While working as the director for Incubus’ Make Yourself Foundation, Brandon Deroche had an idea. Having spent his entire career in the nonprofit space, he recognized a gap — and felt well-equipped to help fill it in.
“I had seen a lot of artists supporting different causes and initiatives that existed, and what I found was that there were platforms that helped raise funds, but it was such a missed opportunity to not only raise money but also to get the fans to take action — and understand the work that these organizations are doing and why the band cares about them,” says Deroche. “There was a hole.”
In 2015, he decided to launch a new platform called Propeller. But in order to get it up and running, he first had to convince Incubus to run a campaign on a site that didn’t yet exist, to which they quickly agreed. Through the site, Incubus gave away VIP meet-and-greet packages for every date of its upcoming tour with alt-metal peers Deftones — as well as a 10-day trip from Death Valley to San Francisco, where a lucky fan would meet the band.
“We had about 30 days before the campaigns started to build the website, pull all the nonprofit partners and put together all the prizes for it — and we pulled it off,” recalls Deroche.
After the successful soft launch, he hit pause and officially launched the company at the top of 2016. With the motto of “Take action. Get points. Earn rewards,” Propeller incentivizes fans to become activists, while collecting points that they can later cash in for exclusive prizes — from platinum passes to Bonnaroo to a Fender Noventa Stratocaster guitar hand drawn and designed by Lights.
Through the pandemic, when IRL meet-and-greets at tour stops and festival passes were no longer an option, Propeller pivoted to virtual experiences. He says the results of one collaboration in particular, with indie-pop band Peach Pit, shocked him. “At the time, we were starting to run a lot of other virtual experiences with bands that were headliners at festivals where Peach Pit might be pretty low on the bill — and Peach Pit blew the doors off in terms of how many people they got to participate and how well the campaign went,” says Deroche. “That opened our eyes that it’s not always the biggest name, it’s about who really has a true bond with their fans. Even if it’s a smaller universe of fans.”
Deroche says it’s a 50/50 split between artists pitching Propeller and the company seeking out talent to partner with, but no matter how a deal comes together, one thing remains a priority — that it’s a win-win for everyone involved. “We want to give people the opportunity to take action and get involved in different ways, because we really think that that’s how change is going to happen,” he says. “It’s the crux of what we do.”
Below, Deroche breaks down three of Propeller’s recent and significant campaigns.
Lil Dicky x Now Climate Action
Propeller has been working with the Natural Resources Defense Council for a few years now, and in 2021 decided to double down on its efforts by creating a climate initiative of its own called the Now Climate Action Campaign. “[We] went out to a bunch of different artists and festivals that we work with and asked them to be involved in this and to come up with these different prizes to inspire climate action,” says Deroche. Considering Propeller’s history with Lil Dicky, having worked on two campaigns together previously, as well as the artist’s hit song “Earth” (which has over 317 million YouTube views), the pairing here felt obvious.
“Lil Dicky was in the middle of shooting his show Dave, and we were trying to figure out what a good experience or prize could be for the campaign,” recalls Deroche. “And we didn’t have a whole lot of time to figure that out. We thought, ‘What if we can give his fans an opportunity to go see the impacts of climate change firsthand?’” Lil Dicky had mentioned wanting to give his fans the opportunity to see the glaciers in Alaska, and thanks to Propeller’s long-standing partnership with Intrepid Travel — the company that helped with the initial Incubus prize trip — the details were sorted within a week and revealed just in time for Earth Day in April.
Gojira x Brazil’s Indigenous People Articulation (APIB)
“We really believed that [this campaign] was going to do well, we just didn’t know how well,” says Deroche of its latest partnership with a metal act (following campaigns with acts including Lamb of God, Bring Me the Horizon and Underoath). He says Gojira came to Propeller with an idea and goal of supporting the APIB, a national reference and acknowledgement of Brazil’s indigenous movement, and needed help in executing it. Deroche adds that the band, their label and management “really did a lot of work to bring this all together, they basically called in favors from all of their friends.” Everyone from Metallica to Slayer contributed one-of-a-kind items “that had a backstory,” whether they came from a certain tour or recording session.
As a result, this campaign became the first time Propeller did a combination sweepstakes, where fans could donate for a chance to win a hand-engraved guitar from Gojira frontman Joe Duplantier, or bid on the other items as part of an auction (for which Propeller specifically built out the functionality). “What was kind of mind-blowing to me is that the guitar alone raised over $150,000,” says Deroche (the entire campaign raked in $312,938). “If you are a metal fan, you are a metal fan. It’s very much a community in that sense, and something we intend to [tap into] more of in the future because of how successful this one was.”
Demi Lovato x Pride
This June, Demi Lovato teamed with Propeller for a second time to launch an action campaign during Pride month in which the pop star has donated clothes and accessories from their past tours for fans to win, as well as the grand prize of a wellness trip to Joshua Tree’s famed Invisible House. “Demi is a very vocal person when it comes to things they care about and activism overall, and for an artist of that size, it’s rare they’re as focused on this as they can be,” says Deroche.
He says the first time Lovato partnered with Propeller, they contributed about 70 different prizes. “We had never had a campaign like that before,” he continues. “They had all this clothing they had worn on tour or in videos and different photos they had taken and paintings they had created as well that we included.” For the current campaign, the goal was always to emulate that past formula, since it performed so well — “and hopefully, it’s going to be as effective.”
“They contributed a lot more prizes,” says Deroche, adding with a laugh, “I’m surprised their closet isn’t empty by now.”