Eilish in the “Bury a Friend” room during Spotify’s “The Billie Eilish Experience” at The Stalls at Skylight Row in Los Angeles on March 28, a Clio Award winner.
Eilish in the “Bury a Friend” room during Spotify’s “The Billie Eilish Experience” at The Stalls at Skylight Row in Los Angeles on March 28, a Clio Award winner.
Joe Scarnici/Getty Images

Clio Music Director Michael Kauffman Talks #Clio60, The 'Visceral Power' of Music

As the glittering advertising honors turn 60, their younger music arm recognizes savvy marketing moves around the sounds of Billie Eilish, Meek Mill and Elton John.

Known as “the Oscars of Advertising,” the Clio Awards have saluted the world’s ad masters since the industry’s Mad Men-era heyday on Madison Avenue. (The show’s fictional adman Don Draper nabbed a Clio for TV advertising in the AMC series’ fourth season.) But across six decades, the niche awards competition -- founded in 1959 by advertising executive Wallace A. Ross -- has evolved into a fluid, ever-adaptive program that reflects the year’s highest achievers in advertising, sports, fashion, entertainment, health and more. Innovation, creative excellence and the permeation of pop culture have remained its cornerstones, and if there’s one medium that epitomizes the Clios’ versatility, it’s music.

Launched in 2014, the Clio Music platform, led by music director Michael Kauffman, honors the year’s most notable music achievements in two categories -- music marketing and use of music -- presented annually during the Clio Awards. This year, #Clio60 will take place at the Manhattan Center in New York on Sept. 25, hosted by Bravo’s Andy Cohen. While grand-prize winners are held until the program, the year’s gold, silver, bronze and shortlist honorees are announced in advance. Gold winners include Spotify’s “Billie Eilish Experience,” Roc Nation’s Meek Mill short film, A New Set of Rights, and March for Our Lives’ “The Most Vicious Cycle” (music marketing), as well as holiday campaign synchs for Eilish (“come out and play”) and Elton John (“Your Song”) in campaigns for Apple and John Lewis & Partners, respectively (use of music).

Since 2014, Clio Music has further recognized Honorary Award recipients including Blondie, Global Citizen CEO Hugh Evans, Swizz Beatz, SB Projects’ Scooter Braun and Will.i.am for outstanding creative achievements in the music business. This year, it will honor Sheryl Crow with the Impact Award and Joan Jett with a lifetime achievement award.

Honorees are selected by a music-specific jury pool comprising executives from labels, publishers, digital service providers, management companies, agencies, brands and the live sector. The 2019 panel includes, in music marketing, Spotify vp/global executive creative director Alex Bodman; YouTube global head of artist services Vivien Lewit; Live Nation executive vp global brand management Darin Wolf; and, in use of music, OK Go frontman Damian Kulash, Amazon Studios head of music Bob Bowen and Kobalt Music/AWAL president of global synch and brand partnerships Jeannette Perez.

Committed to its role of celebrating music’s “visceral power” to shift culture and bolster profits, Clio Music is about much more than recognizing jingles, says Kauffman, who joined the organization in 2018 following stints at YouTube, RightsFlow, Universal Music Group and more. In just over a year at the helm, Kauffman and his team have formed new partnerships with industry organizations including the American Association of Independent Music, Music Ally, AIMP and the Music Business Association, and launched a daily editorial content platform -- Muse by Clio -- last July that is devoted to celebrating the industry’s creativity year-round.

Ahead of the Clios’ 60th anniversary, Kauffman dissects the importance of music to advertising, this year’s program additions and what’s next for the platform.

What’s new this year in the various awards categories?

Every year we evaluate and tweak the program to reflect what we’re seeing in the entries and [to incorporate] feedback we get from our juries. With the explosion of video content, we began to realize that a lot of the creative work that was being submitted had very specific aspects that we [wanted to recognize] -- great animation, great cinematography or great editing. So this past year we launched Film and Video Technique, with award categories for animation, cinematography, copywriting, direction, editing and visual effects.

We’ve also simplified some mediums. We had long-form and short-form categories when referring to the use of music but it got a little confusing to people what was long or what was short. So this year we rolled out the different honorees based on the length of time [e.g., “61 seconds to five minutes” and “five minutes and over”]. For us it’s always about trying to simplify the program and make it easier to figure out where to enter your work.

Design is also a priority this year. Why?

