Universal Explains How It Will Match Bands With Brands in New Initiative

The Global Music Data Alliance, a partnership between Universal and Havas Media, aims to put demographic data to work

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Fall Out Boy
Fall Out Boy may get more presence in advertising, due to a new partnership between Unviersal and Havas Media called the Global Music Data Alliance. Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

Earlier this week, Universal Music Group revealed that it was working on a new ad-focused venture with Havas Media that would pair artists with brands, based on demographic user data. Here's how it will work: Let's say Bud Light wants to hire a pop star to appear on a Super Bowl commercial. But which star to hire? The beer giant's customer base is mostly male, between 21 and 34 years old — possibly a fit for a band like Fall Out Boy. "You select the right artist, and the artist's got the most affinity with that brand's customers," says Mike Tunnicliffe, a new Universal Music Group executive who is overseeing partnerships between artists and brands. "If you get more specific, it helps you bring more ad dollars into the system."

Tunnicliffe is helping to oversee the Global Music Data Alliance, a new partnership between Universal, the world's largest label — home to artists from U2 to Rihanna — and the Havas Media Group. The new initiative, which was announced earlier this week, will emphasize "big data," such as information about music fans derived from their listening tastes on streaming-music services and social-media networks. Although some of this data is broad and difficult to break down (YouTube streams for instance), services like Spotify, Pandora and Shazam compile listener data by gender, age and, in some cases, geographic location.

This is useful information, not only for artists trying to figure out where to tour next, but for advertisers who want to align themselves with the artist's audience. When fans buy CDs or downloads, old-school record stores and Apple generally keep those demographic numbers for themselves; streaming services, however, make data available to artists, labels and even fans via Spotify Analytics, Pandora AMP and Shazam's geographic iPad tools.

"We're at the beginning of this era of 'how do we make sense of this?'" says Alex White, chief executive of Next Big Sound, a New York company that compiles music-consumption data and sells reports to artists, labels and advertisers. "The arc is towards democratization of data and transparency, and that will lead us to a place where brands will feel more comfortable allocating more and more of their budget towards music."

In earlier days of the music business, many top artists avoided corporate partnerships so they wouldn't look like "paid shills." But over time, from Michael Jackson's Pepsi sponsorship deal in the Eighties to Apple's advertising relationship with U2, pop stars and their labels have embraced these revenue sources — crucial during an era of low CD sales, plummeting download sales and low streaming royalty payments.

Havas Media, a French communications and marketing company that works with brands from Nike to McDonald's, will allow the alliance to "turbo-charge what we can do," Universal's Tunnicliffe says. (Havas' chairman is Yannick Bollore, whose father, Vincent, runs Universal Music's parent company, TV-and-media giant Vivendi.)

An announcement about participating artists could happen within a couple of months. "We really are trying to up our activity with brands, and get out there and put together much bigger campaigns and partnerships," Tunnicliffe says.

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