.

“I like to work with bands that are just bubbling up,” said Miller about his work with sports apparel brand Under Armour. A former artist manager, Miller is relatively new to his role with the company, which involves strategically integrating music into the brand’s advertising and marketing campaigns.

Meanwhile, Ford has worked with everyone from country superstar Toby Keith to burgeoning indie bands including Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros and The Lumineers, and proudly pointed to the success of its “Rider Challenge” series.

The web series aired on Live Nation’s website and featured teams driving around different cities in Ford Fiestas to fill the bands’ tour rider requests, which ranged from blue M&M’s to Turkish towels. The winning team drove home two Ford Fiestas, and received unlimited passes to attend Live Nation concerts for a year.

Doyle said that the campaign was a great way to attract the attention of Millennials, and received a huge amount of media coverage in outlets ranging from Variety to Billboard. “It got a lot of great PR,” she said of the series, which aired during the fourth quarter of 2013. “The brands pushed it and so did the bands,” she added, pointing out that Ford has such a big reach that the artists get great exposure from these partnerships as well as the brand.

Doyle also said that Ford recently teamed up with indie record label IAMSOUND and Pitchfork TV to present a series of invitation-only concerts in Los Angeles with up-and-coming artists on IAMSOUND’s label, including Guards and MS MR. “It needs to be something more than pasting your logo all over the place,” she said of the partnerships. “Brands need to move at the speed of culture or ahead of it.”

Meanwhile, Corona teamed up with the hugely popular Latin rock band Mana to tap into the Latin market. The beer purveyors launched “Mana Como Nunca” (Mana Like Never Before), which featured rising Latin artists “refreshing” classic Mana songs and putting their own spin on the band’s hits. Corona customers received exclusive, free access to the tracks online and were entered into a sweepstakes for a VIP concert experience with Mana in Las Vegas.

While each brand has its own distinctive ways of reaching customers through music, there’s one thing they all agreed upon – each of the brands uses music to connect to people’s emotions. The one thing that’s undeniable, Miller said, is that “music connects with everyone.”

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