Edith Bowman, Boys+Girls, Three and YouTube explain the collaboration that earned the mobile network a seat at the table in promo culture, writes LBB's Alex Reeves
When Edith Bowman started her broadcasting career at MTV, music video was a core part of culture. “It was all about music videos,” she says. The BBC broadcaster, writer and host of the Soundtracking podcast remembers how this all changed soon after she started there. “Suddenly they started showing reality shows and the music video died.” As we chat in a shady spot on the last day of Cannes Lions, she recalls classics of the genre, running through Hype Williams’ videography and reminiscing about the impact a simple film like the Arctic Monkeys’ first video by Edith’s friend Huse Monfaradi can have on culture. “It was a throwback to The Old Grey Whistle Test, which was so simple but so effective!”
Edith’s passion for the medium of music video has led her to get involved with Three’s ‘Made by Music’ campaign, which has been championing promos for over a year now. She was in Cannes to chair a panel about the campaign’s first year and earlier this week she jetted over to Ireland to launch the newest video in the campaign at the Dublin venue Opium.
Rory Hamilton’s appreciation for music video culture was key to his involvement in the project too. As chief creative officer at the agency Boys + Girls, he was instrumental in the collaboration between Three Ireland, YouTube and a series of musical artists that would become the stars of the campaign. He argues that music videos are important to culture again, that a good one can make a track. Look at Childish Gambino’s This is America. Rory says it’s “one of the best pieces of film I saw all year”.
“They’re such a shared cultural experience,” he says. “In the office, the first thing that happened [when that video emerged] was everybody gathered around someone’s computer to all watch this, now.”
The campaign started with Three’s brand purpose: a “better connected life”. Trying to reach young audiences, the agency and client soon came to the realisation that if they could celebrate the connections that are made by music, they’d be in a strong place.
Rory admits that at first the agency wrote the big brand ad they’d usually go for. But quickly they realised it wouldn’t engage with the young audience Three wanted to reach. Three had to prove its role in music, not just tell young people that they cared.
Eventually they landed on the idea of creating music culture, not just piggybacking on it, making three music videos with Three’s brand purpose baked into them.
They went to record labels, music video directors and collaborated with YouTube to select three artists to showcase. They landed on Saint Sister, Kormac and Jafaris - three very different performers. Elaine Carey, chief commercial officer and chief marketing officer at Three Ireland, explains their decision: “We didn’t want to alienate a segment. So we had to get three different varieties of music. [At that age] you’re very distinct with what you want your sound to be. And you don’t tend to deviate from what we saw from the insights and the research. You want the music you like. We were very conscious not to pick one genre.”
Directing a series of music videos was out of Boys + Girls’ comfort zone in a sense. The filmmaking process with music video directors is different. Edith highlights this as one of the reasons she loves the medium. “A director’s got his vision from the audio. I like when they’re given that opportunity to just run with it. The band or the artist don’t have that much influence. They’re not in it, particularly. It fits so perfectly because it’s another person’s interpretation of that creative.”
Rory explains that the agency team had to be way more hands off than they were used to. “We found it’s a much more collaborative process with the director, rather than me writing a script and telling them what happens in it. We said they were getting free reign as long as they answered this brief. The client didn’t attend the shoot. We weren’t over their shoulder the whole time, the way you would be in an ad. Everybody benefited from it and it meant that they could apply their creativity, adding to it rather than having that restraint.”
Working collaboratively with YouTube, the largest music platform in the world, meant Boys + Girls could draw on a lot of data for insights to inform how the videos took shape. In the panel in the Cannes Palais, YouTube’s head of Ireland Elaine Doyle revealed that brave framing and close-ups work well on the platform, for example. The process of making and launching one video, drawing insights and then moving on to make the next one was key here. In the panel session Rory noted that YouTube’s date proved that quite an esoteric shot of an owl in one of the videos was key to that video’s performance. Once viewers saw that shot, they were significantly more likely to continue watching, Elaine said. “We learned from the data and were understanding as we filmed what was working for the next one and the next one,” adds Elaine from Three.
So they were happy to put owls in the videos, but never lay the Three brand on too thick. “All of us agreed at the very start that we would be genuine in the way that we approached it,” says Rory. “We weren’t going to try and put a handset in everybody’s hand. We’d go to the spirit of it.” The only branding was at the end of each of the videos, where the logo and campaign line was delivered.
This is something that impressed Edith about the campaign: “The way that it wasn’t compromising the artists’ integrity in any way, shape or form. It was about the talent and the creative drive of the artists and the directors of the videos to really push those artists. I thought that was really unheard of.”
The results of the first three videos were potent. To illustrate this, fewer Irish people skipped the Made By Music videos than a Beyoncé and Jay-Z campaign that was running at one point during the campaign.
“Very quickly we knew that we were going to continue it,” says Elaine at Three. “We saw the results. We had to do it for more than a 12-month period.”
Further evidence for the Made by Music campaign’s authenticity is that the three artists they had selected became a supergroup in their own right, collaborating with each other organically to make a track together. “They would not have got together themselves naturally, I think,” says Elaine Carey. “They were quite different.” And that track - Causing Trouble - became the fourth video in the series, naturally.
From YouTube’s perspective, Elaine from Three thought this fitted nicely with the way the data shows things are changing in youth culture in favour of more eclectic tastes. “We’re starting to see an emerging trend - less siloed lanes of music. It’s like what we were saying about the promotion of the campaign. If the content is really good… In this case the music was really good. So if someone saw Jafaris and loved the vibe, they would then also give the second one a chance and so on. We do see that. And not just in Ireland. There’s a lot of diversification.”
With the success of this in mind, collaboration became the focus of the second year of the campaign, which kicked off at the end of June with a new track made by three artists coming together - Follow The Sound came from the process of Three throwing David Kitt, Fehdah and Kean Kavanagh in a studio. “From diverse musical backgrounds they’ve created a really arresting track,” says Rory.
Edith is excited about a corporate brand like Three playing a role in supporting music culture, not just capitalising on it: “It was about the music and the artists. And about Three being a brand that wanted to be associated with that, encouraging and helping that. It’s hard for artists, especially at that level, for their heads to pop over the precipice. There’s so much around, so anything that can give them a platform to showcase them is a great thing.”