Robert Sawatzky
Feb 22, 2021

The secret to better brand collaborations with artists

SPIKES ASIA X CAMPAIGN: Warner Music’s brand partnerships lead and singer-songwriter Nathan Hartono look at how to create win-win scenarios for brands and artists.

The secret to better brand collaborations with artists

In many ways, the pandemic has been a nightmare for musicians—a killer of live performances, stadium concerts, mosh pits and rock star mobs. There’s a big crowd element that gives energy to music, and it’s no longer there.

For Singaporean singer-songwriter Nathan Hartono, “2020 was definitely very difficult. Live performing is how I get a lot of my self-belief. I get a lot of self-confidence from the audience,” he said in a Spikes Asia X Campaign presentation Monday, admitting 2021 will not be much better. “Life, in all its variety gives you so much inspiration. But the moment life became same-ish and the days just stuck together, creativity became a real struggle.“

Be different

Fortunately, necessity is the mother of invention and in the Spikes Asia session geared at showing more effective ways brands and music artists can partner together, Warner served up a multitude of new formats, including artists showing up in video games to local coffee shop promos to viral TikTok videos and mass multimillion audience livestreams.

“We can’t just look to duplicate the live experience, we have to think about creating something new for a pandemic era,” Hartono said, pointing to how fashion houses like Prada are reinventing fashion shows in this era by abandoning the traditional catwalk for music video-style productions. “Think about the audience at home and how they’re consuming it,” he said.

Have purpose

Just like brands increasingly want to connect with consumers through purpose, so too can brands and artists align on worthy causes. 

“To me it’s almost an obligation to give back, because I have been blessed and given so much that it would just make me a huge dick if I didn’t help out others,“ Hartono said. “So I love it when there is some kind of a charitable cause tied to a gig.”

Hartono has teamed up with Amazon this year on a local Christmas promotion whereby people could donate to those less fortunate by directly buying and donating any needed supplies, from dog food to diapers. He also gravitates toward initiatives involving arts education and music for young people or those with mental challenges. Hartono is part of Project Unsung, a World Mental Health Day initiative, after originally being pitched by agency Iris in Singapore.

Have meaning

Having purpose can be a great connection between brand and artist, notes Warner’s regional head of brand partnerships, Becky Yeung, but really works best only when something is truly meaningful to the artist.

Becky Yeung, regional head of brand partnerships, Warner Music

“It would be all well and good if there is an initiative to support a charity, but if that charity isn’t something the artist supports, it doesn’t mean as much,” she said. “Ultimately it’s not necessarily about a purpose or cause behind a campaign but it’s actually more about what connects best with the artist and what’s authentic to them so they can speak from the heart. So it can be as simple as a product they use every day or something that they grew up with.”

Here she sites Hartono’s collaboration with Disney this year to promote the movie Soul, a studio he connected with as a kid, or his collaboration with Riot Games on League of Legends, which he enjoys playing himself.

Pixar collaboration

Short of hobbies, working in the artist’s medium also helps.

“My favourite brand activations always involve music,” Hartono adds, who has created jingles for Starbucks, and mixed beats for Puma. “It means a lot more to me when I can apply my craft to a job.“

Communicate with the label

A final piece of advice that Yeung gives to brands is to communicate early and often with music labels like hers.  Being upfront about objectives and what you’re trying to achieve will allow labels like Warner to share the right insights, data and find the right artists for them, working towards a win-win scenario that doesn’t always need to cost a ton of money.

She also advises to bring in the artist in as early as possible to the project instead of ironing everything out beforehand.

“I’ve been on the agency side and I know how important it is to feel like you need to get to the right idea or the right creative concept before you look for external talent,” Yeung said. But the talent can help lead to the right audience, she said. “Maybe try things differently and start from the talent or the music first and build out from there.”


See all our Spikes Asia X Campaign coverage:

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