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Electronic music invades ads

For the first time, brands are using dance music to score cool points.

Photograph: Chris Davison
The Martinez Brothers

Covering the clubs beat for a magazine has always meant that the line between work and play is a blurry one. Typically, the day of rest is an exception. That is, until I saw New York underground house duo the Martinez Brothers talking up their BlackBerry Bolds during a Mad Men commercial break a few weeks ago.

Kelly Clarkson endorsing a car or Beyoncé bigging up a TV set, this I’m used to. Pop stars have long subsidized their music-industry paychecks with ad gigs. So have star athletes. But does the average Mad Men viewer even know who the Martinez Brothers or Diplo—who was in an earlier version of the campaign—are?

Marinating on it further, I realized it hardly matters. When BlackBerry has two charismatic young DJs talking up how integral their phones are to their jet-setter lifestyles, that’s cool. Mad Men fans appreciate nothing if not cool, and the ailing phone giant knows it.

So do Absolut, Hyundai, Microsoft, Mountain Dew, Pizza Hut and Under Armour. These are global brands that have all featured DJs and dance music heavily throughout recent ad campaigns, and the list doesn’t stop there. A brand seeking authenticity through clever manipulation of the latest fad is hardly revolutionary, but this current trend-tapping is the first time that electronic music has been used for anything besides groovy background sounds.

Agencies are taking these campaigns to new heights, all of them propelled by the tireless thump of the beat. Hyundai footed the bill for multiple studio sessions and a subsequent documentary called RE:Generation, which featured some of today’s top electronic musicians, like mellow beat maker Pretty Lights and dubstep don Skrillex, working with heritage acts like bluegrass legend Dr. Ralph Stanley and the surviving members of the Doors.

In a bit of a chicken and egg scenario, Absolut went so far as to tap electro’s biggest asset, Swedish House Mafia, for “Greyhound,” a club hit, video, Facebook app and cocktail campaign. Which came first, the song or the high-paying contract? It’s not entirely clear. Either way, Absolut has its name attached, scoring major visibility and credibility among a much sought after demographic of young consumers who are desensitized to traditional advertising.

The corporate brands aren’t the only ones with something to gain. Many of the DJs involved in these campaigns are part of the same generation that BlackBerry and the like are trying to win over, a savvy group The New York Times has dubbed “Generation Sell.”

The marketing game is no mystery to someone like mega-producer and BlackBerry endorser Diplo. Given his current popularity, he’s almost as big of a brand. He’s also an artist thriving at a time when record sales just don’t cut it.

The Diplo machine is as multifaceted as any advertising campaign, boasting labels, remix projects, production contracts for pop stars like Usher and Justin Bieber and a never-ending tour schedule. Making clubland gold isn’t Diplo’s only forte. He’s well aware of what jumping on a TV commercial will do to help his popularity—and his bank account.

Mad Men helped put the spotlight on another aspect of music and marketing. It was reported that a Beatles song used in a recent episode cost AMC about $250,000. Sure, that’s for one of the biggest bands ever, but it still illustrates that licensing for TV and commercials is incredibly lucrative.

Back in the day, acts like the Beatles would have deemed the use of their music to help peddle products selling out. Today, it’s just selling, and to be any good at it, you have to be pretty cool.

The Martinez Brothers touch down at Spy Bar on Friday 18.

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