Jack Daniel's and Soundtrack Your Brand on why data’s role in music marketing will always be small

Marketers from Jack Daniel's and Spotify backed Soundtrack Your Brand have agreed on a point that many might expect them to differ – that the role data plays in music marketing should be limited.

Jack Daniel's has worked hard to establish itself as a whiskey brand for music fans. Be it through partnerships with emerging artists, putting on gigs, or simply the soundtracks for its advertising – it has infiltrated almost every part of its marketing.

Despite the vast array of data which can tell the brand what track is most popular among its drinkers or the artist trending in its community, at the end of the day its successes have been firmly rooted in intuition.

As senior brand manager for Jack Daniel's, Michael Boaler said at The Drum’s Music Marketing breakfast recently: “I would never make a decision based on data. It sometimes helps but I would never use to make a decision.”

“There is no science to selecting artists,” he continued, although later admitted that it does mean he needs to tread very carefully to avoid being “overly subjective and picking an artist because you like them and not because your audience might.”

It’s a difficult line to walk and it’s why he thinks the creative agency’s role in its music marketing ventures has been so critical, suggesting that being too inward-looking can result in brand disasters like Pepsico’s widely criticised Kendal Jenner ad which was produced in-house.

Perhaps surprisingly for a data-driven company like Soundtrack Your Brand - which promises to “kill bad background music” - it agreed that there can be an over reliance by marketers on using hard numbers to identify the right musical collaborations for their brands.

“Every [company] wants to look at data to make decision and they bring that [mindset] into creative sections of the business. It completely destroys everything and they make stupid moves,” said Ola Sars, chief executive and founder of Soundtrack Your Brand.

“We find ourselves in situations where data always wins….[marketers] only want to look at that, not listen to music. They want to know what’s trending and engage with that artist, right now, no questions asked. There’s a huge challenge in trying to fight back.”

However, where it can play a role it in helping to shine a spotlight on what’s relevant at a local level. Sars said there’s insights at a marketer’s fingertips on what’s sub-genre of music might be popular among a segment of a brand’s consumers. Or it can identify a rising artist in a local town quicker than it’s ever been able to do before.

“That has the potential to be more relevant and find diamonds you might not have before in terms of local collaborations. This healthy mix between heart and science,” he said.

Gary Cohen, brand partnerships director at ATC Management & ATC Live added that the music industry had become so ‘data rich’ and that the industry knew more than ever about an artists’ fan base.

“We try to be absolutely open with brands and agencies and share that data because there still does need to be a degree of science in terms of who you are targeting and that is to everyone’s advantage,” which in turn helps to justify the decisions made.

Jack Daniels’ Boaler went on to add that despite this, a crucial part of his role is still going to smaller gigs and getting to know promoters in towns and cities across the UK. He also stated that the ‘crucial’ role of the agency was to help find the right artists for brands to partner with and to ‘take them out of their own bubble’ when making that choice of artist.

A warning emerged from the event that if brands allow data to dictate the musicians they work with or events they partner with there will be a complete homogenisation of the industry.

Zoe Stainsby, head of entertainment and music at Omnicom’s Fuse said: “It’s a challenge to get people to be brave in their selection choice rather than saying “oh that artists has done well for that brand so use them”. We need to encourage people to be brave and bold. Data helps to justify decision but if all of the decisions made are data-driven it will become a race to the mainstream”.

The panel discussed various other elements of music marketing including the role of virtual reality and how artists should be used creatively by brands during the hour-long discussion which can be heard through The Drum’s session recording above.