Claire Beale: The music business gives itself a good Shake

Secure in the knowledge that it has chosen a much-loved, iconic track for its new ad campaign, which debuts tonight taking up the entire centre break of Corrie, The Co-op is giving music in ads a good kicking.

Having signed up Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind" for its next TV commercial, the Co-op has gleefully commissioned a YouGov survey into the worst music in ads. Sheilas' Wheels didn't stand a chance.

No surprise that its "bonza car insurance deals" track was voted the biggest turkey. Though what's the betting you'll find yourself humming it later today?

Halifax ("who gives you extra?") and Shake 'n' Vac ("to put the freshness back") were also voted stinkers. It's a very silly survey, designed purely to generate a bit of fluffy PR for the Co-op ad. After all, Shake 'n' Vac had the sort of traction advertisers crave, which is why we're still talking about it 20 years after it ran.

The survey does, however, illustrate the potent combination of music and brands; advertisers know the right soundtrack can make a good ad great, and even turn a bad one into a cult (Shake 'n' Vac again).

It's a well-trodden commercial path. Bands can give ads cut-through in the commercially cluttered, fragmented media world. And brands can give bands a level of exposure that can transform their earning power. But this relationship is moving into a whole new phase with the growing recognition that advertising might be able to throw the struggling music industry a lifeline.

As the economics of music falter, record companies have been turning to advertising agencies to help to develop new revenue streams and find new ways of connecting with consumers.

In a climate where an estimated 90 per cent of digital music downloads are illegal or free, and album sales are dropping on average by 10 per cent a year, monetising music has become a do-or-die situation.

As a result, some interesting alliances are being formed. Last year Groove Armada, fresh out of a five-year deal with Sony BMG, chose to eschew traditional record companies in favour of releasing music through an alliance with Bacardi-Martini, brokered by the agency Euro RSCG KLP.

The GA duo performed at Bacardi-branded events and worked with its ad agency, Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R, on the soundtracks for Bacardi commercials.

Similarly, Procter & Gamble and Def Jam Records have launched a US music company called Tag Records, named after P&G's Tag deodorant. It creates a perfect brand/band union. Buy a Tag music pack containing two body sprays and one deodorant and you get exclusive online access to hip hop music from Q Da Kid.

You might be wondering where such alliances leave artistic credibility. Read the blurb on the Tag Records website for guidance: "Whether you're making beats, rhyming or just grinding, make sure you stay fresh. Because when you smell good, it's that much easier to Make History." It's not subtle, but then artistic credibility counts for little if the alternative is waiting tables.

Yet if adland is to be the music industry's white knight, partnerships have to go deeper than bands and brands simply piggybacking each other. The whole record company/artist model needs re-evaluating.

EMI recently appointed the ad agency Adam & Eve to explore revenue models and develop audiences for its artists. It wants a more sophisticated understanding of its artists as brands. All this is core ad agency territory, but far from second nature to record companies.

Turning this new understanding into revenue-generating channels, however, is imperative. So agencies are being called in to offer advice on commercial ideas from selling access to exclusive content to distribution models. If that process also results in musical alliances, all the better.

What's certain is that if the chemistry's right and the consumer fit is comfy, the band/brand formula could be a lifeline for both parties. I wonder if Dylan fans would agree.

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