Tuesday, July 05, 2005

The Branding of "Alernative" Rock

From Businessweek: Getting to the Hipsters:

But consider the case of Marisa Brickman. "When I was younger, I was, like, `oh, [expletive] Corporate America. I can't be marketed to,"' says the music-obsessed 27-year-old. "I'd rip the tags off my clothes. I didn't want people to know what brands I was wearing." Today, Brickman is director of event marketing and public relations for Cornerstone Promotion in New York.

Cornerstone is a new-school marketing firm with many tentacles, virtually all touching on music of the moment and its fans. It manages and promotes artists. It digs up music for ads and movies. It publishes a glossy music magazine, The FADER. It works with established brands such as Xbox (MSFT ), Sprite (KO ), Adidas, and Red Stripe on strategies to reach young consumers. And it deploys a loose network of local influentials to do so -- down to cool kids on college campuses -- winning favor by, say, setting up Xboxes at the hip local record store. Cornerstone and Brickman are very good at "product seeding" among tastemakers within its 18-to-34 target audience. It helps that Brickman knows practically every DJ and underground rock band within a 1,000-mile radius, so Cornerstone's overtures are more palatable "than if some brand was just cutting a check," she says.

IT ALSO HELPS THAT BANDS AND AUDIENCES within a formerly contemptuous subculture now sing along. Fifteen or 20 years ago, Brickman's job couldn't have existed. A once-ubiquitous bumper sticker from a noted underground record label bluntly declared: "Corporate Rock Still Sucks." Back then, bands that cozied up to advertisers "were often ridiculed and hung out to dry," says Gerard Cosloy, co-president of New York-based Matador Records. "It's a different world now."

Product seeding is a way to get marketing messages out as traditional ads lose traction, and nowhere are they losing more traction than among peripatetic twentysomethings who hardly stay put for any traditional media experience at all. So companies plant wares in the hands of influential individuals in hopes that their cool or cultural celebrity will lead others to the goods. Malt liquor Sparks recently underwrote a tour of three bands on the ultrahip Vice label. It provided 10 cases of Sparks for each show, to be drunk by the bands or sold at a discount. One quid pro quo: Band members had to photograph one another swigging the bright orange drink.

At last March's South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Brickman set up the Levi's-FADERS Trading Post, an invite-only tent with free music and free beer for scenesters and swag for a clutch of chosen bands. "We booked all the bands and scheduled [them] to get outfitted in Levi's," says Brickman.


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