Music: The Next Luxury Frontier?


Sophie Doran | March 02, 2012

Why have so few luxury brands dared to take musical marketing beyond catwalk DJ's, musicians as ambassadors or zeitgeist-relevant accompaniments to advertising?

For the launch of Very Irrésistible Givenchy Electric Rose, Liv Tyler reinterpreted ‘Need You Tonight’ by INXS, with a music video by Johan Renck

Why have so few luxury brands dared to take musical marketing beyond catwalk DJ’s, musicians as ambassadors or zeitgeist-relevant accompaniments to advertising?

Much has been said regarding the shift from one-sided ‘advertising’ to experiential ‘engagement’ in the luxury industry. Digitally evolved consumers seek out brands with the capacity to converse across multiple channels, in innovative and game-changing ways. Interactive video, animation, gaming, augmented reality, social media and mobile apps are just some of the many modern tools that brands are using to interact with audiences.

Surprisingly, music – one of the oldest methods of communication in the history of human existence – has remained comparatively unexploited. Prehistoric musical instruments have been found in China dating back to between 7000BC, yet we can only count a handful of campaigns in the luxury industry where music has been used as an independent and primary channel of communication. Digital tools are little more than a decade old and they are absolutely unavoidable, so why is it that luxury brands choose not to engage music with the same faith and enthusiasm?

“In recent years, consumer purchase decisions have become more weighted towards emotional attributes rather than functional benefits,” explains Ruth Simmons, Managing Director of strategic music consultancy SongSeekers International. “As we become increasingly ‘high tech’, we crave personalisation and ‘high touch.’ Subsequently, experienced-based marketing that focuses on communicating the emotional values of Brands is the current trend and way forward.”

“ Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent – Victor Hugo ”

“Music is a powerful medium that can bring the emotional qualities of products to life and help activate a Brand promise,” Ruth continues. “The true marketing potential of music is that without any other stimulus, it can access a mood, emotion, and deeply move specific demographics within a target market in just a few seconds. In addition, the heritage of music, through the artist, genre and etcetera, can reflect a culture, a time period and lifestyle without even playing a note.”

Granted you are probably thinking that luxury brands have and do use music in their marketing, and to a degree you are correct. Carefully curated playlists have traditionally – and frequently – played a complimentary role to runway shows, television advertising and retail ecosystems, providing audible confirmation of moods, references or ideas, which brands wish to be associated with.

Sound stylists exist and work with brands such as Robuchon, Viceroy, Marriott (Prescriptive Music), Mulberry, Dunhill (Music Concierge), Armani, Chaumet, LVMH, Four Seasons (Time 4 Play) and Ritz-Carlon, Saks, Luxoticca, Brioni (Sonodea).

Florence Welch performing live at Chanel’s Spring Summer 2011 runway show

The fashion industry has maintained an intimate relationship with music for decades, whether it be Daft Punk composing and mixing catwalk scores for Louis Vuitton or Kim Jones calling on Giorgio Moroder to provide the live soundtrack for Vuitton’s Fall Winter 2012 men’s collection. Karl Lagerfeld has been known to commission an 80 piece philharmonic orchestra for a runway show, or commission Florence Welch to perform live during Chanel’s Spring Summer 2011 presentation at Grand Palais.

Parisian DJ Michel Gaubert has a longstanding relationship with Chanel, collaborating with Karl Lagerfeld since the 1980’s when he worked as a record buyer in Paris. Gaubert has gone on to runway soundtracks for Chanel, Raf Simons, Balenciaga, Y-3, Dries Van Noten, Rodarte and Proenza Schouler, just to name a few.

Mulberry recently named a handbag after Lana Del Rey, Dolce & Gabbana frequently dress emerging stars like Bruno Mars and Florrie, and Louis Vuitton called on Keith Richards for an advertising campaign. Gucci commissioned DJ Mark Ronson to collaborate on a sneaker collection and later dressed Florence Welch exclusively in Fall Winter 2011-2012 for Florence and the Machine’s tour of the United States.

But despite the popularity and frequency of luxury brand and musical collaborations, few brands have dared to take musical marketing beyond catwalk DJ’s, musicians as ambassadors or zeitgeist-relevant accompaniments to advertising.

“ The true marketing potential of music is that without any other stimulus. It can access a mood, emotion & deeply move specific demographics in just a few seconds ”

Perhaps this is set to change. There have been a few brands of late – admittedly mostly fashion brands – that have launched marketing strategies where music is being used to personify the brand rather than support or enhance it. Moving away from accentuation or background noise into more complex communications propositions – the message over the medium, if you will.

“What Burberry are doing is nothing short of genius,” suggests Ian Sorensen, creative director of Direct Brand, in reference to Burberry’s Acoustic campaign.

“They have allowed the music to take centre stage, as it should be. Taking a group of relatively unknown musicians and using them, and their music, as “live mannequins” for Burberry’s clothing range. The brand gaining recognition and status from association with some beautiful, well crafted, personal, music – notice the crossover in brand values.”

One Night Only performing ‘Chemistry’ as part of Burberry Acoustic’s campaign

Strategically, the campaign is a sharp reflection of Burberry’s decision to put ‘focus on brand’ at the heart of all operations. When Angela Ahrendts took the helm of the underperforming business, one of the first questions she posed to her team was; what can we exploit that other luxury brands can’t possibly compete with?

