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10 May 2013

“I'm with the brand” – Pop Culture in Advertising


You may have noticed an interesting trend recently - brands are enlisting musicians as creative directors. Justin Timberlake is at Bud Light, Lady Gaga has been at Polaroid for a while, and Swizz Beats is on the board at Monster while his wife, Alicia Keys, was recruited by BlackBerry for the launch of their saviour OS – BB10.

BlackBerry has chosen a strategy of trying to reach out to a certain kind of audience and target specific mobile technology users, such as musicians, writers, artists and other creatives with the "Keep Moving" campaign.

As one of those consumers who is constantly on the lookout for the newest handset, I find the campaign engaging in a way that makes me feel like I can depend and rely on BlackBerry to give me technology I need in my busy life. This is a handset that will help me with my creative objectives. This phone is a reliable mobile companion to successful creatives, such as Alicia Keys, film director Robert Rodruiguez and – unusually, fantasy author Neil Gaiman. BlackBerry make it clear in the ad that the phone is not a catch-all device, but instead is aimed at users who are interested at looking at the world through a creative lens.

The initial, "Keep Moving" video is definitely catchy. The photography could be better, with more personalised angles, and maybe some footage that evokes the art of making movies, or recording a track, maybe a guitar player accompanied by a certain app in the phone.  The stories need to be about "progress”, to communicate the "keep moving” message. But beyond all this, there is still disconnect between the scenery and beautiful shots in the picture and the product itself, as if the ad was created before the handset.

Brand and celebrity partnerships are difficult to get right. The key element is to make sure the person involved is related to the features of the product and the intended audience. Involving musician just for the sake of it can backfire; I've seen several tweets facetiously asking if BlackBerry’s Creative Director Alicia Keys actually has an office at her new digs.

Recently, Barclays decided to eschew pop culture, and go for a slightly more highbrow approach with an opera based on finance trading floors. Is Barclays and opera a good mix? The concept of this campaign is an effort to explain the realities of the trade market, investments and behavioural finance world, but it seems to be too experimental and frantic for people seriously engaged in trading, stock exchange and business related matters. It does attract attention from people interested in the arts and if the goal is to educate art fans about investment banking, then this certainly seems to fulfil the brief.

I have a nagging suspicion that those in the investment business would be better targeted with a more new media approach, and it’s possibly too confusing and involved for newcomers to the financial world. The campaign demands familiarity with terms and practices of the trade - and as I can recall from my early-age experiences at the opera, when you're trying to get a grasp of the story - singing about matters in an operatic manner doesn't make things any clearer.

The exhibition element of the campaign is a different approach to visualising data and explaining things. It works well on a certain level, the way the ideas are displayed as paintings and works of art is appealing and positions Barclays a clever, more cultured banking name, with enough ideas to connect entertainment and business, educational and informational matters. But there is a question of inaccessibility of the exhibition to larger audiences.

Sometimes, the link between brand and musician defies all the rules, but still somehow fits. The UK's Milk Marketing Forum has for some time now been running its 'Make Mine Milk' campaign, which features a variety of high profile individuals sporting milk moustaches in an attempt to promote the nutritional values of milk while at the same time making it a cool alternative to fizzy drinks. Names to have taken part so far include Denise Lewis and a number of Team GB athletes from the London 2012 Olympics and, most recently, X-Factor pop star Amelia Lily – who somehow just seems more Labrini than Gold Top.

Perhaps one of the most unusual combinations has to be Dulux paint and one of the members of Girls Aloud, Nicola Roberts. Dulux has enlisted the famously pale and ginger singer to front its new shade of indigo paint in a series of arty (what they call 'editorial' on America's Next Top Model) images. This may sound ridiculous, but when you analyse it, the pairing actually makes a lot of sense. Girls Aloud are very much in the press due to their recent farewell tour and subsequent split. Roberts isn't known for her interior decorating skills, but she does have an association with unconventional and high-end fashion through her dealings with Vivienne Westwood and indigo is a relatively unconventional paint colour. The images look like something from a Westwood catalogue, and extend the atmosphere of haute couture into the usually traditional (sometimes mundane) world of paint advertising.

What the Dulux campaign shows, is that the brand-artist connection doesn't have to be an immediately obvious one. Consumers who are fans of a particular artist will spot the connection, and those who don't recognise the artist can still appreciate the creative.

Brands and pop culture figures are always going be an attractive partnership, but the days of global brand campaigns fronted by superstars could well be over. We still talk about the Pepsi ads with Michael Jackson from the 80s – but most people would struggle to name a similar partnership since 2000 (we’ll see how long the Pepsi-Beyonce collaboration lasts). Thanks to online channels, brands can now exploit relationships with niche artists to reach passionate niche audiences. It means some risks – but risks can be invigorating, and surely that's something all brands want in their advertising?

By Evelina Sorokoviha, Creative Designer, Say Media


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