We Ship It – 5 Brand Partnerships That Are Making Waves

The world of brand partnerships is often a murky one. With affiliations, sponsorship, activations, endorsements, advertising, and more, it’s hard to tell where one ends and another begins. To that end, we’ve compiled a list of 5 hot off the press agreements between music and business to show you the range of possibilities different companies are using to amplify their brand’s existing success.


Keep On Trucking


If America’s favourite home-brewed genre has taught us anything in the past twenty years, it’s that there’s nothing more country than trucks, with the possible exception of whiskey and beer. Artists like Kacey Musgraves and Zac Brown Band are doing their best to chart a different course, but it’s clear there’s a deep-seated appetite for the country bro stereotype, and it’s not going away any time soon.

So it should come as no surprise that heritage brand Chevy have hitched their wagon to a safe pair of hands in Luke Bryan. This is a classic and straightforward partnership making Bryan the face of and ambassador for the brand, based on strengthening existing ties between two huge and naturally complementary fan-bases.

Chevy called the partnership a “natural fit” for the company as it looks to attract more country fans. “Our customers love country music, and Chevy has always held a special place within the genre,” said Paul Edwards, Chevrolet U.S. vice president of marketing. Bryan said his family has been all about Chevy as long as he can remember. “If you were a Bryan, you drove a Chevy,” he said. “I am so excited about this partnership and I’m honored to be representing such a wonderful brand.”

The “We Rode In Trucks” singer replaces Kid Rock, whose controversial persona and association with the Confederate flag is probably what prompted Chevy to change horses in the middle of the stream, despite their protestations to the contrary. Bryan is also a fresher face, with a much larger and more passionate social media following, boasting over twenty times as many Twitter followers as his unpredictable predecessor.


Boots, Roots, And Amplified Deals


At the other end of the scale is independent Nashville artist Jamie Kent, whose hard work secured him deals with audio giant Bose and Durango, a footwear manufacturer famous for another country music staple – cowboy boots. Like all brand partnerships, these two agreements are based on mutual interest, but the details differ vastly from the Bryan-Chevy deal.

jamie kent

Kent earned his Durango partnership by winning a competition, but has gone a step beyond, sensing an opportunity to make the most out of his victory, and pitching his own ideas for how the relationship might play out. The focus here is much more on creating a genuine relationship that has room to grow, instead of just leveraging a famous artist’s existing popularity.

Durango marketing manager Erin DeLong said the company enjoys its partnership with Kent because he is “fresh and a new face” who brings “new life” to their deal. Through Durango, Kent was booked to play CMA Fest, and the Let Freedom Sing July 4 event in Nashville. He’s played corporate gigs, and been booked in songwriting sessions through Durango as well. In exchange, the company gets to have its boots worn by a young, edgy artist whose look fits their profile. If Kent goes on to achieve broader success, then Durango is getting in at the ground floor.

For independent artists, brand partners are taking on some of the more traditional roles of a label or publisher – financing and booking tours, arranging co-writes, supplying equipment, and generally supporting an artist’s progression, all on the cheap. As Kent said “I consider these companies part of my team. They believed in me before I had interest from a label, or a management company or a booking agent.”


Bacardi and the Beatz


Squaring the circle between the previous two examples, Bacardi are teaming up with respected hip-hop producer Swizz Beatz, who had a hand in one of the greatest music videos of all time. More popular and well-known than Kent, but more than just the face of the brand like Bryan, Beatz, real name Kasseem Dean, will become the Global Chief Creative for Culture following a successful short-term partnership with Bacardi for Art Basel last year.

In Dean’s own words, that means being “involved in all aspects of the product – from brand marketing and advertising to innovation and selling platforms – areas to which I will bring a new, fresh perspective.” Bacardi CEO Mike Dolan believes this kind of flagship project is key to integrating the brand with like-minded partners in other prestigious industries.

“For Bacardi, having Swizz as a partner represents an opportunity to sell more than just bottles and cocktails,” said Dolan. “It represents a convergence of our brands in lifestyle and cultural experiences. Consumers are identifying with brands that fit their lifestyle in culturally relevant ways and Swizz is the perfect partner to identify and forge these new consumer connections.” Bacardi now plans to work with Swizz Beatz to forge deals with leading names in sport, fashion, technology, art and film around the world over the coming months.