The answer came in the fact that they were British, in a sea of French and Italian brands. They also identified the millennial generation as gravely underserved and made a conscious decision to focus on this emerging consumer segment and communicate appropriately.

The Burberry Acoustic campaign takes young, British bands and films their performance in often-rural British locations. Distribution is via websites and YouTube, capturing the millennial audience, subtly but strongly changing the image of the brand from dusty to young, traditional to modern. It allows the distillation of numerous ideas, into an organic series of short films that feel far from traditional advertising. The eventual CD release cemented its longevity and live musical performances have since become a cornerstone of Burberry events.

“ Few brands have dared to take musical marketing beyond catwalk DJ’s, musicians as ambassadors or zeitgeist-relevant accompaniments to advertising ”

More recently, Bottega Veneta’s Tomas Maier has partnered with Michel Gaubert to curate Intreccio Uno, a two-disc compilation album featuring a medley of past runway show and store playlists. The case cover features images from the Bottega Veneta Fall 2010/11 advertising campaign and can be found exclusively in brand boutiques worldwide, retailing for $45.

Bottega’s foray into musical marketing may be novel, even courageous, but it feels somewhat unsophisticated in comparison to a campaign as comprehensive as Burberry Acoustic. Copyright complexities and costs aside, any luxury brand is capable of releasing a snappy mix CD. Bottega Veneta’s saving grace is the fact that other luxury brands haven’t.

Givenchy has unveiled an original recording of actress Liv Tyler, singing her own rendition of INXS’s “Need You Tonight” ahead of the launch of new fragrance, Very Irrésistible Givenchy Electric Rose. The collaboration between Givenchy and Sony Music Entertainment has been self-described as “an electrifying meeting between the world of rock and the universe of perfume.”

Bottega Veneta’s Intreccio Uno compilation CD, curated by Tomas Maier and Michel Gaubert

Actresses covering songs for fragrance advertising would generally not be considered particularly innovative, if it wasn’t for the process that both Sony and Givenchy have undertaken in developing the project. Firstly, New York-based musician David Andrew Sitek – known for his work with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs – produced the record, whilst multimedia artist Johan Renck directed the music video, which features choreography by dancer Blanca Li.

By all accounts, Sony is treating this release as it would any other regular musical release, in that we can expect radio play, video circulation and the opportunity to purchase as we would any other single. The fragrance element of this project is more occasion than reason and hopefully, as a result, the brand will organically reach an audience far beyond its general target market.

Then there is Cartier, who since 2008 has been asking artists such as Lou Reed, Phoenix, Olivier Dahan and Camille Henrot to provide their individual interpretation of “How far would you go for LOVE?” Most recently the brand enlisted French duo AIR to compose an original piece of music to address this very question, yet the focus on music felt somewhat lost, when it was forced to compete with a visual story. Perhaps this use of music drifted too far into purposeless ambiguity?

“ One of the reasons that music is currently undervalued by many organisations is because it is difficult to directly measure its impact and influence on sales ”

Michel Gaubert may have inadvertently surmised fashion’s attitude to music when he referred to catwalk scores as a “mood enhancer”, going on to suggest that music adds information to what people are seeing on a runway, in a similar way to the function of hair, make-up or accessories. In a catwalk show, the strongest message undoubtedly needs to be conveyed by the clothes, but outside this realm, music is still being treated as the understudy.

Perhaps there is also an issue regarding the relevance of using music as a marketing strategy for luxury brands. What works for the likes of Apple, Coca Cola and Microsoft may not necessarily work for Louis Vuitton, Four Seasons Hotels and BMW. Conversely, the success of Burberry’s Acoustic campaign shows there are spaces in which the two can meaningfully collide. The ambiguousness of music is undoubtedly off-putting, but perhaps the challenge is equal to the reward.

“One of the reasons that music is currently undervalued by many organisations is because it is difficult to directly measure its impact and influence on sales,” reminds Ruth Simmons. The issues presented by licensing music can be complex and repressive, as can the cost. Microsoft reportedly paid $8 million USD to license The Rolling Stones’ Start Me Up to launch Windows 2000. 

‘Painted Love’ by Cartier, with original music by AIR

Measuring the impact of social and digital tools on actual sales can prove equally difficult, but the social platforms where luxury brands wield the most power, remain largely free to use. The mechanics of the Internet also facilitates the collection of data concerning audience, reach and popularity, allowing brands to understand the size and depth of their online audiences. It isn’t difficult to see which marketing opportunity would appear more attractive in the C-Suite.

“It is not just the music that evokes the emotion but rather the whole brand or image of that music entity,” concludes Ruth Simmons. “Great music can create yearning for a brand, self-confidence and security through ownership, and make us feel as if we belong to a larger group.” But Simmons maintains that integrating music into the whole marketing strategy is the key.

Perhaps in a similar way to digital prowess, musical prowess cannot be attained on the strength of one initiative or one channel alone. Instead Simmons suggests that “every audio representation of the organisation – from television commercial to elevator music – should powerfully convey the company’s musical DNA.” What Burberry – and to an extent Givenchy, Bottega Veneta and Cartier – have demonstrated, is that there is power in music to be exploited by luxury brands. It is now a case of brands being game enough – and creative enough – to engage the challenge.

Further Reading:

- For and Against: Celebrity Marketing in Luxury Communications
- Luxury Timepiece Brands Using Craftsmanship in Video

Analysis | Arts | Fragrance