The night of the 2012 summer solstice, June 20, marked a turning point for the electronic dance music scene (EDM). On that night in New York, three of the genre's biggest celebrities-Steve Aoki and Swedish House Mafia's Sebastian Ingrosso, with special guest Skrillex-performed some of their most pivotal gigs to date at two different parties. It was a true sign that the genre had reached full commercial viability, not because the artists played to the most packed crowds of their fast-moving careers, but because each was booked by a major brand-Aoki for Kraft's Trident gum and Ingrosso and Skrillex for Samsung's Galaxy SIII phone launch.
For Aoki, the Trident "See What Unfolds Live" event and accompanying online campaign with Duran Duran (which was a surprise guest at a June 20 Terminal 5 concert) marked his second tie-in with a blue-chip brand in the past month. In late May, a series of commercials from Beam Global's Pucker Vodka started airing, featuring a new mix of his single "Ladi Dadi" that is already giving the DJ/producer more exposure than any other song has.
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"I'm not writing commercial dance music, so the way fans of mine find out about my music isn't through the radio but through alternative sources," Aoki says of the TV spots. "This commercial is another way for people watching TV to hear my music."
Many branding and touring executives cite Swedish House Mafia's sold-out December 2011 show at New York's Madison Square Garden, sponsored by Absolut Vodka, as a watershed moment in EDM's marketability to fans and brands. Though radio-friendly acts like David Guetta and Calvin Harris have scored deals with Coca-Cola and Pepsi, respectively, the more endemic acts are gaining just as much traction.
In recent months, EDM artists have attracted brand interest from companies as diverse as Adidas (which recently hosted a live music session with Swedish electro duo Dada Life and next week hosts AraabMuzik) and Ralph Lauren (Avicii will be the face of its Denim & Supply fall 2012 campaign), as well as Beats by Dre (a new TV campaign features Nero's "Promises") and Sonos (current spokesman: Deadmau5). Coming this fall, Pepsi is prepping a remix campaign for its support of the 25th anniversary of Michael Jackson's Bad featuring custom remixes from some of EDM's biggest names.
But Absolut's evolving partnership with Swedish House Mafia continues to establish a new model for EDM branding deals. The most recent extension, an original song, music video and drink project called "Greyhound," has garnered more than 10 million video views and had the DJs perform the song at the opening of its jam-packed set at Coachella.
Absolut brand director Afdhel Aziz credits the promotion as contributing to its current sales health. "Absolut in the U.S. is seeing really positive growth in the business and the brand," he says. "Music helps us connect on an emotional and visceral level like few other things do. We're really committed to supporting and partnering with artists in new and exciting ways. EDM is blowing up in the U.S. at the moment, but we're keen to work in all genres of music."
For every cutting-edge liquor, apparel or beverage brand that starts to embrace EDM in its marketing, a separate crop of brands looking to borrow equity from the next big craze has started to circle the genre with mixed results.
EMI senior VP/head of brand partnerships Ron Pence cautions that "non-culturally forward" brands won't find success unless they create campaigns and artist connections that speak to the "empowerment" of EDM culture. "That consumer is all about hope for the future, personal integrity and power as an individual," Pence says. "If a brand can't capture that, it's not going to work."