Co-brands between artists and celebrities are all the rage, as evidenced recently by the launch of Justin Timberlake’s relationship with Budweiser and Alicia Keys’s co-brand with Blackberry. At the Forrester Research Marketing Forum April 19, Christopher Swope of Live Nation provided a case study on how artists and brands can work together to deliver results. His discussion focused on how Madonna and Smirnoff, by tapping into shared passions such as dancing and music, generated 1.8 billion media impressions for Smirnoff and helped Madonna undertake the highest grossing tour of 2012.
As Swope pointed out, brands and musicians actually have a long history of working together, examples being Microsoft using the Rolling Stones’s “Start Me Up” to launch Windows 95 and the collaboration between Apple and U2 to cross-promote U2′s “Vertigo” with a special edition iPod. In the best cases, co-brands meet mutually defined goals, and the relationship between Smirnoff and Madonna was one such success.
The relationship began with a business challenge for Smirnoff: accelerate consumer engagement with the Smirnoff brand on a global level.
“We wanted to find a way to accelerate the growth of the Smirnoff brand and generate engagement,” Swope said. “We wanted to take the brand to the next level and deepen engagement and participation.”
Smirnoff knew its fans are socially savvy. So for Smirnoff, building a brand was less about “let’s sponsor and put our name on it” but rather to generate engagement and deepen relationships with fans.
“When you are giving a dinner party, you worry about the right ingredients — mix of cocktails and people,” he said. “You want to create an experience that deepens relationships. That’s how to think about social.”
But how to generate the engagement, and at a global level? Three insights led Smirnoff to look to Madonna for the answer:
- Social is usually more fun when it’s physical, not just digital.
- Music is universally powerful. “Music inspires connections and memorable engagement,” Swope said. “It has incredible raw appeal. And live music is even more enticing. People are passionate about it. Deep memories are made. There is an incredible sense of sharing — a heightened sense of being and an opportunity for a brand to become part of that narrative.
- People are more likely to engage with your brand if a reward is involved.
For those reasons, Smirnoff sought an artist to help Smirnoff create a globally engaging experience featuring a reward, especially because of their ability to create engagement on a massive scale. Smirnoff just needed to define a globally engaging activity around which to create a campaign and an artist who would fit.
The activity turned out to be dancing. And the artist was Madonna.
“Dance is an activity that is truly shared around the world,” Swope said. “And Madonna was a natural fit because she is a global icon who can strike a pose. That’s where the idea came for Smirnoff and Madonna to inspire the world to dance.’”
Thus was born the Smirnoff/Madonna Global Dance Search. In November 2011, Madonna and Smirnoff embarked on a contest to select one dancer who would be given the opportunity to join Madonna’s dance retinue. For the Global Dance Search, aspiring dancers around the world submitted videos and auditioned to join Madonna’s team. Eleven finalists competed in front of 1,000 people and the watchful eye of Madonna in the World’s Most Incredible Dance Party in New York’s Roseland Ballroom.
“We knew that people were passionate about Madonna,” Swope said. “The chance to meet her could be a life changing experience.”
The Global Dance Search was far more than a talent search. It was also a social online/offline experience, launched in the digital world and executed literally through people dancing around the world.
“We also tapped into Madonna’s community — the people who live on her Facebook page to create promotions for Smirnoff,” Swope said.
Swope indicated that the Global Dance Search is part of a larger collaboration between Madonna, Smirnoff, and Diageo (Smirnoff’s parent) called the Smirnoff Nightlife Exchange Exchange Project, which encompasses a number of other projects and promotions intended to celebrate the notion of nightlife around the world. Co-branding activities include fan rewards such as a Smirnoff Limited Edition pack, offered in 2012. The product contained a code that provided access to exclusive content (unlocked on the brand’s Facebook page), such as music downloads and a chance to win a VIP ticket to a Madonna concert.
Here are the results so far:
- 1.8 billion media impressions generated, making Smirnoff the most talked about spirits brand in the world. The effort also achieved a PR record for any global Smirnoff activity in terms of an increase in share of voice.
- Double digit sales growth in key markets around the world (1 million bottles featured exclusive Madonna content).
The effort also helped Madonna’s 2012 MDNA become a Number 1 album, and her tour was the highest grossing of 2012.
Some key learnings:
- Understand both parties’ goals. “Madonna had not been very active in the past, so her social community was not that huge,” he said. “The goal was to give people a reason to participate in her social community. She also wanted to engage fans and support aspiring dancers; and she wanted to support a successful album and tour launch.” By comparison, Smirnoff’s goals were to develop its social community, increase global engagement, and do a limited edition retail activation.
- Don’t try to achieve consensus. Limit key decisions to a few people — an important consideration given how many stakeholders come to the table when a celebrity and a global brand collaborate. “Surveying too many people leads to disappointment,” Swope said. “Be selective about who makes the final decision.”
- Focus on the global output goals, understanding that things may change along the path to achieve the same goals.
Finally, Swope stressed that brands need to be more than sponsors when they work with celebrities.
“Partnership should truly mean ‘partnership,’ where you respect the needs of each partner to find win-win outcomes,” he said.