What we can learn from modern music marketing about building brands in the digital age (or, how Miley was more relevant than Syria; how Beyonce’ broke the Internet; how Lorde and Pharrell’s hat asserted themselves into mainstream American culture; and what influence has got to do with porn


#1 Royals, Lorde: Grammy’s 2014

#2 Vevo, Beyonce’

#3 Miley Twerking, Onesie edition

#4 Daft Punk & Pharrell, Grammy’s 2014 & @pharrellhat


What does Lorde, Beyonce’, Miley and Pharrell’s hat have to do with brand building in the digital age? In short everything. This paper examines a handful of brands that rarely get considered in advertising – that’s the big business of music. It argues that modern business and marketers can learn almost everything about communicating and building brands today, by unpacking the hallmarks of successful music marketing today. Specifically, by examining four concepts: being culturally contextual, stepping outside of category constructs, liberating ourselves from ‘blockbuster moments’ and acknowledging that communications controlled by us aren’t the only answer.

So why is music getting it right? In brief, it’s been forced to. Music, unlike most big brands in the marketing world who have a ‘mainstream imperative’ has had to embrace the digital age because its fans who spend the most and are most engaged (‘aficionado fans’ and ‘digital fans’) primarily use digital for music discovery, are extremely active on social networking and use smartphones as a music entertainment hub[1]. These needs drive innovation, because if they don’t get it they take the power into their own hands.[2] Exemplary music marketing delivers to these needs and results in influence, which could be the most useful success metric of the digital age.

Let’s put a lens on cultural relevancy by turning to track one – a tune by New Zealander, Ella Yelich O’Connor called Royals. It’s music’s biggest night at Los Angeles’ Staples Center Lorde is surrounded by the biggest and most influential cultural icons right now. In this context, the performance makes sense. The slight American drawl, the references to hip-hop culture and excess, it works. Team Lorde knew it was destined for this context and it would be played next to a track from Yeezus, right after Jay-Z’s latest jam and would be talked about and compared to Miley’s flavor of the month. It’s clear she wanted to exist outside her own little world, have a point of view and not only reference culture, but critique and add to it. As if this wasn’t enough, she continues to contribute to debate on feminism and sexualisation in pop music[3] and in doing so showing the music product is only one portion of the Brand Lorde.

In theory, brand strategy 101 sees us ‘tapping into passions’ and ‘solving needs’, but all too often we’re making brands relevant to a collection of individuals, over a collective of people. Generally speaking we’re tapping into a cultural discourse through a current ‘cultural truth’, over what could be a cultural truth. If we’re honest with ourselves, we’re a few steps behind and we sit off to the side afraid to really ‘dip our toe in’. It takes courage as an individual, an organisation, or a business to stand up, speak out and stand for something. It opens you up to scorn and ridicule, but the new world sees people with the power and to actively build culture and participate in it and we expect brands to do the same. Challenge: More meaningful contributions to culture, less ‘tapping in’ and appropriation of culture.   

Shall we journey now to Beyonce’ with track two and what she managed to deliver to the world on the 13th of December this last year. ‘Queen Bey’ and her people produced a 14-track album complete with 17 videos (only purchasable as a complete work) and no marketing hype. With a single Tweet from the Queen herself, she flew in the face of convention. Having the courage challenge what had become status quo led to a breaking in iTunes sales and selling more than 800,000 albums in the first three days.[4] The PR value of this approach was unprecedented, as most media outlets were reporting Beyonce “…broke the Internet.”[5]

Contrast this to the normal agency strategic process. We put the spotlight on the category that brand or product ‘lives in’. However, research by Havas Media tells us that people are finding it harder to differentiate products within categories. “Consumers said brands were holding their own in only four categories, and in the remaining 40 categories were converging, or becoming less distinct.”[6] Additionally, McKinsey tells us that FMCG marketers are spending three times more of price promotion, over brand building[7]. There’s never been a better time to truly act in a way that differentiates your brand or product over the competition. Particularly because most people the world over said they wouldn’t care if more than 73% of brands disappeared tomorrow[8].

The truth is, for a lot of people, these categories don’t exist. They’re constructs made up by our industry that bear little resemblance to the real, everyday world. As people go about their daily business, they see a billboard for a soda, a press ad for a hair colour, a car ad on the side of a bus and overhear some teenagers at the bus stop talking about the latest Miley track. That’s four categories right there and three more than we would have considered if the brief were for a soda brand. Generally speaking, for music it’s a case of ‘differentiate or die’ and for a lot of marketers it’s a case of making 5% difference this financial year[9]. We need to think less about short-term hooks and fixes and more about long-term brand building and differentiation. Challenge: More looking outward, less introspection.