The added design medium allows folks to submit a creative work in packaging and printed materials. This year, for the first time, we allowed entrants to send physical submissions so we can actually see the packages. You could previously do an unboxing video, but now [our judges] can also feel the box, get a sense of the paper and ink -- there are so many interesting creative things being done with packaging.

What’s next for the platform?

Internally, we’re looking at a couple of areas. One is, “How can we continue to evolve the program to reflect mediums happening in the marketplace?” Another is, “How as an organization do we partner with other business entities?” The Music Business Association is a trade organization that has an annual conference in Nashville that we participate in and put on a panel presentation about advertising and brand work. We’ve worked a lot with the American Association of Independent Music, which is made up of independent record companies around the world. We’re talking about what we can do to help connect that triangle of brands, agencies and industry members.

What first drew you to the Clios?

I’ve been a music fan since I was a kid, but it was really in college that I started doing music as a radio DJ, concert promoter and as a writer for different fanzines. I ultimately ended up working in the industry with various record, tech and branding companies. The Clios celebrate creativity and originality and help artists connect to audiences. That’s such a great mission. I love seeing the entries that come in and give you goose bumps. We all want those moments in our jobs.

Why has music become such an inextricable part of the ad and branding space?

Artists used to have an aversion to being aligned with brands or companies. That aversion has largely gone away, which has opened up a lot of opportunities for collaboration with brands that share their philosophies. It often affords artists flexibility to do something different, and now they’re more open to looking for partners who align with their own passions and values. It becomes natural for them to consider ways to collaborate with [brands] they already love.

Creative flexibility isn’t something I think any of us really thought about 10 years ago. It was more that a brand just wanted to do a commercial and wanted to put music in the commercial. Now artists are creating things that connect to their music visually, and brand partnerships allow them to do something that takes more research on the revenue side and can be a little more in-depth.

It was once known as “selling out.” Is that notion largely gone today?

Artists will always have a desire to communicate with and grow their audience, but the increased focus on video content has allowed more ways to communicate directly to their fans. Today’s consumption of music has changed to be much more visual, and artists have an opportunity to better communicate their mission and make an impact that engages deeply with their audience.

With the Clios’ 60th anniversary, has the team been in nostalgia mode?

We have these fantastic old issues of Clio Awards programs. I was going through them recently taking snapshots of ads and found a program from 1964 with this great ad highlighting two musicians: Nancy Wilson, who’s fairly well known, and Les Baxter. In both cases they were promoting their work singing jingles, and listed all of the different commercial jingles they had sung on. Now we’re seeing how artists want to build something outside of just singing in a commercial. There are experiential ideas that artists and partners come up with as a means to engage fans more with what an artist is creating. It’s such a big reason why the branded content area has evolved.

 


 

The Grand Clio

Clio music director Michael Kauffman looks back at the music winners of the Clios’ top prize in 2018.

Each year, clio music’s jury pool selects up to two of its Gold winners for the awards program’s highest honor -- the Grand Clio -- revealed live during the ceremony. (This year, the jury selected 31 total Gold winners in music.)

Rapper Logic nabbed 2018’s top music marketing honor for his “1-800-273-8255” video, which benefited the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, and was produced by the rapper’s creative agency, Visionary, alongside label Def Jam Recordings. The single, which also featured Alessia Cara and Khalid, peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 on Sept. 30, 2017.⁠ “It was so powerful,” says Clio Music director Michael Kauffman. “Here’s an artist who found a way to really change how people understood and thought about depression, and he gave them the impetus to reach out and talk to someone.” In addition to its ability to affect “so many people,” says Kauffman, the campaign thrived on its built-in emotional connection. In the two hours following Logic’s “1-800” performance at the 2018 Grammy Awards, calls reportedly tripled to the organization’s crisis-counseling number.

The year’s second Grand Clio recipient, in use of music, went to VML and Interscope’s tongue-in-cheek We Beefin? mixtape for fast food chain Wendy’s. The 10-minute rap collection, released in March 2018, playfully stirred the chain’s Twitter beefs with competitors McDonald’s and Burger King with tracks “Twitter Fingers” “Clownin” and “4 for $4.” Archie Davis, CEO of Six Course Music Group, oversaw the campaign and will sit on this year’s jury. “Wendy’s became part of the conversation culturally on social media,” says Kauffman. “It was truly a defining moment in advertising.”

This article originally appeared in the Sept. 21 issue of Billboard.


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