Brands and marketers have long tapped celebrities as professional spokespeople to help them connect with consumers and promote their products. Now, some of the world’s biggest brands are taking the notion a step further; anointing famous personalities with “creative director” titles.
Once relegated to appearing in commercials, signing autographs and promoting products, stars are trading endorsement deals for boardroom duties. The shift has caused uproar across the industry as many question whether celebrities are qualified for the job and wondering what gives. The answer to those questions lie in examining what the brands are finding value in.
When you begin to study the recent influx of celebrity creative directors a commonality between most of them emerges: their inspiring musical prowess. From Will.i.am to Lady Gaga, Justin Timberlake to Alicia Keys and Taylor Swift, each artist sings pop music, functioning as a purveyor of pop culture. So why do brands think that this is important?
Culture is what we do, what we eat, what we wear, where we go, how we communicate and what we find acceptable. It’s what drives us, our beliefs and social acceptance. It’s also what we buy. Brands are realizing that in order to continue to resonate with consumers, an authentic connection to culture is critical to staying relevant. Whoever possesses the key to cultural knowledge is able to better anticipate and position themselves to meet the wants, needs and desires of their consumers. But culture is challenging for brands because it is inherently nebulous and difficult to understand. It can’t be quantified or its direct value assessed. Generally, brands need help unlocking and translating the insights needed to move their organization forward.
Working with many amazing creatives throughout my career, I’ve often found that the most talented have either been musically gifted or deeply inspired by it. Those who “speak” the language of music just seem to have a stronger “gut” when it comes to understanding people and culture. This is because music impacts culture in a substantial way. It creates feelings and experiences and has the power to bring people together. Music is a universal language. In celebration; there is music, in tragedy; there is music, in victory; there is music.
Music is a common foundation and it’s a way of life. Musicians innately understand this. So it seems like a natural next step for pop stars to lend their thinking to any brand seeking a better understanding of where culture and their consumers are headed. By engaging these culture creators, who transact it on a daily basis, brands are going to culture’s source and bringing it in house.
I’m encouraged that brands are directly engaging musicians as creative inspiration and cultural liaisons. The closer that brands align themselves with culture, the more in tune the brand will be with their consumers. The trick will be to sustain that connection if their musical muses lose their own relevance. For this reason, moving toward a method for distilling culture, verses entrusting your organization’s cultural vision to one person, may in the future prove a more sustainable model.