Down to Brass Tacks: Gwen Stefani's $12 Million Live Music Video for Target New Centerpiece to a Emerging Trend

Gwen Stefani
Courtesy Photo

Gwen Stefani performs live music video for 'Make Me Like You.'

As soon as it was over Gwen Stefani hooted, hollered and gave a huge bear-hug to video director and long-time friend Sophie Mueller as a cast and crew of 250 surrounded them and erupted into a thunderous celebratory roar. It had been an intense pressure-filled week for the pop star and her team as they nailed what was an ambitious and risky brand tie-in with Target.

The first full day of rehearsal for the live video shoot of Stefani's new single, "Make Me Like You," began just two days before it was set to be performed during the Grammys telecast, and went until 2:30 a.m. Mueller and choreographer Fatima Robinson led some 40 performers through 11 different sets and Stefani's seven live costume changes on a cavernous 32,000-square-foot soundstage on the Warner Bros. Studios lot. The day of the Grammys there were (at least) two flubs: a few hours before Stefani stumbled in the piano lounge scene; the other came during the final scheduled rehearsal -- with just 30 minutes before go-time -- when Stefani missed her roller skating exit cue and banged her head resulting in utter disarray on set as a befuddled stunt double wearing a peroxide wig turned to face the camera. The mistakes were dispiriting, and the ensuing quiet on the enormous Burbank soundstage betrayed an underlying fear and anxiety minutes before the live shoot. 

Billboard estimates Target invested roughly $12 million into the campaign, including $8 million for the airtime alone. Mistakes like the ones in rehearsal would have left egg on faces far and wide -- from Target, Stefani and Muller, to Deutsch (Target's creative agency for the campaign), as well as Stefani's Interscope Records label and Azoff Music Management.

But it didn't. "It was a best-case scenario and a hugely impressive campaign for a number of reasons," says Gabe McDonough of Music and Strategy and who formerly ran the music departments at DDB and Leo Burnett. He cites the risk factor, the huge number of eyeballs amassed for the TV tentpole, the ensuing social media buzz, the script which included a meta moment where Stefani appears to wipe-out and how the creative "wisely incorporated" the TV networks' recent fixation with all things live following the successes of The Wiz, Grease Live and The Passion.

"Absolutely," says Karen Costello, evp and executive creative director at Deutsch, when asked if the commercial concept was influenced by live event television. "If you compare what we were doing to what "Grease Live" was doing, with the condensed amount of time we had for rehearsals, creating a stage, the wardrobe, it is literally astounding what this team was able to accomplish." Costello calls the campaign the most "staggeringly ambitious and audacious" of her career.  

In translating that kind of buzz to consumers, Target, along with Deutsch, Interscope and management propagated a robust social media campaign, which included bringing in YouTube stars Todrick Hall and Meg DeAnglis to the set and devoting an area on the Warner Bros Studio lot across from the shoot to a social media team. The video itself was filled with easter eggs to stimulate discussion (such as naming the piano bar "Blake's," with his actual signature written in neon, a tabloid headline that read "Gwen Pregnant With Alien Baby" and having Hall and Stefani's hairstylist Danilo Dixon included in the video). 

Target, which deployed its first-ever Facebook Live activation, was elated after the shoot. "We’ve seen more than 3 billion media impressions to date for the campaign," said Jeff Jones, Target's evp and Chief Marketing Officer. "The conversation and engagement in social has been incredibly positive and continued to build in the days following the live moment." Jones says Target plans to continue leverage the ad's content leading up to Stefani's March 18th album release This is What the Truth Feels Like.

?Now Interscope has a fully-paid official video in its back pocket, seen and buzzed about by tens of millions before even being posted online. "It already is successful," said an ebullient Steve Berman, vice chairman of Interscope Geffen A&M, a day after the spot aired. "The response we're getting from the fans, the awareness of the project and the song are incredible."

The momentum from the Target spot could finally return Stefani to the top of the charts since her impressive 2005-06 run with Love. Angel. Music Baby which yielded three top ten  Hot 100 singles including "the chart-topping "Hollaback Girl." Her last two singles “Used To Love You” and "Baby Don't Lie" stalled at No 52 and No. 46, respectively. "Make Me Like You," however, is already trending toward a debut in the top 20 of Billboard's Digital Songs chart and, as of Sunday (Feb. 21) night, had 1.95 million plays on Spotify and 1.9 million views on Vevo.

"The pre-orders at Target have outperformed the overall expectations of where we thought we would be by street date," says Gary Kelly, Interscope's head of revenue and digital. "And then you have a halo effect at Apple and Amazon and on Spotify. Gwen's album has been the number one pre-order on Apple all week." Hall, like everyone interviewed for this article, is similarly blown-away by the scope of the initiative and says it was "absolutely the biggest campaign I've ever been a part of and the most exciting one."  

With the Target spot's wow-factor and brands and bands continuously upping their spends and creatives the question is how much of a watershed moment is this?  "It's completely amazing what's happening with brands and musicians," says McDonough. "It's not just a transactional thing anymore, brands are really invested." As proof of what brands and artists can potentially reap from these partnerships, the music and branding expert cites Kanye West's partnership with Adidas. "It's wide open right now," he says, "anything is possible."