'Brands can play an incredible role in culture' – DJ David Guetta on brand partnerships, creativity and authenticity

David Guetta is no stranger to mixing it up with brands, but how does he ensure such partnerships are successful, and rewarding for fans? As part of The Drum's Cannes issue, guest edited by Publicis Groupe chief executive Maurice Lévy, the artist shares his thoughts on creativity and how brands can build an authentic tone of voice.

Brands have always wanted to weave their stories into popular culture: something only accelerated since Red Bull’s Stratos jump and the move towards culturally relevant branded content. On the opposite side of the coin, musicians and artists are reaping the rewards of such partnerships, allowing them to create bigger, better experiences.

At the forefront is DJ and producer David Guetta, who is no stranger to partnerships having worked with brands including Coca-Cola and Tag Heuer to create brand-sponsored entertainment.

With advertisers increasingly seeking more inventive ways to position themselves, music can offer the perfect opportunity for creative tie-ins, harnessing emotion and bringing people together. And when they get it right, the results can be mutually beneficial – but how do brands approach these collaborations? And how do artists retain authenticity?

This was the thinking behind My Love Affair, the brand partnership agency Guetta founded with his now ex-wife Cathy Guetta and Raphael Aflalo, former managing director of Omnicom Media Group. The agency works with artists including Avicii to advise them, and brands, on the strategic benefits of such relationships.

“Everybody knows that music has an incredible power on people, whether emotionally (that one song tied to a moment that you’ll never forget) or physically. It brings people together and is probably the only thing in the world that can do so, but not everyone knows how to creatively and strategically tie it to what a brand does,” Guetta tells The Drum.

“You need to know about music to talk about it. And if you don’t, you can surround yourself with people who do and who can walk you through it and advise on the best talent partners and the whys and hows of the power of a partnership with music.”

Collaborating with a brand in the right way can provide a “synergy” for artists, according to Guetta, who believes such partnerships provide him a platform to offer fans “unique” experiences. “I believe we’ve come to a stage where brands are the number one content and experience producers. So, when I work with a brand, it gives me a platform to offer my fans something unique: either a crazy piece of content or an unbelievable experience.”

Guetta’s recent partnership with champagne house GH Mumm enabled one such “crazy piece of content” – a music video which can be viewed simultaneously across dual screens. Created to launch the DJ’s single Dangerous and directed by Jonas Åkerland, the video has been viewed over 90m times. The result, he says, is a synergy that has seen the two connect to create something that promotes both the brand and his music “incredibly well”.

But how does he gauge which opportunities work best for him? “I always have to be comfortable with the brands I work with. Either I find the brand aspirational from the get go or I genuinely believe that we can create something really special together.”

This sweet spot has been the holy grail for brands for some time – inhabiting a successful branded content space that’s authentic and engaging – and Guetta says brands and artists must position the consumer at the centre.

“If the brand is expecting the artist to be a salesman, it is not going to work out and it is going to damage the brand’s image too. Brands’ aspiration for being a part of culture is not new, but whoever they decide to partner with in order to do this, both parties have to meet half-way. They have to imagine a story that puts the consumer at the very centre: that’s the only way to make it authentic for both the brand and the talent at the same time.”

For Guetta, that often means incorporating the brand into his live shows around the world or during his parties in Ibiza. “It makes sense to connect the dots with my shows and where my fans are: a live show is an incredible moment and there can be so much emotion generated from that. If a brand can give access to that experience, why not?”

Talent inspires Guetta – be it a songwriter, a producer, a DJ or a creative artist. “Talent is what everything else is based upon. Authenticity needs talent,” he says. And true creativity also means taking a leap of faith – being unafraid of failure.

“I once read a quote by Salvador Dali: ‘Have no fear of perfection, you’ll never reach it!’ Well that’s what creativity is about: it’s about daring, being authentic to yourself, trying new things.

“There will be failures along the way, but if you never dare you can never be truly creative. That’s what I have always tried to do with my music: bring unexpected combinations together, like when I first brought urban and electro sounds together. And that’s what I admire the most from other artists or talents.”

If mixing it up has been key to Guetta’s success, do his forays into branded content, bringing together brand stories with his music, look set to continue?

“Brands can play an incredible role in culture. And I believe it can be taken to the next level. I feel good about brands’ desire to connect, to get closer to people and to really understand what they like, what they stand for and how they can be a part of that.” Watch this space.

David Guetta joins Maurice Lévy on stage at the Cannes Palais des Festivals’ Grand Auditorium today (25 June) for Publicis Groupe’s annual seminar exploring innovation and creativity.

This interview was first published in The Drum's special Cannes issue, guest edited by Maurice Lévy.

Photography by Ellen Von Unwerth