Thought leader: The evolution of music and entertainment brand partnerships

Nathan Kosky, Vice President – Europe, AEG Global Partnerships

Marketing partnerships in music and entertainment are nothing new; from Michael Jackson’s endorsement partnership with Pepsi throughout the 80s, using artists songs in advertising to brand activation at live events and festivals, there has been a decades-long association between brands and the live entertainment industry.

Partnerships in the sector might have begun with paying artists to help promote their products, and badging events to reach the right audience – but over the last fifteen to twenty years they have evolved into something much bigger.

At AEG Global Partnerships, our story in Europe begins with our partnership with The O2 – taking what was then known as the Millennium Dome and turning it into the world’s foremost entertainment venue. O2’s approach to their naming rights partnership went above and beyond anything seen in the UK previously. By giving back to customers, via their Priority Tickets programme and other brilliant benefits, they changed the game.

This marked the start of an evolution of live entertainment partnerships that is ongoing to this day. While brands still need and want endorsements and event presence, they have also come to recognise the value of developing more integrated, more impactful and more memorable partnerships that mean something to their consumers.

Bringing authenticity to partnerships

Over the last decade, partnerships have evolved to be seen as a platform for engagement – a way to reach consumers ‘in real life’ in an ever-more fragmented media landscape. With the right partnership, brands can reach potential customers, reward loyalty and enhance brand awareness and consideration – but there are several things they must consider to get it right.

Rather than talking ‘at’ fans, brands have started looking for ways to enhance their experiences. As the UK slides into recession, this has never been more important. People may pull back on big-ticket items, such as holidays or new cars, but they will not sacrifice laughter, fun and escapism; when Peter Kay’s residency at The O2 was announced last month, tickets sold out within hours.

When brands focus on adding value, they can interrupt a journey and make a special night even more special – associating the brand name with positive memories in fans’ minds forever. Whether that is offering priority access to tickets, access to lounges, on-site discounts or other perks, this has proven an incredibly effective way to build deep and lasting relationships.

Following the trends

Brands appetite for more impactful and effective partnerships, whatever their objective, grows stronger and stronger every year. Recognising the value of an integrated approach, where partnerships act as both a platform and an asset that can be used across a wide-range of channels to improve return.

With the incessant rise of social media, the next stage in the evolution of partnerships is already afoot. The focus of the moment it shareability. What happens in the arena no longer stays in the arena, and by creating additional sharable experiences brands can ensure that they are associated with the event not only by the people there, but by their friends, family and followers.

A wonderful example of this is in the work American Express is currently doing at The O2. Not only has the team arranged for artists to meet some of their biggest fans, but they are also creating exclusive, extra-special and highly shareable experiences for customers, on-night winners and VIPs.

The future of partnerships

As brand communications develop to focus more on ethics, ESG and doing the right thing, the way they activate partnerships has started to evolve. For example, OVO has committed to supporting the venues it sponsors achieve ‘A Greener Arena’ certifications. The OVO Hydro in Glasgow became the first arena in the world to achieve this status earlier this year, and the OVO Arena, Wembley, is next. OVO’s support will make the 80-year-old venue more energy efficient and sustainable, and mirroring the work they are trying to do within the energy sector.

While some brands focus on bringing their own skills and expertise to the table, others focus on elevating live entertainment. Virgin Money not only provided enhanced customer access, but also created an emerging artists’ programme, which focused on finding ‘the next big thing’ and providing support to up-and-coming acts to help them grow their platforms and take their careers to the next level.

When companies get this type of activity right – where it is relevant and doing some genuine good – it really works, both for their brands and for their customers, particularly Millennials and Gen Z. The move towards using partnerships for good is part of wider move from brand-focus to consumer-focus, driven by a generational shift – simply put, young people will turn their back on brands that do not do the right thing, and are more likely to consider and be loyal to brands that do.

Despite this shift, the theory remains the same; using live platforms to appeal to fans’ passion points at a time when they’re already engaged and having a great time is an incredibly effective way to build lasting relationships.

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