Giving an outsider such a big say in the process sounds like a gamble, until you remember that not only do producers evaluate ideas for a living, but Beatz is a serial entrepreneur who had a respectable stint as VP for Reebok, with other ventures in fashion, cars, and audio. This new partnership has the power to be transformative for Bacardi in terms of engaging fresh audiences, and keep growing Swizz Beatz’s burgeoning entrepreneurial credentials.


One Step Closer To The Edge & I’m About To Break


Where Bacardi have combined the Chevy and Durango/Bose approaches to satisfy a healthy middle ground, telecoms multinational Vodafone, recently voted the UK’s most valuable brand, has taken the opposite approach, staking out both extremes. On the mainstream side, they’ve sponsored the Big Top 40 since 2009, and the Capital Summertime Ball since 2012, but this year, they’ve launched a new competition-based artist discovery platform.

Future Breakers entrants could potentially walk away with filmed studio sessions, and publicity on the Big Top 40. It’s a bold move, one designed to shore up their credibility as genuine supporters of music and up-and-coming artists without compromising on the more immediately lucrative, straightforward support of chart toppers with ready-made popularity and reach.

At the moment the focus is young people and families, and that’s at the heart of our brand. So sponsorship and events will do that job for us very, very well. That will be where most of our investment will end up. It’s about finding areas that our competitors are not necessarily active in and finding that clear space to then own. We found a new angle within that, which is grassroots and unsigned: so we’re very proud of that and that’s the kind of way that we approach sponsorships going forward.

Of course, there are risks of spreading your brand too thin with this sort of multi-pronged approach, which can dilute your focus and requires a considerable budget. But the rewards are greater too – as with Durango and Bose’s deals with Kent, brands that can claim a hand in launching an artist’s career will find it much easier to develop genuine long-term relationships at modest levels of investment.


Wade In The Watermelon Water


In each of these cases, the brand is of equal or greater stature than the artist. But that’s not always true – cue Beyoncé, who always loves to buck a trend or two. The Destiny’s Child survivor is just the latest example of the wave of celebrity investors providing much needed financial support and an invaluable platform to smaller brands that they believe in. Or, as WTRMLN WTR found Jody Levy puts it, celebs “are looking for brands to partner with for the same reason brands are looking for influencers – in both cases people want to use their voice to share stories.”

Beyoncé’s “I’ve been drinking watermelon” lyric from Drunk In Love was an unmissable opportunity for Levy to associate her emerging brand with an unfiltered and genuine part of the superstar’s life. She decided to inundate the singer with free juice to catch her attention, resulting in an organic partnership that works so well “because it’s the right balance of inspiring people and doing good and it has some sex appeal to it.” OC&C Strategy Consultants’ Will Hayllar thinks there’s a perfect storm of factors causing this surge in artists flipping the story by taking the helm.

There is an increase in the business savviness within a band of celebrities who are much more controlling with their business interests and highly entrepreneurial. There is a strong alignment between these celebrities and small start-up companies who can’t offer sufficient cash upfront to cover their fees but can offer an opportunity to buy into their growth. Celebrities can send a very powerful message to their fans along the lines of, ‘You might not have heard of this brand, but I think it is going to be big so I’ve put me and my money behind it.’

And Beyoncé is doing just that, putting WTRMLN WTR front and centre of her Formation world tour, and aligning it with her clothing line, Ivy Park. Just as Durango, Bose and Vodafone stand to gain from any artist they help get off the ground, early celebrity support for a brand can prove a huge windfall for the entrepreneurial types who seek business legitimacy and see a career beyond the recording booth.


In The End


From these 5 examples in just the last couple of months, it’s easy to see brand partnerships come in all shapes and sizes. The particulars depend on a wide variety of factors – the size of the brand and the artist, where exactly their stories align, what each side is trying to achieve, the level and type of financial muscle on the table, and what opportunities for cross-promotion are available to them, to name but a few.


But the general message is that brand partnerships are a growing and invaluable sector, with the potential to be an indispensable source of income for brands and artists alike. The key takeaway is that, whichever side you’re on, and whatever your level, there’s an alignment out there somewhere that will work for you. The tricky part is finding it.