Most successful (and not so successful) recording artists have a fairly short period of time to cash in on their fame. Singles go down the charts as quickly as they rise. Musical trends can become passe in an instant.
And for brands there is the temptation to feel if they miss out on an artist's commercial peak, then customers will not feel their brand is current or hip enough to get noticed in an atmosphere of clutter. But they also might overpay at the peak. It's a tricky balance to strike. Music is meaningful to brands in so many ways, and they don't want to leave the field open to competitors if a particular artist of the moment is selling a boatload of records.
But, despite my advocacy of brands associating themselves with music and vice versa, there are still deals which make me hold my nose for various reasons. Sometimes it's a lack of an organic fit. Sometimes a brand will use a treasured song in such a way as to make the song or the artist who recorded it seem less classy.
Dr. Pepper just paid the semi-successful pop-punk band Cartel to live inside a bubble on a pier in New York City while recording their new record. The effort was filmed for an MTV reality show which ended last month. Sure, it's interesting to see the creative process of making an album, especially by a fairly new band (though Metallica's "Some Kind of Monster" is a much more insightful look into that world). But it seems like such a marketing STUNT! Where is the authenticity? Now the Dr. Pepper brand supports music in numerous ways; this particular tactic, however, reeks of crass commercialism.
And now, Candie's has just paid multi-platinum artist Fergie $4 million to appear in some ads - and will pay her to incorporate the brand into her song lyrics by design. First off, I'll admit to not being a fan of Fergie's in any way, shape, or form, whether as a solo artist or a member of the Black Eyed Peas (who used to be a half-decent, though not commercially successful hip-hop group before Fergie entered the picture). I found her distasteful even before this came to light. And I am not surprised to see her or her label taking the cash - the marketing of this artist has always been about cash and flash above any sense of musical quality. Nevertheless, America has bought into Fergie as a superstar.
But it's one thing for an artist to give a shout-out to their favorite brand(s) in a song and another, more distasteful thing for the artist to accept cash to ensure that a brand is mentioned in one or more songs they record. That's blatant product placement. It's making the song a commercial in and of itself. But the questions for Candie's are: "What happens if the next Fergie album sucks?," "What happens if the next Fergie album doesn't sell?," and "What happens if the other songs on Fergie's next album are sexually explicit or distasteful to the moms who buy the brand for their daughters?"
Record labels and pop artists are not in a position of power. If they see cash like this, then they will grab it and run to the bank in an instant. They will say "yes" and promise you a lot. They may even deliver you a lot, but they still want to deliver more to their fans and to radio and video and Internet outlets than they want to for your brand. And what they deliver to them might trump what they deliver for your brand. Remember Madonna and Pepsi? Need I say more?