What Lessons Can Adland Learn From The Music Industry?

What Lessons Can Adland Learn From The Music Industry?

In his latest post, B&T regular, agency owner and music buff Robert Strohfeldt argues there’s a lot adland could learn from the music business…

As a passionate musician, the above headline for a story grabbed my attention, like a kick to the groin. On so many occasions I have used music as the perfect example of how corporatisation kills creativity.

Robert Murphy, the global head of new business for Universal Music Group said:It is true the music industry was the first to be hit by the digital world, but it is also true to say that it was the first industry to fully embrace it. It would be presumptuous for the music “biz” to teach anyone what to do but, there are lessons to be learned. In our case it was the level of partnership and the real value our suite of services contributed to our artists careers that ensured the industry returned to growth for all involved”. 

There is no doubt the music industry has been extremely creative adapting to the digital world for business. They had to – the arse fell out of recorded music sales. A new model was required, and it has been successful.  But there are two issues here

  • Revenue
  • Creativity

Murphy asks the question “Who are the most influential brand ambassadors in the world today”? It is musicians (followed by sport stars). This is not a recent phenonium – the likes of Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra etc. had large followings, but it was the 1960s when the “rock star” and mass hysteria was born. For over 50 years, the “Rock Star” has been the ultimate influencer.

It is said if you can remember the 60s, you were not there. Being serious, though the influence of the music star has been the ultimate for over 50 years, the difference between the 60s and today is no self-respecting rock star of the 60s would align themselves with any brand. It would be an immediate kiss of death. But they did not have to. Record sales made the successful multi-millionaires, when a million dollars was a lot of money, not the average price of a Sydney house. Michael Jackson was the first genuine superstar to get into bed (maybe not the best analogy) with a brand – Pepsi.

Murphy goes on to say: “How do you explain that one artist, one person, one brand, can be friends with 100M people? That is because their content is genuine. They inspire, they inform, they entertain, they help- sometimes, and they reward. That is what content marketing is all about. By being true to themselves, they generate natural intimacy. A lot of people talk about reach, but reach is not important. Engagement is; people that like, comment or share to their own friends.”

What a person likes is reliant upon what they have been exposed to. I must be careful in how I put this as I do not want to spend the next seven or so years tied up in litigation. McDonalds burgers have huge appeal worldwide. Much has been written and said why this is so, but the bottom line is food that tastes like crap (my opinion) is a multi-generational success.

The creativity today is in the business side of things:“The opportunity now lies in the relationship between culture and a brand. Yes, navigating new digital channels could be seen as a challenge but, music fans and passionate brand enthusiasts are adaptable and know where to go. The partnership between Imagine Dragons and Dubai tourism, resulted in 1 billion, 267 million people viewing the video to “Thunder”, filmed in Dubai, then going on to check out the bands’ behind the scenes b-roll experiences. Resulting in 24 per cent growth in positive uptake for under-30s wanting to visit Dubai.”

The ability to slice and dice and specifically target is very effective in the music business and it is a high involvement “product”. People rabbit on about content, but 99 per cent of it shit. The consumer has any number of entertaining content to choose from. It is true a fool and their money are easily parted and anyone who believes rubbish such as “every brand should own a minute (of content) is a fucking idiot.

What a person like or dislikes is very subjective. But if you have not had quality, then you don’t know what you are missing.

I have looked at the years 1965 to 1985 and the artists who were prevalent in that 20 years period. (Many stayed popular well beyond 1985)

Here is a list, far from definitive, just those who come immediately to mind:

The Beatles

Rolling Stones

Bob Dylan

Led Zeppelin

The Doors

Jimi Hendrix

Janis Joplin


John Mayell

Black Sabbath

Deep Purple

The Who

Joni Mitchell

David Bowe

Bruce Springsteen

The Beach Boys


Mo Town Music (Separate List – Dianna Ross, Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Gladys Knight, Four Tops etc.)

The Moody Blues

Cat Stevens


Joe Cocker

The Bee Gees

Pink Floyd


Elton John

Lou Reed

Billy Joel

Bad Company

The Eagles

Van Morrison

Eric Clapton

Carlos Santana

The Kinks


Doobie Brothers


Neil Young

Crosby Stills Nash & Young

Joni Mitchel

BB King

Muddy Waters

Carol King

Peter Frampton

Stevie Wonder

Rod Stewart

The Kinks

Cold Chisel

Jackson Browne

Roy Orbison

Steve Miller

Tom Petty


Phil Collins

The Band

The Ramones

Lynyrd Skynryd

Thin Lizzy

Dire Straits

Fleetwood Mac

Canned Heat


Blood, Sweat & Tears



Talking Heads

Michael Jackson

Bon Jovi

Deaf Leppard



Midnight Oil


Cold Chisel

Jo Zo Sep

Crowded House

Hunters and Collectors

Chrissy Amphlett

There are some great artists/bands today, but I defy anyone to come up with a list from 1990 to now, nearly 30 years, which comes close to these people.

(Please, do not use rap. The great Eric Clapton best summed it up when he said: “Someone left out the C”.)

Music has become “formularised”. Stock Aitken and Waterman were one of the first embark on this approach. Think Kylie Minogue, Rick Ashley, Bananarama and Jason Donovan.

Music is a business first, a creative exploit second. Great creative does not have to entail great risk. All you need is the talent and the environment to nourish it.

In advertising there is a huge push to have AI “write” advertising. Machine learning is not imagination. Creativity cannot be formularised.

Advertising is following music. Risk adverse, creatively stinted, digitally led rubbish

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Robert Strohfeldt

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