What lessons can adland learn from the music industry?

By AdNews | 2 September 2019

Olivier Robert-Murphy is global head of new business for Universal Music Group. Here he discusses the lessons adland could learn from a business that has come through the other side of disruption.

The advertising industry is still in the throes of a digital transformation - internally (with the adoption of processes such as programmatic trading) and externally (the continued rise of audiences engaging on digital platforms). The music business was the first to undergo this transformation and has come through the other side. What can the music biz teach adland?

It is true the music industry was the first to be hit by the digital world, but it is also true to say that it was the first industry to fully embrace it. It would be presumptuous for the music “biz” to teach anyone what to do but, there are lessons to be learned. In our case it was the level of partnership and the real value our suite of services contributed to our artists careers that ensured the industry returned to growth for all involved. On a personal level, I would say 1) embrace change, try, fail and fix - and 2) be aware, listen and invest in tech, the small start-ups of today, could be the Spotify, Instagram or Netflix of tomorrow.


The rise of digital channels is an opportunity and a challenge for adland. To your mind, what is the opportunity and what is the challenge?

We spent years living in a society of TV-led advertising, with a bit of radio, a dash of print and a touch of billboard advertising thrown in to the mix.

The opportunity now lies in the relationship between culture and a brand. Yes, navigating new digital channels could be seen as a challenge but, music fans and passionate brand enthusiasts are adaptable and know where to go. The partnership between Imagine Dragons and Dubai tourism, resulted in 1 billion, 267 million people viewing the video to “Thunder”, filmed in Dubai, then going on to check out the bands’ behind the scenes b-roll experiences. Resulting in 24% growth in positive uptake for under-30s wanting to visit Dubai.

In this exciting world of audiovisual channels, creativity through branded content, storytelling and all those other impressive marketing terms everyone likes to use now - sorry I digress -, creativity can now express itself in so many fantastic new ways. Be creative, tell the truth, stay culturally relevant and you will have no challenge.


Shifting audience demand has resulted in a downturn for traditional television viewing, arguably depriving advertisers of "mass reach". This has had a knock-on effect for the music industry, similarly depriving its artists of "mass reach" in a traditional sense. Do you agree with this and if so, can anything be done to combat it?

Who are the most influential ambassadors in the world today? No1. are music artists, No2. are athletes. Why do you think brands spend millions sponsoring music-related activities, even empowering artists as creative directors for their brand? By matching the passion points of an artist with the real values of a brand, you could reach and engage with millions of consumers, in a meaningful way. That said, as formats evolve opportunities continue to develop. Artists are culture creators; our role is to innovate and connect them with every possible emerging opportunity to reach new audiences and their fans. “Mass reach” certainly still exists, we just get there through multiple new and traditional routes.

To our mind, the music industry has always been the master of advertising and marketing. It markets several things at any one moment in time- a product, an image, a story, a human, an emotion - and does so to highly-targeted audiences. At its core, this is about nurturing connections. How would a brand go about replicating this?

 If you think about it, the world of digital advertising is not all that different than it was 10 years ago. We used to measure TV ad efficacy with GRP, Gross Rating Point, a rating that would multiply the percentage of your audience reach by the exposure frequency, i.e. 40% of my target audience has seen the ad 3 times = 120 GRP. The way that we measure has changed, it has got more precise, but the purpose is the same. If you create digital content, you need to convey the same message in a more creative and entertaining manner, for a digital attention economy, that is more competitive than ever. The multi-channel, omnipresent digital world in which we live is a huge opportunity, and an opportunity that we embrace here at Universal Music. Look at Lewis Capaldi’s Instagram, for instance; note the genuine connections -  the way in which he appeals to his audience, his ‘demographic’, in a frank and personal way. 


Let me also take the example of Aloft Stars. We created a program with Marriott to help emerging artists release their music to the world. At its core, this program is about nurturing connections. Marriott is becoming a real platform for artists to tell their story and connect people around the world. The brand reaches out to a new audience through music and creativity and is able to market its values in a genuine and emotional way. 


There are many ways for brands to leverage from the music business. Long gone are the days when it was all about jingles and live music/event sponsorship. Can you give us a couple of examples of successful cutting-edge integrations from the last 12 months?

Today, it all starts with insights. An over-used track in a TV campaign or irrelevant product placements in music videos, are boring me to death. You need to understand the voice of the artist and the beliefs of a brand and listen to consumers. That is why everything we do starts with insights. When you know what consumers want from a brand, then that helps us to truly inform the creative, and deliver the best experience to the consumer. I have many examples. I am in Australia so let me talk about Wrigley’s and how they “used” pre-roll dedicated advertising space to promote new talents, with the help of established artists. The more you watch these pre-rolls, the more chance these new artist had to get signed.

Another example is our collaboration with National Geographic and Zedd. Nat Geo were launching a new TV series called One Strange Rock, which is about Planet Earth seen from afar. Our data and insights identified Zedd as a perfect match for the cause and campaign. He met with astronauts and other experts to create the soundtrack for the project. The creative journey was filmed and shared with his fans. Add to this, a personalised music video; an authentic #lovelettertoearth, and you end up with the best viewing ratings.


