by Kim Penstone. If there’s one business that’s been as turned on its head by the advent of the internet as the advertising industry has, it’s the music industry. It is almost serendipitous that the two sectors should align to create a new marketing model.

Branded music video

‘New’ might be stretching the description slightly; after all, music has been a bedrock of advertising since the dawn of radio and TV, says William Nicholson, co-founder and producer of Arcade Content. But it is only fairly recently that this collaboration has come into its own — with a branded music video not only winning acclaim and awards in the advertising arena but also in the music biz.

Upside Down and Inside Out, a music video by OK Go, mind-bogglingly shot in zero gravity, doubles as a three-minute advertisement for the Russian airline, S7 Airlines, which provided both the budget and the setting.

“Upside Down and Inside Out was a hit for the band, the brand and their fans, with over 50m views on Facebook alone,” explains Kevin Kriedemann, marketing manager for production companies Arcade Content and Egg Films. “Conceptualised by the band with Russian agency TutkovBudkov, the music video has already won branded content awards from the London International Awards, Ciclope Festival and The Shots Awards. But I think the Grammy nomination for Best Music Video places it in the realm of a real tipping point campaign.”

SA tipping point

Locally, he cites Khuli Chana’s One Source album as the South African tipping point.

“Guided by NativeVML, Absolut not only sponsored the music video but backed the album as a whole, which went on to top the iTunes charts and has just been nominated for a South African Music Award (SAMA) for Best Rap Album. Khuli performed One Source at Cassper Nyovest’s historic, sold-out Orlando stadium concert, which is the kind of memory you can’t put a value to. With seven awards from its 14 nominations, One Source was both the most-awarded and most-nominated advertising campaign at this year’s Bookmarks, where it won the only Gold for Branded Content.”

These are among the more-extreme versions of the alliance between brands and music. Earlier incarnations, which exploited the relationship to a much-lesser degree, include the likes of Cadbury’s “Gorilla”, Toyota’s “Swagger Wagon”, and Virgin Airline’s “Safety Dance”.

Locally, Red Bull was an early adopter, with product placement in Die Antwoord’s “Baby’s on Fire”.

On first consideration, it would seem that brands and musicians would make uneasy bedfellows: the combination of the tightly controlled corporate world with the archetypal independence of the music industry. So what prompted the alliance?

Exploring new models

From the advertising industry perspective, it’s fairly obvious. In a world maxed out by marketing, brands need to find a voice that consumers will choose to hear. And, from a music industry perspective, the old financial model of relying on CD sales has been broken, which creates an openness to exploring new models, such as brand sponsorships.

“So the timing’s been good,” says Kriedemann. “Brands need content that people actually want to watch, and musicians and music video directors need the resources that brands can provide. When it’s done properly, it’s a natural fit. Brands have always dreamt of having fans as passionate as the kids in the front row at a concert; bands have always dreamt of being able to actually pay their music video directors.”

He adds, however, that the genre doesn’t come without its challenges:

“Matching the right brand to the right musician to the right music video director isn’t simple. Each element brings its own associations, which need to fit naturally. If anything feels fake, everything can break, especially when representing subcultures.”

William Nicholson
William Nicholson


Nicholson adds that perhaps the biggest challenge is ensuring that the end result is shareable: “You have to make something shareable otherwise it will flop — for the brand, and the band. YouTube, Facebook and other platforms are brutal.”

In this way, the genre is no different to any other form of advertising. It has to be seen to be heard.

For Nicholson, the best way of ensuring shareability is the ‘fun factor’: “Often traditional ads are too busy trying to be clever, overly conceptual or deep, when what most people will enjoy and share are pieces that put a smile on their face. People love music and its ability to lift your mood or make you dance or simply break the tedium of our office-bound lives.”

If you get it all right, the end result is what Nicholson calls “perfect symbiosis”, where everybody wins: the brand reaches its target market and the artist scores a piece of content with a much-bigger budget and reach than most artists or labels may afford.

Here to stay

Kriedemann concludes that there is no doubt that this genre is here to stay, but also that it is just getting started: “Music videos are still waiting for their Lego Movie equivalent of a branded content breakthrough.”


Kim PenstoneKim Penstone is a freelance journalist, specialising in marketing, media and advertising. Over the past 15 years, she has worked for a variety of leading marketing industry publications, including Marketing Mix, Marketingweb and Brand Magazine, and in her freelance capacity contributes regularly to specialist titles, such as Brands & Branding, AdFocus and MarkLives. She has recently started a blog,, which is completely unrelated to the marketing industry.

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