Let’s cut now to track three 2013’s good girl gone bad Miley Cyrus. Her team made a conscious decision to not just bank on blockbuster moments (single, album drop, more singles, tour, etc). ‘Feeding the fans’ and feeding them frequently became a defining feature of the Miley marketing output. Investing in outputting regular, snack-sized bites of content led to Miley never being out of the modern day water cooler conversation, Facebook’s News Feed. The day after her famous VMA’s performance (and not earning a single award) she topped Google’s hot searches, added over 100,000 Instagram followers, increased her Facebook likes by 50,000 Facebook likes[10]. As a direct result of this increased exposure and engagement, her album Bangerz sold 270,000 copies in its first week and took the number one spot in the Billboard 200.[11] Additionally it’s worth noting that over this period she created more conversation than The Syria crisis.[12]

In advertising, we regularly get obsessed with traditional marketing calendar ‘regulars’ such as the polished TVC and press ad. The problem with this approach is it takes a lot of time, money and resource to ‘produce perfect’. Output aside, as strategists we spend a lot of our days and weeks and months debating a string of words that become the proposition, or playing a game of ‘synonym rotation’ on a brand temple/house/onion/keystone, often in liaison with the client. Although this can be useful in displaying your grasp of the English language, it could be suggest that perhaps our time would be better spent thinking about the conversation the brand or product you have custodianship over, exists within. Better still, think about how to keep that momentum going ‘between drinks’ and ultimately make it work hard for the bottom line. Challenge: More consistent momentum, less short bursts of activity.

Finally, let’s draw our attention to track four and its accompanying Twitter handle. The name Pharrell Williams shouldn’t be new news, but for a lot of his current fan base, they first chanced upon him on Grammy night earlier this year because of one defining feature, his hat. Classic challenger behaviour, it stood out and it paid off. Google Trends data shows the week post The Grammy’s saw Pharrell’s hat and Pharrell increased by 5000%[13]. The performance and deliberate choice of headwear spawned a fan-driven Twitter account, @pharrellhat and at last count, it had 19.2K followers[14]. It proves getting out of the way can be the best thing for your brand.

Because we’re in the business of advertising, we often get consumed by the notion that advertising, or more broadly communications are the only answer to a business problem. And, that the advertising agency and the brand should only be the ones to communicate the message we’re trying to convey. However in this ‘digital age’ it’s more powerful and effective if these ideas are propagated by the people that we are in the business of reaching for the brand. It’s more powerful if it comes from the people, groups, organisations that aren’t the brand or product[15]. This is nothing new, but it’s surprising how often this isn’t the case. If we’re honest with ourselves, all too often we blast out 360-degree messages, shout, get in the way and expect people to listen. It’s time to remember to get out of the way. Challenge: More core thoughts that allow outsider contribution, less messaging propositions.

In summary, let’s ensure our brands and products genuinely act more like pop cultural participators, instead of appropriators. There’s no reason why a laundry powder or liquor can’t take a stand on feminism and help be a mouthpiece for a generation. Let’s also stop benchmarking against ‘category norms’, and making small margins of difference. Let’s start benchmarking against culturally influential brands – the Miley’s, the Lorde’s, the Beyonce’s and Pharrell’s of the world. Stepping outside of our categories can help to make real step change and allowing brands to have ambition beyond category expectations can unlock substantial opportunity. Also, earning influence goes beyond big spikes in activity (owned, bought, and even earned) and requires us to get out of the way and allow people to make the brand or product their own. We need to ensure we are creating opportunity for micro, more one-on-one and personal experiences are built into the marketing calendar.

So what does this mean practically speaking and what can we do today? It’s a no brainer that we need to all start tapping into and building intelligence from what people are saying, over what they say they’re saying or doing using social listening – the focus group of the digital age. We don’t need to just rely on brand trackers and quarterly dips, we can be dipping in and out of our brand, or product everyday. More broadly, we all need to adopt a test-and-learn attitude that allows us to try, succeed and make mistakes on a daily basis. Being influential requires this in spades.

But what does influence actually mean, how do we measure it and just as importantly, how can we apply this to what we do everyday? One could argue that it’s less about moving brand health measures, shifting dials on social sentiment and increasing ‘likes’, ‘fans’ and ‘shares’. There isn’t one generic influence metric, nor should there should be. Could it be as simple and reductive as getting a collection of people en masse to switch behavior from what the love doing, to getting them to participate with your brand or product? Could the ultimate influence metric be getting people to swap porn for participation, as seen in the latest Super Bowl?[16].

