There’s a huge paradox that exists in the music industry. TikTok is recognised as music’s largest discovery tool in 2023. And yet, brands don’t seem to want to discover music through it or through any medium for that matter. “Find us an artist with a huge following on social media and a big TikTok hit” is the motto. 

While TikTok is used by a huge audience as a platform to discover new music, brands seem to focus on the music that has already become popular through the platform, before using it in their own ads on other platforms. 

It’s funny if you think about it. While TikTok is used by a huge audience as a platform to discover new music, brands seem to focus on the music that has already become popular through the platform, before giving its own platform to the song or artist’s attention. 

What happened to brand bravery? What happened to edge? What happened to creating unique campaigns with unique messages? 

Sync placement”, where an established song is used within a campaign, is still an incredibly popular choice for big-budget ads. These placements consist largely of a small selection of extremely well-known songs that constantly seem to make a reappearance. The ones that get stuck in your head.

Songs with a cult status are a double edged sword. Yes, the song may be recognisable but if it’s remembered as the song on the ad for a different brand that also used it, how helpful or effective is it? And for the cost versus effectiveness ratio, it’s a short-term success metric with little long-term gain. Ironic, considering how much these songs cost to license.

In the 2000s and 2010s, huge audiences were introduced to new, cool indie bands through advertising. I remember being 8 year’s old and discovering Feist and her song 1234 thanks to the Apple iPod nano ad. She wasn’t restricted to an Apple only reputation, it did what it should do – launched her career enabling a path of creative freedom. 

For brands, contributing to the success of an upcoming artist by being the one that discovered them before they were big was just, quite simply, damn cool.

Next to the decreasing interest in undiscovered talent, the rise of marketers looking to TikTok trends as their inspiration also reaffirms the problem of the music choice coming secondary to social media metrics. From a creative or brand-fit standpoint, that’s a real shame. Especially as the right collaboration can fuel these metrics without being obvious or costing the earth.

So will we ever get back to the Feist/Apple glory days? 

Moving forward, brands could look more into an artist collaboration they can invest in early within a campaign’s creation. This gives both the artist and the brand a chance to think about how each can benefit from the other’s network resulting in, that word we all love, an authentic collaboration.
This can sometimes result in a fairly traditional collaboration. For example, the Gen-Z targeted and TikTok-inspired Axe commercial with the 2018 hit Drip to Hard, and Dababy, himself.

Such an approach is just as imaginable with smaller artists. While this is already happening to a certain extent with hot breakthrough artists and high fashion brands, there is a huge opportunity for brands in other industries to jump on this bandwagon. What if Vinted teamed up with local bands to press its band merch on secondhand clothing? Or if Eurostar facilitated a UK artist’s first EU tour?

If brands include the idea of working with an artist early on in the campaign process and choose an artist who resonates with the brand, they can create an exciting opportunity to collaborate that can offer so much more than an evergreen sync ever could.

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