Reese: Joe, thanks for taking the time for this interview. I’d like to talk to you about decision-making processes around music in brand communication.
Beliotti: Let me warn you ahead of time: I’m extremely passionate about this topic and I tend to go on and on. (Laughs). So to start off: Music, to me, is another way to tell a story. And there are two ways in which music enters our brand strategy at Coca-Cola: One to amplify and extend the reach of our campaigns. For example for the FIFA World Cup, the Olympic Games or Christmas, we traditionally create our own songs, or “anthems”, which we use throughout the life of the campaign, including multiple points of communication. When we are sourcing existing music for a creative ad, our agencies have a voice in picking the music that we use. It’s a very collaborative effort.
Reese: So who signs off on it? Who has the final say?
Beliotti: We always bring together all the expertise we have in this building - whether it’s the music team, our internal content team, or the brand teams, we all share the same end goal – to drive the business. For any piece of work we create, we’re leveraging the collective thoughts and insights from the different teams here. Music is so much a part of all of our lives, and when we put a piece of music into a campaign or against a piece of creative, it’s going to create an emotional reaction. And when the music resonates with our internal process, we’ve found it usually also resonates with our consumers.
Reese: Through my research, I found that there’s a high level of frustration both at agencies and brands when it comes to deciding which music goes on air. A lot of brands have low confidence in their agency’s ability to deal with music, while agencies consider it an ineffective, very costly and time-consuming process. But you at Coca-Cola seem to know what you’re doing. Music isn’t just an add-on for you. So what would be your advice for colleagues at other brands – what could they do better?
Beliotti: I recently had a conversation with someone who wasn’t working in the marketing space, and they were so surprised to hear that Coca-Cola had an internal “Head of Music” – supported by a full music team. Which I find odd! So many brands have a Head of Sports Marketing. To me, it just makes sense to assign a similar position for the audio sphere. Music plays such an important role in communications. If you want to integrate music into the storytelling of your brand, you need to start building these capabilities internally to guide the process, because there is subjectivity around music. Also, most brands don’t have clear music guidelines. That is critical for us at Coca-Cola. We first developed a strategic framework determining how we apply music that is right for the script/story but also right for the brand’s DNA. And then we built a range of tools across our brand portfolio – Coke, Sprite, Fanta – to guide us in finding or creating music based on the brand architecture.
Reese: I find that the US is far ahead of Europe in that respect. The European communication industry looks at music as a mere campaign-driven, tactical tool for storytelling – rather than a strategic weapon in brand-building, like you do at Coca-Cola.
Beliotti: With Coke, you have the Red Disc, the script, the dynamic ribbon, the shape of the contour bottle… and then you have the sound of Coke itself: The “pshhh”, the “ahhh”… It really is a multi-sensory experience, and within that experience, sound plays a key role. And Coke recognized that very early on. They started using music for brand-building long before my time. The first celebrity we had in an ad was a music artist named Hilda Clark. And that was in 1895.
Beliotti: It was arguably the first ever music endorsement deal. Then in 1910, Coke was printing sheet music for people to gather around the piano and play songs together. In the 1920s and ‘30s, the brand was very active in radio, sponsoring radio shows, and in the 1960s and ‘70s, there was a program called “Things Go Better With Coke”, where Coke had a hundred artists – from Ray Charles to Aretha Franklin to The Supremes to The Who, all singing songs that go with the tagline “Things Go Better With Coke”. Music has always been a part of Coke’s ethos. In fact, a lot of what we do today is very much inspired by that heritage: Our partnership with Spotify, for example. Spotify is the future of how people consume music - and that is exactly what happened in 1910, when Coke produced sheet music. They were just spreading ways for people to enjoy music together through the brand. And if you look at our new campaign “Taste The Feeling”, with a song by Avicii and Conrad Sewell - it’s very similar to the “Things Go Better With Coke” initiative. We have a new tagline, a new idea that we’re trying to bring into pop culture, and we’re using music to do that.
Reese: So let me ask you - what happened to your most recent audio logo?
Beliotti: In January 2016, we moved to a new audio signature for our global “Taste The Feeling” campaign to support our “One Brand” strategy for Coca-Cola.
If you look back at our history. “Always Coca-Cola” had its sound, “Can’t Beat the Real Thing” had its sound, “Open Happiness” had those five notes. But “Taste the Feeling” is a new and very different way of connecting with our consumers. With “Taste The Feeling,” we wanted the lyrics to really be part of the new audio signature. And in addition, the audio signature goes back to the intrinsic sound of Coke, the soundscape of Coke. Everything from opening the bottle to the sound of Coke pouring on ice, to the effervescence and the refreshment as the purest form of the audio signature. The product soundscape is the base, with the melody strung overtop.