Building brands in a digital age also requires a recalibration of what digital and social really are. They aren’t just platforms and pixels, they’re a way of engaging with the world and done right they’re a surefire way to earn influence for our brands and products. In the modern business world embracing innovative, creative thinking is not only mandatory, it’s a cost of entry. Simply put, if you fail to innovate you risk an almost certain death. In the words of Mark Zuckerberg, “what would you do if you weren’t afraid?”[17] It’s time to bring back the cool to marketing and think more like a musician with nothing to lose.

[13] Google Trends data

the seven basic creative strategies*


* in homage, but not related to this book. If you have no money for jazz hands and you find yourself fresh out of ideas, these common garden-variety, seven basic strategies may help you out of a bind. 


  1. A LITTLE BIT FANCY: Just that little bit better than your average. Treat yourself. FAVOURED BY: FMCG, retail. 
  2. THE GOOD OLDE, HONEST, DOWN-TO-EARTH, NO BULLSHIT: Harking back to a simpler time and tapping into the powerful emotion of nostalgia. In Australia, this may or may not extend to ‘mateship’. FAVOURED BY: FMCG, retail.  
  3. CREATE A CAUSE! CREATE A MOVEMENT! Be sure to tell your friends, share and like. FAVOURED BY: FMCG, retail, or any brand in 2012. 
  4. WE’RE NOT LIKE THE REST, NEITHER ARE YOU: Don’t worry, we get you. They don’t. FAVOURED BY: Banks.
  5. WE GO FURTHER/BIGGER/FASTER/STRONGER: Bettererer than the market leader. FAVOURED BY: Self-confessed challenger brands. 
  6. FOR THE THINKING MAN, OR RESTLESS MAN: You’re discerning and you know it. FAVOURED BY: Craft bands, alcohol and cars. 
  7. FOR TODAY’S WOMAN, LET’S FACE IT OTHER BRANDS/PRODUCTS DON’T GET YOU: We do. FAVOURED BY: Challenger beauty products for women. 

getting intimate with feminism



“These shoes were made for fucking, not for walking,” said sex worker and feminist campaigner Grace Bellavue. It was rush hour during the darker days of winter in Sydney’s Macquarie Street. Bankers, tuck shop attendants, tourists and barristers were all scampering for cover. No one was safe. Grace was teetering in six-inch, nude heels in one size too big, which made her porcelain pins look even more luminous and balletic. We were on a mission to source some ciggies. Marlboro Lights. “Come on 7 Eleven. Oh dear God. We can do this.” Our civilised chat had run out of steam when Grace was overcome by the need to smoke. She didn’t say, “Do you mind if I have a cigarette?” She said, “I need a fucking cigarette.”

Sometimes she called herself Grace and sometimes she called herself Pippa. When we met, she said, “Sooo lovely to meet you, sorry I’m late, I’m Pippa.” Pippa, or Grace was exactly 42 minutes late for our scheduled afternoon tea in her hotel mezzanine. It was one of those hotels that harked back to the classics: columns, theatrical, a lot of marble and gold leaf – architecture that was handpicked to make you feel in awe.

Grace was late because her previous client was late. She runs a tight ship with the help of a PA out of Adelaide – a former sex worker that’s been there, done that, and doesn’t want to do that anymore. There’s a process Pippa goes through to become Grace: getting made up and putting on a mask. Foundation that asserts a translucent complexion, eyebrows that mean business, black, powdery eyeliner with wings and red lips contained with liner. It’s a routine that’s down pat and gets drawn on afresh for each client during the working week.

Grace wanted the sparkling white, I went for the English Breakfast with a side of soy. I had wanted to meet her for the best part of a year to see exactly what a working girl had to say on the subject of modern feminism. Did her job immediately devalue, or even discredit the quality of her thinking? Or, did it make it even more valuable?

The thing that hits you first about Grace is her enunciated, almost theatrical vowels and conscious choice of words that you only pick up in a humanities degree. Unlike other 20somethings, she talks in absolutes, with very “likes” – utter conviction. She also calls a spade a spade when it comes to sex. Words like “fucking” and “flaps” are softened and don’t seem off-colour at all. Her voice lost its innocence a long time ago. She said, “A lot of my strength has come from, well learning from men.”

So what caused this teen from suburban Adelaide to choose sex work at the age of 17?

“I used to read my Mum’s Mills and Boons novels in the attic and I was really horny and I fucked guys in the back of cars and was like, this is shit, it’s not what the books told me. Sex is crap! I was really rebellious as well, so I was like what’s the naughtiest thing I could do?”

