Pop bands with major brands to up visibility

So you wanna be a major pop star,

So you wanna be a major pop star,

Well listen now, hear what I say,

Just get Internet, street and publicity teams,

Then take some time and learn how to play.

Apologies to Roger McGuinn and The Byrds for the rewrite, but there are many more strategies involved in transforming a new pop group into the latest teen heartthrobs than when this song was originally penned.

The importance of boy bands and teen divas cannot be underestimated, and the power of aligning with the likes of Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys, and ‘Nsync has been attested to by many major brands.

The aforementioned artists are among many teen-favoured acts that have achieved multi-platinum sales in Canada. Canadian pop acts are also achieving success, if not at quite the same levels – releases by soulDecision, B4-4 and The Moffatts have all received gold or platinum certification from the Canadian Recording Industry Association (50,000 and 100,000 units shipped, respectively).

‘The highest number of active music buyers (buying four or more CDs in a six-month period) is in the 14-to-16 age group,’ says Kaan Yigit, president of Solutions Research Group.

With summer here, several pop acts are embarking on tours or returning to tour Canada.

Grassroots

Employing street teams to hand out samplers, stickers and other merchandise at teen events and hangouts is de rigeur, and the effectiveness appreciates exponentially if it’s the members of the band making direct connection with potential fans.

‘Word-of-mouth marketing strategy is huge with teens,’ says Prabha Mattappally, national promotions and sponsorship manager for Sights and Sounds Productions.

‘If they think they’re the first person to have heard about it and it’s up to them to spread the word around, they take some ownership.’

Sights and Sounds produces high school video dances that are used by companies as an advertising vehicle to gain cool cred for their products. The company has worked with several major and independent record labels in promoting bands, new and otherwise.

‘[The kids] are already on the dance floor listening to the same kind of music and energized – it’s a great medium for them to be noticed,’ Mattappally says. At a very low cost (from $75), participants have the options of using pre-event poster signage, banners, a 30-second commercial, video wallpaper, and interactive contests.

Laura Hopcroft, owner of Boundless, a management and promo company for artists, says that while pop acts usually have a higher spending ratio of marketing to production, cost-conscious acts will find that a little creativity in grassroots marketing can go a long way.

She recalls buying dollar-store Christmas bulbs last winter, plastering them with Bran Van 3000 stickers, and hanging them on the trees that lined Montreal streets.

Stephanie McGrath, senior editor of allpop.com, part of the Jam!Showbiz online network, says that pop groups typically employ street teams to galvanize a fan base at public appearances, as well as calling in radio or video request shows to create a buzz. Knowing that a particular radio station had phone number recognition, Hopcroft says, ‘I once sent kids out to the airport with rolls of quarters to call from every phone.’

When it comes to gigs, the consensus is that new bands should try to get themselves booked at large events where promoters are looking for musical entertainment, even if it means playing for free.

‘We usually recommend an event be used as a springboard to introduce a band to the media,’ says Robert Simpson, executive publicist with The Publicity Group.

‘What it provides is exposure to an audience they might not have had access to,’ says Hopcroft. ‘As well, it provides some credibility towards their name, and they can utilize that buzz in dealing with labels and agents.’

Online

The nature of the Internet as a communications tool, and the generation’s tendency to prefer recommendations of peers over advertisers helps immensely, as word-of-mouth is spread quickly.

When Paul Gigliotti and Dave Thomson of Wave played four songs to Warner Music Canada in 1999, little did they know that one of their songs, California, would be a smash hit less than two years later. Internet marketing is a crucial part of the strategy in promoting Wave’s debut album, ‘Nothing As It Seems,’ released in June.

‘With a band like Wave, a lot of what we’re doing focuses on the Web site and building a sense of community around it,’ says Tara Luft, new media manager with Warner.

‘We try to drive all of our marketing to the site so fans can find out about the band,’ adds Dale Kotyk, domestic marketing manager. Fans are notified of Wave events and TV appearances and encouraged to e-postcard friends for prizes.

Luft says that within the first week of having an artist site up, kids will typically want pictures to build a fan site. One such fan copied the Wave logo and made it her signature, allowing Warner to track bulletin boards and sites to which she was essentially promoting the band.

‘They feel like they’re doing a service for the group they love and becoming a part of their success,’ allpop.com’s Stephanie McGrath says of this free marketing.

Yigit also feels that the peer-to-peer sharing of music files is largely a marketing opportunity for labels. ‘Based on our qualitative and quantitative research, music on the Internet fuels the passion kids have for music.’

But for practitioners like Luft, there’s a fine line in using music files to promote new artists.

‘If you can put a music file up and it gets shared, there’s an argument that it’s creating awareness and building a fan base, but if giving them the song means they’re not going to buy the album, we’ve done the group a disservice,’ says Luft.

Still, it looks like smooth sailing in Wave’s case. Warner paired with a retailer for fans to click through to pre-order a signed copy of the CD, a venture that achieved a click through rate of 10%.

‘We’re finding with online we can be a lot more compelling in motivating a purchase in an immediate way,’ Luft says.

Promotional tie-ins

Having a corporate partner, once considered an anathema in the world of rock’n’ roll, is now also de rigeur, particularly in the teen-driven pop music industry. Kotyk is currently negotiating with an as-yet unnamed clothing manufacturer on a cross-promotion deal at retail locations for Wave.

Such deals, which typically elevate awareness for both parties – and the cool-by-association quotient for the sponsor – include signage around the store, POP displays and giveaways, and in-store autograph signings by the artist.

Soft drink, snack food and telecom companies have also paired with touring pop bands. Being a sponsor helps a company build its brand geographically as well as demographically, by benefiting from the media attention a group receives at each tour stop.

Garry Francis of Francis Management inked a tour sponsorship for his client soulDecision last year with Guess Jeans, giving the company prominence in the group’s TV, radio, and online ads. Francis says companies will pay anywhere from $10,000 to $50,000 – either as a flat fee or a percentage of costs – to sponsor a tour in Canada, which typically nets them signage around the venue and/or onstage, information booths, logo insertion on Jumbotron screens, announcements at each of the venues and advertising in concert programs.

Stuart Rosenstein, VP of Nickelodeon Theatricals which puts on an annual pop festival for kids and their families, says that just being where kids are is one sponsor benefit, and being where kids are experiencing their first live concert is a bigger one. ‘It’s a great way to reach parents and kids directly at a really impactive time – when they’re having fun.’