Bad Boy Pitch Men

[This post originally appeared on Ogilvy PR's travel and toursim blog, Being There Doing That]

Bob Marley is a legendary singer/songwriter, unmatched political activist, but also arguably the world’s best known lover of sensimillia and a prolific producer of children (12 in all … three with Rita, two adopted, seven with separate women).

Iggy Pop was the dynamic front man for The Stooges (and later a solo artist), but also was know for his on-stage antics including self-mutilation, audience abuse and stage diving (not to mention his legendary drug habit).

On paper neither Marley nor Pop are the celebrities who immediately come to mind as corporate pitch men. Yet Marley – 28 years after his death – is still very much the voice of Jamaica tourism; and Pop’s “Lust for Life” has been the soundtrack of Royal Caribbean commercials for the better part of the decade.

In a world where brands go to great lengths to protect and promote a reputation, what gives?

Bob Marley put Jamaica on the tourism map (some would argue Chris Blackwell, the legendary founder of Island Records, put Marley, and therefore Jamaica, on the map). Marley and Jamaica are – and always will be – inextricably linked. Don't you agree that most travelers to Jamaica come to experience the Marley lifestyle (whatever that entails)? As the island’s most famous son (Legend alone has sold upwards of 20 million worldwide), it would be a huge miss if Jamaica didn’t feature him in their outreach.

The Royal Caribbean case is a bit trickier. There's some online chatter questioning the choice of Pop’s song for a family-friendly brand. But I’m of the mind that (1) Iggy Pop was never a household name and (2) “Lust for Life,” at least in the US, was never a “hit” song (according to Wikipedia “Lust for Life” reached #28 in the UK Albums Chart and peaked at #120 on the Billboard charts in US). I doubt that beyond a small percentage of the population, Pop has a lot of relevance. And while the bulk of the lyrics are PG-13, the refrain, I’ve got a lust for life, works for Royal Caribbean (both lyrically and energetically).

Iggy Pop

Many brands use music from well-known artists to market their product/service (it makes particular sense for travel services and destinations as music can immediately convey a lifestyle or feeling) . And with the music industry in a rough state, bands will continue to aggressively license their work for compensation. Some fans consider this selling out. I think most bands consider this lunch money. Four immediate lessons come to mind for brands considering this route (it should be noted that I spent a few years in the music business, at a label, several small agencies and as a consultant for brands looking to connect with bands):

  1. Embrace an artist who epitomizes what you are trying to sell. Easier said than done – there are only so many Bob Marleys.
  2. Do your due diligence. Go beyond the lyrics. Demand that your agency provide a full research backgrounder on the artist (particularly those you aren't familiar with). Make sure you’re turning over all rocks. What does the mainstream press say? What’s the chatter in social media? Is there a conversation ready to erupt? If so, you might want to walk away.
  3. There are different levels of association with an artist ... from licensing a song/lyrics to the artist's likeness to the artist as a pitch-man. The latter is highest risk/highest potential reward.
  4. Again, with the state of the music business being what it is, there are deals to be had. Leverage your spend, particularly if you're interested in working with the artist beyond just using their music (e.g., personal appearances, exclusive content, etc.)