Pippa’s parents are supportive and her dad goes with her to rallies and helps her petition for equal rights for sex workers.

“When something bad happens in our community all we have to protect ourselves, is ourselves. What that involves is internal knowledge sharing, passing information, because if something happens, we can’t go to the police. She gets raped and she has to suck it up and keep moving on.”

Grace is a restless spirit. You get the feeling she doesn’t need sleep, or downtime. People, coffee, meet ups, cigarettes and cerebral conversations seem to stimulate her. Even sustain her. Grace doesn’t care for talk about the weather. She said, “I’m seeing you for what you lay on the table next to me and what you add to the conversation.”

For someone who spends a lot of her time tackling issues of women’s injustice and engaging in feminist discourse, she hadn’t branded herself a feminist before our conversation.

“I guess so. It’s something I’ve never really consciously thought about and it happened really organically and if I look back, I go shit yeah.” She prefers to be called a humanist. “I do believe in feminism, but I do believe in this general understanding of the other side of the story and have empathy for it. I’ve become more sympathetic towards men.”

Grace spends most of her waking week in bed, in the company of men – who she claims are after more than just sex. “They come to me under the guise of sex, but in reality they just want to be close to somebody – it’s therapy in a way.”

Australia has a stiff upper lip when it comes to male mental health and she hypothesises that it’s a mix of male pride and ego that get in the way. Getting naked with a complete stranger is their chance to say what’s really on their mind.

Grace bares all on Twitter and posts about ten times a day – a funny, witty, blow-by-blow of a day in the life of a sex worker. Under the guise of GraceBellavue, she’s gunning for complete transparency in an industry notorious for its closed blinds and blind eyes. Naturally, she’s quite nervous about her online persona. “The bigger you get, the more people want to undermine you.” Being vocal on the Internet allows the community to tell it like it is to the listening mass. Grace calls it social contextualism. “You know sex work needs to be socially contextualised in a healthy way, so it feels less scary.”

Although she can empathise with the male plight, it seems Grace can still identify with the cause of feminism. She acknowledges the work that’s been done, but feels men should be allowed to enter the debate too. “We’re owning our gender and we’re asking them to step away from theirs and support ours.”

She’s also vocal about what she thinks the main problem with the movement is – and that’s, well women. “We’re an incestuous, backstabbing bunch of cunts sometimes and we’re our own worst enemies. I can sit next to you and talk about feminism and then turn around and go, she’s a fat bitch. We undermine ourselves. Constantly.’”

By and large, most sex workers are women and Grace says they’re often unwittingly the target of feminists – albeit well meaning feminists.

“Feminism has historically caused more harm than good. They think we need to be rescued, that something’s wrong with us – that we’re bad women.”

In Grace’s eyes, being a feminist is all about strength.

“If you’re strong enough and bright enough in your contribution to the community, men don’t give a shit what gender you are and it’s your word and your actions that have value.”

Taking gender out of the equation is something she’s all for. “I think striping the word feminism out of feminism is the way forward for women.”

The air was getting damper, thicker and the asphalt was getting perilous in her precarious choice of footwear. Even though her legs were splattered in grey rainwater from a careless car and her sleek hair had gone slightly haywire, she had a presence, a captivating quality. The 7 Eleven cashier’s eyes were only on Grace.

She said, “Oh, shit I’m late.” Because of our impromptu dash for nicotine, her next client was already waiting. And then she said, “Oh, fuck it. I’m my own boss I can do whatever the fuck I want. Seriously, my feet fucking hurt. I’m getting a cab back.”

And with that, Grace Bellavue gave me an embrace that hung around. The kind of clinch you’d get from someone you’d built a familiarity with. She briskly toddled off back onto the swamped street.

259 words on Cindy Gallop


(Pretty much the best day ever). 

Porn, the under-representation of women in advertising, blowing up the old world order and getting corporates to put their money where their mouth is. You could be forgiven for thinking Cindy Gallop traded on shock tactics and fad as a means to forge an audience, but you would be wrong.

Gallop is every part the bona fide real deal; articulate, irrefutable, fierce and gracious, she had Droga5 seduced for just shy of two hours last week. What stuck was her energy for what she frankly brands “repurposing common sense” and her doctrine on what she calls the ‘new world order’, or simply what doing business is all about in 2013.

She reduced it down into an easy-to-remember and simple to use formula for corporate social responsibility: shared values + shared action = shared profit (financial + social). It doesn’t need to just be lip service, or a token paragraph in an annual report, it can be a real driver for business, both client and agency side.

