Three music acts – three very different takes on creativity

Lessons in storytelling, creativity, and authenticity for marketers from musicians on the rise

September 2, 2017

Marketing Lessons from Musicians

Tucked in behind our LinkedIn Live Lounge at Advertising Week Europe earlier this year was the NME music stage. Here, up and coming bands performed short live sets for the advertising industry bigwigs gathered having lunch or evening drinks in the main bar area of the Picturehouse Central venue. It was slightly surreal - smartly dressed people being challenged to shut their laptops, look up from their phones, and listen to fiercely creative bands strutting their stuff. It was also an opportunity to record a very different type of episode of The Sophisticated Marketer’s Podcast.

Watching marketers listening to the hard-edged sounds of a band like Dead Sea Skulls, the off-the-wall pop of Lemon or the bluesy soul of Bang Bang Romeo, I couldn’t help feeling that this was a collision between very different types of creativity. I wondered what one could learn from the other – and so I took the opportunity to grab ten minutes with each of these bands in our pop-up Podcast recording studio. I put them on the spot about their views on brand and band authenticity, on whether you can tell a great story in a three minute song, and what it means to really form a connection with an audience.

Click on the Podcast player link below to hear what they had to say – and scroll down for my three favourite thoughts from these three very different acts:

Get the fundamentals of the story into the song – and let imagination do the rest

Bang Bang Romeo

Of the three acts that I spoke to, this blues-soul band from South Yorkshire were the most prolific storytellers. Telling tales of love, death and life through a few minutes of powerful vocals is their signature style, and what fascinated me about their approach to storytelling was the balance they aim to strike between the lyrics of the song and the imagination of the audience. They aim to capture the emotional arc of a film plot through a few key moments of narrative, getting the feeling across but then letting the story play out inside the listener’s own head. When I asked them about music videos, they told me that they deliberately avoid trying to tell the story through visuals. They want the audience to imagine it, and take ownership of it, for themselves.

Can marketers ever do the same? Our instinct is often to be prescriptive: telling people exactly what they should think and feel about our brand and products. Ad campaigns aren’t usually designed to leave room for ambiguity and allow people to interpret things on their own terms, but that’s often where the most powerful emotional engagement comes from. I don’t think there’s an easy answer to this dilemma – but as a content marketer, it’s a challenge worth bearing in mind.

Authenticity isn’t a restriction – it’s a release


Lemon’s musical style is a fusion of hip-hop, pop and dance – but it’s just one element of her approach to creativity. She’s also a fashion designer launching a Lemonade Dolls line of underwear that she believes can empower young women. She talks about launching new brands as readily as writing new songs – and you get the impression that, for her, these things all come from the same place.

The thing that struck me most about Lemon was her belief that authenticity in creativity isn’t a restriction but a release. It doesn’t constrain you from doing things that wouldn't fit your values and your brand – instead it provides an endless source of ideas for expressing your view of the world. It’s an interesting thought: the more authentic a brand is, the more creative it should naturally be.

There are no boundaries between performer and audience

Dead Sea Skulls

You’re not likely to miss Dead Sea Skulls: they look like a mash-up of Irish folk act and punk rock three-piece, and they perform with all of the wild energy that you’d expect. They are also seriously committed to breaking down as many barriers as possible between themselves and their audience. And I don’t just mean by being active on Twitter. At Dead Sea Skulls gigs, you might well find the drum kit moved to the middle of the crowd, and fans invited to try banging out the rhythm to the track. It makes keeping the performance on track difficult – but in their view it’s worth it, and it certainly sets social media alight following a gig.

It all comes from a clear-eyed point of view that it’s the connection with an audience that is the ultimate measure of a band’s success. If the most effective way to create that connection is to invite them to be a part of your performance, then what does it really matter if the rhythm section is a little off for a couple of tracks? I love this idea – it’s grungy, spontaneous and very, very smart. And for marketers looking at audience co-creation as part of a content strategy there’s an interesting lesson in there: remember why you’re doing it, don’t expect perfect and polished results, and focus on the engagement metrics that really reflect your objectives.

That’s my take on some very different creative viewpoints at Advertising Week Europe. Listen to the full podcast for more of the same.

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