Reese: What do you think the future of audio in brand communication looks like? What will brands need to prepare for?
Beliotti: We have to think about music as a consumer asset and create something that is going to actually bring them enjoyment and value. There’s an opportunity in the music marketing industry to really think about how we can start to measure music to the benefit of both the music makers and the brands. The sports industry is much more mature in that respect - they can quantify the spent on a giant sports property or relationship. Music is a little more difficult to measure. But we need to start building those metrics.
Reese: I have been preaching measurement too. Do you guys actually pull econometric data on your music choices?
Beliotti: We deploy various testing measures and use that to inform conversations but it is one input and not used for decisions. When you look at something like our brand anthems, like “Taste The Feeling”, that’s a little harder to get consumer feedback on, because for them, the context does not exist. But the context of music behind a film, that’s something we can get a reaction on. There’s a guy you probably know, he was the Director of Music at Coke before me and still a close partner – Umut Ozaydinli– who has invested in a research company that does exactly this type of work - they develop tools for brands to tell them which music will work with which brand, this style versus this style, and so on.
Reese: That’s exactly what brands need. The amount of money brands spend on licensing – without ever knowing whether it did them any good, that’s mind-boggling to me. I keep telling them: “Stop borrowing equity hoping that it’s somehow going to pan out. Start at the strategic level and think about what you can do to immerse yourselves in pop culture, to not just slab something on a piece of communication, but for it to really become part of the brand’s DNA, to add value to the conversation with your consumer.”
Beliotti: Right. And that’s where you look at the challenge at Coke. Coke is ubiquitous, we all know Coke, we all grew up in a generation where Coke was a part of our pop culture. And our job is to build this connection between Coke and pop culture again and again, with every new generation.
Reese: Let’s talk economics a little. Coke understands music as a financial asset. Correct?
Beliotti: Yes. At our global music division here, we have three different fields that we take care of: First, administering the catalogue of music that we own and that we collect revenue on. Secondly, we have custom music creation through our partners at Music Dealers. Thirdly, we are starting to centralize the procurement of music, streamlining that process. Now when you look at our approach to music, the intent behind setting up guidelines before we start a project around music has to do with the universality of Coke. A piece of communication could be created in Germany or Argentina with a local focus in mind, but then we realize it resonates with everyone in that region, or even around the world. That’s why we run TV commercials in the US that were produced in Latin America, for example. Ideas scale, and they can scale tremendously. If you don’t look at music right from the inception, what happens in the backend is much, much more difficult to handle. Sometimes there’s so much complexity that we’re not able to make the scale work. Or we have to change score because of the music. We’ve seen that happen so many times in the past that we now proactively get in front of it and make sure the music that goes with our work is able to scale as well.
Reese: That’s so smart. It’s a nightmare for brands here in Europe who don’t look at it from the point of inception.
Beliotti: The music industry can be hard to navigate. I give credit to Coke for taking the risk to hire someone from the music industry and from outside their walls. There is a learning curve when learning about the brand, the history, how the business works, which I did over time. I had a wide range of experience– I had worked with publishers, with music and film, in music marketing, and so on – so when it came to having the right structure for a deal or setting up our music registration, that was second nature to me. That’s where it’s important for brands to really invest in music as a role within their organization to compliment what their partners are doing.
Reese: These 25-year-old guys who work in the broadcast division of ad agencies, they just can’t deliver that – that level of understanding the complexity of music as an asset. The depth of knowledge is just not present.
Beliotti: When you do have the right conversations and collaboration around music from the very beginning, the reapplication opportunities are enormous.
Reese: What do you think of artist-brand collaborations? Where certain music celebrities deliver songs, and even fashion sometimes, for brands – like Adidas and Kanye, for example.
Beliotti: Generally, I believe creating that collision of culture provides shared value: You’re generating new creative opportunities and new business opportunities that might otherwise never exist on both sides of the equation. For our business it is critical that our partners love and drink our product. That’s why the first question we ask when we meet the artist is: “Do you like Coke?” - whether it’s to partner with Mark Ronson on the Olympics, or Jason Derulo on Share a Coke. Inevitably, they’ll tell you a story where Coke played a role in their lives, a family story, something that happened to them. They have a “Coke memory”. We’ve been working with Avicii since 2011, but it was never a five-year contract - we actually went from project to project. We just enjoyed working together and we kept finding more reasons to work together. At the end of the day, music is a relationship business. Music and brands should also be a relationship business. If you turn it into a transactional business, you’ll lose that authenticity.