When the rumor mill exploded last week with news that Apple may (or may not) have acquired Beats Electronics to add executive talent, a new streaming music service, and of course, headphones, to Apple’s already strong music business, a spotlight on the changing face of the music industry was lit up once more.
For a long time, artists stayed away from allowing their music to be used for advertising purposes. Commercials featuring an artist’s music were considered to be “selling out” for decades. Until somewhat recently when the trend reversed.
What started as a small sample in the 1990s turned into a boom for musicians in the post-Napster era when alternative revenue streams – outside the labels – were in demand.
Apple itself ran a series of successful ads for iPods and the iTunes music service – the ones featuring dancing silhouettes wearing the iconic white earbuds – that were received quite well. Advertising a music service and player with popular music seems like a no brainer, but it’s possible that Apple considered this ad campaign even more seriously. Steve Jobs himself is believed to have had individual control over the song selection. That’s a power both equal parts kingmaker and tastemaker.
Their latest effort uses Gigantic by the Pixies and highlights the iPhone as a tool for creativity as a musician, rocket launcher, and indoor astronomer. The Apple spot debuted on April 22, just before interest in the Pixies shot up on Google Trends.
As I write this, one of the most well known commercial songs, Nick Drake’s “Pink Moon”, which featured in this Volkswagen commercial plays in the background at the Starbucks. Referenced in the Time piece linked earlier, this seemed appropriate to include. I only know the song from the commercial, but as soon as I heard it, I thought back to the ad. It’s a poignant spot with four (teenagers?) kids driving through picturesque scenery to a party only to decide it’s just not their scene when the journey ends…and they set off again. I recalled the entire ad in a second.
Music is a powerful motivator and suggestion. It’s a companion at the gym, a friend on a long commute, and a background presence during many events of our lives. But wait, there’s more! All of these qualities make songs powerful components of advertising campaigns.
The Guitar Hero and RockBand franchises were built on this foundation.
If Apple buys Beats, it would be a high-profile acquisition of a brand that has recognition comparable to Apple itself. It’s not Lala, the fledgling music service, or PA Semi, the chip designer. Beats has customers, loyalty, product spotlight and recognition. It has music executives and musicians. It’s crazy, but for a company that has put so much into brand and commercials, right down to the artists it featured for iPods at the time when that was the biggest stage anyone could hope for, this might work out in ways no one can foresee yet.