When New York-based "tropical grit pop" duo Ghost Beach was selected as the latest band to have its music featured in an online commercial for American Eagle Outfitters in January, the group had the opportunity to also be featured on the retailer's giant digital billboard in Times Square at the corner of 46th and Broadway. But rather than use the space to highlight the group's current single, "Miracle," or even feature a photo of its members, Ghost Beach wanted to shine a light on something entirely different--the debate surrounding music piracy.
The band partnered with ad agency TBWA\Chiat\Day to take advantage of the double-sided billboard to draw attention to an online campaign, Artists Vs. Artists, on Twitter and at artistsvsartists.com. The campaign encourages Ghost Beach's musical peers and fans alike to tweet their views using the hashtags #artistsagainstpiracy and #artistsforpiracy and visit the micro-site to vote with their dollars on whether they would buy the band's "Modern Tongues" EP (released through indie Crazy Heart Records) on iTunes.
The results since the March 18 debut are surprising: Though nearly 3,000 tweets were hashtagged in favor of piracy (versus around 100 against it), the number of people who opted to pay for the band's music was more than the number of those who opted to download it for free.
Sitting outside the billboard over coffee at the Times Square Starbucks, lead singer Josh Ocean is pleased with the small yet impassioned debate the campaign has already inspired. Electronic pop peers like DJ Viceroy and French Horn Rebellion have tweeted their own views, while others have reached out to Ocean directly.
"I had an artist friend just yesterday write me a huge, long email about the whole thing, saying, 'This is cool. We need to talk about intellectual property protection on a global scale. It's going from country to country,'" Ocean says. "People are bringing up all sorts of interesting points. If it gets bigger than our community of musicians, then that's great. If it just stays within a bunch of our friends talking about this, that's a start and that's really cool, too."
It was the band's desire to foster a dialogue around its core product, recorded music, that appealed to the more traditionally minded sensibilities of an ad agency like TBWA, which counts music-loving brands like Pepsi, Absolut and the Grammy Awards among its clients, not to mention Apple and iTunes at sister agency TBWA Media Arts Lab.
"It's a really good thing to get people interacting with your brand in that way," TBWA chief creative officer/chairman Mark Figliulo says. "You're not just telling them what to think, you're asking them, 'What do you think?' It was on their mind, and as it should be probably in every artist's mind right now about how to navigate this world. I give them a lot of credit for putting it out there and saying, 'Let's talk.'"
It's become increasingly common for ad agencies like TBWA to take on bands as clients for projects both big and small, and often for low fees or even on a pro bono basis (the latter was the case for Ghost Beach). The Richmond, Va.-based Martin Agency recently created original artwork for Def Leppard's iTunes release of its '90s single "When Love & Hate Collide" as part of a passion project, and Bartle Bogle Hegarty in Los Angeles has worked on music-based projects for acts like Teddybears and Robyn, whose creative director Mary Fagot has an in-house role at the agency. BBDO helped team OneRepublic with Save the Children for an original song, "Feel Again," that ended up becoming the lead single for the band's just-released "Native" album, and TBWA even worked with Alicia Keys as a client for a campaign with her nonprofit Keep a Child Alive.
"A vital part of representing our clients is how we promote and get artists paid for their services," Figliulo says. "As an industry, it's our job to figure this out with them."