Founder & CEO
Narrative, a digital marketing shop backed by entrepreneur Russell Simmons, teamed up with sports clothing brand Under Armour in August 2013 to roll out “Natural Born Hitters,” a social and digital campaign tied to the brand’s 60-second television spot, “Ready for August.” Tricia Clarke-Stone, founder and CEO of Narrative, spoke with eMarketer’s Danielle Drolet about the effort, which included a series of mixtapes and a contest, featuring artist and producer Pharrell Williams and the NFL’s Ray Lewis.
eMarketer: Why do you think it’s important for brand marketers and music industry people to come together in digital?
Tricia Clarke-Stone: There’s a lower barrier to entry when you’re in digital. It would be different if Under Armour went to artist Pharrell Williams and said, “Hey, can you create a track for us? It’s going to be in our commercial.” That would’ve taken weeks or even months to negotiate and tie into.
Instead, we wanted it live on a digital platform. Plus, it’s a unique proposition. With music, much of it is tied to triggers and storytelling—and figuring out new ways you can tell stories. With digital and technology, the sky’s the limit. If you can dream it, you can build around platforms to really make those elements come to life.
Music is a trigger for folks in eliciting emotion and driving action. Many brands aren’t really taking advantage of it in the way we have. Of course, they sponsor concerts or do live streams. Red Bull is another brand that does a great job of organically weaving music into its brand campaigns. Marketers will get the most impact where it becomes a fabric or a thread that’s integrated.
eMarketer: What has “Natural Born Hitters” succeeded in doing for Under Armour?
Clarke-Stone: Under Armour now has this level of influence that it didn’t have with this audience subset before. This was a pop culture moment that was really driven by all the parties because we created this community. Now that Under Armour is in this space, how do they get ahead of it? Maybe they’re discovering the next Pharrell and that person will be featured in their next commercial. In return, the company is creating these new pop culture moments. Music equals pop culture.
“Music is a trigger for folks in eliciting emotion and driving action.”
When you have a hit in music, it becomes a pop culture phenomenon. And the only way brands are going to be relevant today is if they really penetrate pop culture. That’s what drives everyone.
eMarketer: What surprised you?
Clarke-Stone: What surprised us was the level of pickup and how people were so interested in the marriage of an athlete and one of the top superstars in music today collaborating. It wasn’t the athlete rapping. When people first heard of it or saw it, they assumed, “It’s another athlete trying to be a rapper.”
But instead, we were creating this whole anthemic theme around sports and football, paying homage to those hit makers. Hit makers come in all forms and in different places. In this case, it was really recognizing the collaboration of music and sports.
The other thing that really surprised us was the amount of user-generated content submissions we got toward the end of the campaign. This campaign wasn’t live for long—only about four-and-a-half weeks. In the last couple of weeks, we got about 90 submissions. Usually, it falls off.
When the campaign first launches, people are excited and make their submissions. The last two or three days of the promotion, people were scouring to get their submissions in. They were being meticulous and thoughtful in terms of what they were going to submit, because the prize was so big. And, it was to be featured with one of the top brands in sports on a huge stage with Monday Night Football.
eMarketer: Revenue streams are clearly shifting in the music industry. Do you feel that that’s put pressure on artists and labels to experiment with new marketing?
Clarke-Stone: Yes. In the past, artists subscribed to the “They have to pay me if I’m going to do that” model. Now, many artists need to diversify what those revenue streams look like, and they’re trying to build themselves as brands. They know that if they have high social media capital, it’s valuable. They now have a wide audience scope that they’re speaking to.
eMarketer: Why is the bar higher?
Clarke-Stone: Many artists now realize that they’re brands. They’re not selling records like they used to. Of course, they’re on tour. But they’re open to becoming more entrenched with brands. Then, if brands can give them that creative runway, they’re more than willing to reinvent what those pieces look like.
“In the past, artists subscribed to the ‘They have to pay me if I’m going to do that’ model. Now, many artists need to diversify what those revenue streams look like.”
Another reason is because there’s so much saturation—campaigns, advertising and messaging—everyone’s trying to figure out how to stand out amongst the clutter. How can I really be tied into this conversation and this audience subset? One big way to do that is to go where the audience members are. We know they’re consuming music, and they love the talent performing it. How can we build platforms that really give them a level of access or be more creative and innovative in terms of what those touchpoints could be?
eMarketer: Do you think digital has been a key driver in developing this brand mindset for artists?
Clarke-Stone: Digital, particularly social, has given an artist the opportunity to potentially speak to 8 million followers. Now, we’re getting into scaling influence, which no one has ever been able to do, because we didn’t have enough bullhorns. Today, social provides that scale. If it’s cool and compelling, you can reach 8 million followers or friends, and you should have the ability to double that because quality is always going to spread.
Quality and relevance drive scale, too. If I see something that’s really cool, I’m going to share it. Then my friend is going to share it. It’s about this whole notion of having social and these always-on newsfeeds, so everyone’s aware of what’s going on.
eMarketer: Can you share some best practices for brand marketers that are considering a campaign strategy around music content?
Clarke-Stone: It’s important to look at who the best partners are. Do you go with superstars? Do you go with unknowns? What would be true to your brand? It’s not always about a top-of-the-charts artist. It’s about figuring out how you want to tell that story.
Know what drives your audience and how you can best engage with them. Is it access? Is it a mash-up collaboration? Is it a concert experience? Then, focus in on how you can build a community around this experience. We tapped into a creative collective of music and sports fans and all these social platforms, which were only going to help amplify the program overall.
In addition, think about stature. What’s the incentive? What are they getting out of this? Is it going to be a passive or active experience? Brands should always opt for an active experience, but maybe the audience comes in a framework of it being passive. Then there’s something that triggers it to make it more of an active experience. And that’s when the incentive piece gets tied in. Find the connection points.
“Quality and relevance drive scale, too. If I see something that’s really cool, I’m going to share it. Then my friend is going to share it.”
eMarketer: What are some pitfalls brands should avoid?
Clarke-Stone: Many brands say something similar to what Under Armour did: “We have a commercial. How can we make this social, and how can we bring this to life via digital?” Sometimes brands fall into the trap of deciding they need a new campaign. They don’t. Once you have your narratives, you have to figure out how to layer that on top and really lean into the benefits or the power of the platforms to tell different elements of that narrative.
Then, have the experience be discoverable. You know you’ve won when someone is searching for buzz or something they heard about. Make sure there’s a discoverability element tied to it. In the end, when you decide you want to do something tied in with music marketing, the focus is always going to be about cultural relevance.
Music is such a big part of culture. Brands have to remember why they’re doing this, what they want the outcome to be and how they want to penetrate culture. At Narrative, we believe once you’ve figured out how to become relevant with one of these campaigns—gained a level of influence—you can get in front of culture and start creating your own pop culture moments.