Inside brand-hunting Globe, Universal Music’s spin on a creative consultancy
Universal Music UK’s creative division Globe has been designed to better support artists amid declining physical music sales and streaming income playing catch-up. Modern brand partnerships, informed by a rich vein of data, have helped UK record labels income hit a third year of consecutive growth, according to the BPI.
Brand partnerships, soundtrack licensing, and the creation of branded visuals and videos all have a role in its offer. To date, the consultancy has masterminded some unusual pairings with leading brands: Chemical Brothers X F1, Raye X Mastercard, Kelly Rowland X Dove, Sigrid X Gore-Tex, The Vamps X Tinder, and the discipline-spanning mouthful that is Stormzy X Dapaah X Lingard X Rashford X Fifa 19.
Upon talking to the Globe team, it is immediately apparent that notions around artists "selling out" no longer apply in the age of declining sales. In fact, brands are proudly presenting tracks and content with artists and audiences are listening intently.
Marc Robinson, managing director of Globe, tells The Drum that the music industry is rapidly evolving. A firm grip on 2018's ecosystem it not necessarily fit for purpose one year later on. Naturally, that's where he believes Globe comes in.
"We educate people about the music industry, but internally, we show staff how brands and agencies work. Our message externally is that we are music specialists, we can work with your music strategy, creative agencies, digital agencies, direct with brands, so we make ourselves available to everyone."
The consultancy promises to create and deliver effective partnerships that a conventional record label couldn't, and to do so, Globe has been set up like an agency, with new business people, account managers, and a creative team comprising a staff of 34. It's made a promise to help brands stand out in a cluttered world where 7m tracks a year are apparently uploaded to Spotify alone.
"Music is changing but that's a completely different article altogether," says Robinson, biting his tongue before launching into an educational piece he'd usually deliver to clients.
"The music industry as a whole has always worked with advertising in the purest form of licensing, whether that is buying the rights to a song or doing something like a John Lewis track."
But change is afoot. Over the last 15 years, it has become more common to see artists working as brand ambassadors, plugged into a brand's music strategy at opportune times around album launches. Robinson argues there is more data than ever before guiding and reporting on these efforts.
"As we now have our own insight team and can translate data into the language that brands understand. Our In-house digital media team and can reach audiences." These were services not available in the toolkit 15 years ago, but Globe has made the whole process more "user-friendly". Pairing the data with "human intuition" is the hard part.
Most recently, to help Formula One celebrate its 1,000th race, Globe delivered a partnership with The Chemical Brothers. A single, an audio brand and a music video were just some of the executions born from what was started as a conversation about licensing a song.
The Chemical Brothers created WGTT15000BPM F1 NEEEUM MIX, the sport's sonic identity. The song was accelerated to 15,000 beats per minute (BPM) to reflect the 15,000 revs per minute (RPM) achieved by cutting-edge F1 cars. The three-second spot now lives on F1 properties, carrying the band's signature sounds.
From a cross-promotional standpoint, The Chemical Brothers’ ‘We’ve Got To Try’ track and F1-inspired music video tied into the start of the 2019 season. The partnership has certainly done the dance duo no harm, with their new album, No Geography, sitting second in the UK charts.
Robinson said the partnership helped solidify a music video for the track, before praising the work of ad agency Wieden + Kennedy which helped conceive and deliver the work.
At launch, Tom Rowlands of The Chemical Brothers lent his voice to the relevance the partnership. “It’s exciting to hear our music in the context of F1," he said. The speed and intensity of F1 is a nice reflection of our music and live shows.”
When they are at their best, music partnerships are mutually beneficial for all parties involved. Sometimes there's financial support, opportunties to reach new audiences, exclusive access, or even the bankrolling of a music video, but there is also a chance for artists to tackle issues close to their heart with the right platform.
This is best epitomised by Kelly Rowland's partnership with Dove. The Unilever brand, one of the many in the stable putting purpose at its core, has long been an advocate of body positivity.
Hair discrimination was an issue close to the former Destiny’s Child star. She, with Globe, created a soundtrack to promote self-esteem among young girls and women. Unilever approached the consultancy and tasked it with identifying a musician to drive this message, even penning 'Crown' as a vehicle for what the artist and brand wanted to convey. The song opened up with footage of young women discussing hair discrimination in a partnership with the Self-Esteem Foundation.
One verse reads:
It don't matter how I wear it
It's beautiful in every color
Long, short, straight or curly
I love what I see in the mirror
The #MyHairMyCrown campaign debuted on a two-minute US TV ad slot during the Grammy Awards with a sizable media spend.
At launch, Jennifer Hills, senior vice president of Globe, said: "It is a great example of a brand pushing the boundaries of typical artist partnerships and confidently delivering a creative activation with a responsible purpose, and not falling back to a product message in the content.”
To date, it's attracted more than two million views on YouTube. But that's small feed compared to the 96m views Ellie Goulding X Budapest secured.
That deal saw the Hungarian Tourist Board contact Globe for a ‘location placement’ in Goulding's 'Close to Me’ video. It aimed to showcase the city and drive awareness and increase consideration of Budapest as a tourism destination.
According to Robinson: "When working with a brand, to get that halo effect from an artist, that intangible magic, you need to excite them. The tourist board wanted to amplify its city. The partnership fuelled the video and gave Ellie more creative freedom. She did the behind-the-scenes and Instagram Stories and, through being naturally engaged with her audience, over delivered."
Again, it was an opportunity to support the artist's big return to the music scene. "Ellie got an opportunity to do something creatively exciting with her first single in 18 months so sometimes we look at that element, what excites the artist creatively or narratively."
Of course, there is another benefit to these partnerships: they support artists.
Robinson says: "It takes much longer now for an artist to release an album so our job as a label is to find stories to tell and that can be through PR and performance and brand partnerships. We take artists to market to engage with brands in an authentic way with mutual benefit."
To build on this, Globe needs to be in the room at the conception of campaigns according to Robinson. "Let us be around the table. We don't want to be in the supply chain, we want to take responsibility for your music activation whether it goes right - or wrong. We need to fully understand the needs of the brand, and for them to understand the culture and the needs of the artists. There needs to be a mutual education before we commit to a deal. Otherwise, it leads to disappointment.
"You need an open dialogue. Getting in with the brands can creatively stimulate them as to what we can do, we need to maximise the moments - while being realistic. We naturally talk about innovating and pushing the boundaries because every artist wants to do something new and do a first."
A final feature Globe is touting is the chance to partner with emerging acts at an early stage. With its data centre, the label can fairly reliably predict the trajectory of its acts and package that for brands - before it happens. The platform a brand affords these acts could feasibly accelerate this process too.
Robinson concludes: "If it is the right fit and partnership some acts will see it as a badge of honour."
Kazoo Sato, chief creative officer and executive creative director at TBWA\Hakuhodo previously wrote in The Drum: "Music plays a more important strategic role than simply trying to boost brand recall.” Globe's partnerships indicate there is much more in play.