Possibly, the highlight of her conversation was sharing all the messy startup details on her pet project Make Love, Not Porn. It’s a project that’s received overwhelmingly positive support across the board yet was near on impossible to secure a payment system because of risk aversion, or ‘old world thinking’.

Conversely, Gallop operates on the belief that “the more you share an idea, the better it gets” and it’s this openness, transparency and keenness for collaboration that we could all learn a thing or two from, be it as humans, or in business.

the monday dispatch from the depot


(Why this picture? It’s my favourite picture from my Instagram feed the previous week)

I’m a sucker for lists and it seems other people are too. My job sees me creating lots of different lists throughout the week and in an attempt to make one GIANT list, here’s The Monday Dispatch. A MEGA list of the top ten AWESOME things I found on the Internet. Stand by, shit’s about to get heavy.

CONNECTING WITH ‘REAL’, ‘LOCAL’ AND ‘LOW-FI’: Super(Duper)Market in New York City is an annual pop up store – essentially a miniature grocery store selling artisanal food products from ‘indie’ entrepreneurs and chefs. It’s an idea that’s not limited to cuisine. “It’s about things that are real,” said fashion designer Maria Cornejo. “The less things have to travel, whether it’s clothing or food, the better.” More and more people are looking for and connecting with ‘real’.

A SUPERMARKET GIVES COMMUNITY SPACE: The UK supermarket chain Tesco has announced it is building a dedicated community room in its new store that will be made available for locals to reserve for free. Starting with the new Tesco Extra in Watford, the room will be made available for events like yoga classes and music lessons.

LIKE THE FOOD NETWORK, BUT SOCIAL: The new-wave video network Tastemade consists of video programing with over 100 food channels. The original content is shot in-house, in their own studios including ‘Brooklyn Kitchens’ and also connects users to further user-generated content, such as cooking and travel shows via YouTube and other channels.

AMAZON (KIND OF) DEMOCRATISES HIGH ART: You can now buy original and limited edition works of art from more than 150 prominent galleries and dealers via Amazon Art. Essentially, they’ve curated a list and put it all in one online place. The price stays the same, but by moving them to the Amazon marketplace it makes it seem more accessible. Somehow.

THEE BEST MOMENT OF PEOPLE’S LIVES: Sports Illustrated writer Richard Deitsch recently asked his Twitter followers to submit a photo the best moment of their lives. It all comes back to us humans sharing an emotional connection.

JAY Z (KIND OF) MEETS PICASSO: I love everything about this film/music video for Jay Z’s Picasso Baby (including the fact that the entire Girls cast made an appearance). Chucking two worlds together in one giant mash-up.

SPIKE JONZE, HER: MAN <3 MACHINE: I can’t wait to see this film. I’m sure it will be creepy, but creepy-fascinating. Here’s the trailer.

G.E. HOSTS A SCIENCE FAIR ON VINE: Their campaign #6SecondScience Fair invites people to create Vines clips showing ‘the miracles of science’. GE will be retweeting and sharing the best clips, with a curated gallery on a dedicated Tumblr.

WHEN THE SUPERMARKET MEETS THE FARM: The UK supermarket Waitrose opened its first farm supermarket shop last week, selling the produce grown on its 4,000-acre farm estate in Hampshire. Methinks this is a taste of things to come.

VITAL SIGNS MORPH INTO MUSIC: BioBeats is a startup app that swaps your vital signs into tailored music to keep you meditating, running or even fighting a disease.

back with a post on procrastination


After an extended break (of half a year, but whatevs), The Service Depot is back. Not in black, actually you will notice in a shade of hot pink. This also just so happens to be the shade of polish that’s currently on my toes. Anyway, today we shall be discussing something that’s been on my mind for a while now and I’d love to get your read on it, especially how you do it at your place.

As a creative person (BTW not currently a Creative n.), I constantly fight with my inner procrastinator. No, this isn’t the classic high school brand of procrastination, where you substitute your assignment with an episode of whatever is a la mode. This is the kind where (despite your best intentions) you think, dream and think some more; then do the screaming things and then leave what you really wanted to be working on until the last minute. Most of the time this works out, but you’re always left with a feeling of ‘if only I’d started on it earlier’. One of the worst feelings you can feel in your creative work.

I get the feeling that I’m not alone here in my plight and potentially procrastination is quite prolific. My hunch tells me that give a Creative two weeks, he will probably take two days. The last two days available.

72andSunny have tackled this issue head on with their Work Wall. They give creatives and strategists alike 48 hours to get stuff up and once it’s up it’s fair game for comments, but more importantly iteration. Failing fast in action.

Have you developed something similar at your shop? Do you think the Work Wall is a good way to work?