As a girl whose adolescence coincided with the boy-band hysteria of the late 90’s and early 00’s it was kind of hard to avoid getting on the Justin Timberlake train. N*SYNC posters lined my locker, my brand new iPod was loaded with their saccharine ballads and there might have been one or two heated arguments with girlfriends about which member actually was the cutest. (FYI, it’s Justin.) So now as a 30-year-old woman I was obviously sucked into the JT frenzy when he announced his Man of the Woods album – but not for the reason you think.
You see my passion lies in the arts, marketing and brand partnerships, so much so that my dissertation in graduate school was on contemporary art’s affect on the branding and cultural capital of luxury brands. So when Justin Timberlake announced that he was hosting a pop-up in NYC to launch limited-edition custom, collaborative products that corresponded with every song on his new album I was hooked.
Justin (along with Bravado, the branding & merchandising division of Universal Music Group) is pairing his individual songs with brilliantly hand-selected brands that radiate the Man of the Woods persona he has developed for this album release. Picture Pendleton blankets, Moleskin journals, Best Made Co. strongboxes, Lucchese boots and Heron Preston shirts just to name a few.
It’s become a sort of rite of passage for celebrities, especially musicians, to create merchandise and sell it via the ever-popular pop-up. Artists like Kayne West, Frank Ocean, Taylor Swift, Drake and Fall Out Boy have hosted similar pop-up experiences because they know that branding in contemporary society has become second nature to all consumers. However, while those artists focused on branding their fans with “merch” that heavily featured their own name, image, or likeness, Justin Timberlake has gone in a new direction that doesn’t name drop for himself but rather for the brands he has collaborated alongside.
While album sales for musicians are tanking, artists are looking to create tactile experiences for their fans to interact with and this new ideation on “merch” is quietly becoming a booming business. Justin Timberlake’s alignment with brands such as Yeti, Nike and Levi’s becomes an extension of his own brand and you heard it here first I predict that this innovated form of brand-partnership marketing will be the future for nearly all artists.
This type of collaboration isn’t just great for the musician but more importantly for the brands selected as it legitimizes their status as both an economic and social power. Branding is all about creating an emotional link to a product and music is a strong way of creating that link because music is ultimately about inspiration. I envision brands will continue to find a way to fuse a link between their own voice and not only musicians but other known “personas” whether that be a corporation, film, artist or exec to create a thriving new industry that revolutionizes merchandising.
So, if this new wave of marketing featuring partnerships and experiences is the future, how can you innovate your own brand utilizing these techniques? Find a brand you think aligns well with your own and brainstorm how you could make them an extension of your voice. Create a bespoke curated experience from your own pop-up shop to a small touch point that happens when your customer interacts with your product. Your company name is no longer your brand; rather it is these new collaborative instances that make up your new brand-image.
While the pros and cons of Justin Timberlake’s execution of this new marketing platform can be argued, the bigger picture is that he built a thoughtfully curated collection of items to align with his Man of the Woods album and in the process innovated both the merchandising and branding industries. Maybe we all need to take a cue from Justin and take a trip out to the woods for some inspiration.
-Alex Baker, Director of Brand Experience