Marketers are faced with unlimited choices. I've noted how you've spoken about content marketing being a way to create intimacy, but marketers have been turning their backs on content for fear of its lack of response and propensity to measure. How would you turn that reputation around?

If I ask any Ariana Grande, Billie Eilish or Lana Del Rey fan, what do you think they will say? “She’s my friend”. How do you explain that one artist, one person, one brand, can be friends with 100M people? That is because their content is genuine. They inspire, they inform, they entertain, they help- sometimes, and they reward. That is what content marketing is all about. By being true to themselves, they generate natural intimacy. A lot of people talk about reach, but reach is not important. Engagement is; people that like, comment or share to their own friends. 

One last point, measurement is absolutely key. Everyone speaks today about KPI, ROI, etc. They are right to do so, and this should be defined pre-campaign. But personally, I prefer to talk about Return On Influencers.

You've spoken about "brand purpose" in the past. People seem divided on this. Should brands have a purpose/how does it serve them/will audiences see through it? What is your overall opinion - can it be done well?

At Cannes Lions this year, there were 3 or 4 key themes, but one of the most significant was brand purpose. Consumers want to know what a brand stands for, they want it to be aligned with their own beliefs, and if it isn’t, it will pass them by. This is not conjecture, Havas recently released an updated version of a report called Meaningful Brands, which rates a brand on a multitude of factors pertaining to its influences on their consumers - it’s no coincidence that brands that have embraced and aligned their purpose far outperform their peers on the stock exchange.

When we look at brand integrations with music, we see it working well with household names. Brands that can afford household names are few and far between. Is it worth a brand's investment finding an opportunity with an upcoming artist?

Here, you are attempting to sort artists into binary categories; the superstars and the unknowns. The fact is, that most artists sit somewhere in between. We have the tools, data and expertise to identify the best alignment for a brand, even with newly emerging artists. Numerous brands are keen to partner with a new artist and take the journey with them and their fans. Other brands want to support us in finding new artists in active global campaigns. I still remember fondly when we presented Lady Gaga to a famous Telco in Asia and they said “Who?”. Also, a local, aspiring artist could be the next global phenomenon, look at Billie Eilish. Actually, in our industry, this is almost always the case.  

Voice. Brands are struggling with it. Seems to me music might be able to help brands navigate this new world. Is this correct, and if so, how?

One of my favorite voice related campaigns was an Amazon one, which aired during the NFL Superbowl finale, When Alexa lost her voice… And how fortuitous, that they turn to celebrities from the music and entertainment world to cover for her. Voice is just another brilliant opportunity for creativity.

I read that 40% of people say “Please” and “Thank you” to Alexa. No harm in being polite, but more importantly, it means voice is perceived as human, and elicits the same human emotions.

 Tell us about how you see the intersection of brands and music developing....

In a world where 98% of people love or like music, every brand needs to have a music point of view - a voice in culture. The challenge for brands is to identify and keep up with cultural trends – many of which are often shaped by music and artists. And of course, trends, by their very nature, are a moving target.

In short, music artists generate what we refer to as “cultural capital” and it is this capital that is driving their cultural relevance as well as the people and brands associated with them. At Universal Music, we work with multiple brands to define and create their music strategy and purpose, using our data, insight and expertise. Working in this manner, collaborating on ideas, brings innovation and some very stimulating conversations, that’s for sure.

Your role. What is it that you find yourself doing on a day to day basis?

I spend much of my time articulating what music can do for brands. I meet with CMOs and CEOs to understand their needs, I travel the world to wherever they are, and I am pleased to say that these conversations quite often lead to unforgettable and timeless music, created by and in partnership with our talented artists, of course. That is the theory. In practice, I am proud to see myself spending at least 60% of my time managing an international team of young, multilingual and multicultural experts around the globe.

You are coming to Australia for the AANA Reset Conference. What is it you plan on speaking about the audience of marketers?

I am planning to demonstrate that despite the velocity of new media, the fundamentals of marketing are constant. I am planning to show many videos of campaigns from all around the world, to illustrate everything we talked about in this interview up to now. And finally, I am going to talk about love.

Because love is what drives everything that we do in music. Because we never talk about love in a business environment and because, as Shakespeare said: “if music be the food of love, play on!”


Olivier will be speaking at RESET, the AANA conference that shouldn't be missed by any marketer. It's an exciting opportunity to be inspired by leading international speakers primed to disrupt thinking and equip us to confront everyday challenges – now and into the future. AANA has curated thought-provoking sessions to encourage marketers to disrupt their thinking for the year ahead. It’s an inspirational networking event that’s sure to challenge accepted marketing practices. 

AANA’s RESET event

Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Royal Randwick Racecourse, Sydney

Tickets: http://reset.aana.com.au/

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