Thursday 21 March 2013, 12:28 | By

Howdy Partner #5: Brand partnerships as art

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Rihanna & Mac Cosmetics

So, we might sit here and mock the nonsense spouted when musicians and brands get into bed together, but are brand partnerships really such a bad thing? Aside from the fact that money is nice, what else does the artist get out of it?

In an interview with WWD to announce her new “groundbreaking” deal with MAC Cosmetics, which will see her ‘develop’ four makeup collections with the brand, Rihanna addressed exactly that point. “Being creative is something that I love, so I can put that into different outlets”, she explained. “Music happens to be the first thing that I gravitated to, and now music opens doors to just so many different opportunities, and they all tie in. My makeup looks, my fashion looks… they help me to express myself as an artist. I think it helps people to understand me or my mood, my story”.

See, it’s not about the money, you cynic. This is art. Particularly the RiRi Woo red lipstick. Total art. Something Group President of MAC’s parent company Estée Lauder, John Demsey, was also keen to stress. “This was not a front”, he said. “This is a true, organic collaboration based on mutual admiration and respect. These four collections are like four tracks on a Rihanna compilation. Each one has its own vibe, look, special makeup packaging and flavour. This is really the convergence of pop culture, fast fashion, and iconic style and makeup”.

I’m so glad it’s not just about selling lipstick, that would be so unseemly. And look, Team MAC haven’t even done that silly thing we’ve discussed before of making up a job title for their new pop star friend. Well, not quite. Rihanna is referred to as a “creative partner”. Though the lack of made-up job title doesn’t make this tie-up with RiRi a one-off thing.

“We always say that MAC likes to go on a date but doesn’t really want to go into a relationship”, Dempsey jokes. Ha ha ha. “This relationship with Rihanna is a long-term one that involves the development of four distinct colour initiatives”.

“Four distinct colour initiatives”? Oh dear, that sounded kind of like marketing speak. Wait, is this all bullshit? It had better not be. I’ve just added ‘lipstick art’ to my list of Facebook hobbies, and plan to spend the weekend celebrating Atomic Kitten’s recent emergence as cosmetics artists.

RiRi and AtKi (those are their nicknames, right?) are not the only musicians out selling sundry items at the moment. Carly Rae Jepsen has announced that she is to aid the selling of güd shampoo, manufactured by “natural personal care pioneer” Burt’s Bees. Jepsen is less interested in art with this hook up though, and more in saving the planet.

“Being eco-conscious is so important”, she screams maniacally in the press release. “I love that güd has figured out a way to reach young women with natural products that are also fun and smell amazing! I also really connect with the positive spirit of the brand – it’s how I live my life every day”.

Oof, she’s clearly been taking brand partnership statement tips from Taylor Swift there. At least she didn’t say the shampoo “gets” her, I suppose. Though Burt’s Bees Vice President Nick Vlahos did say: “Carly’s vibrant spirit and genuine talent are inspirational to the güd consumer. She models a way of life reflective of güd’s cheerful personality and real substance”.

Well I’m glad that your shampoo is happy and not imaginary, Nick. Well done. Lastly in our pop sundry items list is a brand tie-up that repulses and amazes me in equal measure. It makes perfect sense and no sense at the same time. It adds hygiene to the filthy world of sex, drugs and rock n roll. It is the partnership between Andrew WK and Playtex Fresh + Sexy Wipes.

What are Playtex Fresh + Sexy Wipes you ask? Well, why don’t we just have Andrew WK explain for you: “Whether you just finished rocking a packed club or have an intimate encounter after a busy day, this product will make couples feel brand new. Fresh + Sexy Wipes were specially designed to help couples feel confidently clean, before and after they engage in sexual activity!”

Nice. Oh, and speaking of “rocking a packed club”, let’s quickly talk about a secret show shall we? The secret show is a mainstay of the music industry, and increasingly one used by brands to make themselves seem edgy and cool. Even though the ‘secret’ is always press released to hundreds of journalists and posted on the internet.

Though, to be fair, with Professor Green’s recent performance for Barclaycard the venue was kept secret – the audience being picked from an agreed spot and then transported by bus to the venue. And the product Barclaycard wanted to make seem edgy and cool? Why, technology to allow you to pay for bus rides in London with your debit card. Phwoar! Andrew, bring me the sex wipes.

The idea almost works though, you have to admit. To promote technology that allows you to pay for bus rides with your debit card, why not make people get on a bus to go to a ‘secret’ Professor Green gig? Except that making people pay for the bus ride seems a bit stingy, so I’m assuming the people who got on that particular bus didn’t actually use the technology at all.

But that didn’t mean there wasn’t time for the compulsory quote from the Prof. Though, while I know we usually laugh at the ridiculous things that come out of celebrities’ mouths (or the brains of marketing people pretending to be those celebrities) when announcing these partnerships, I think Green should be commended for his valiant attempt to sound excited about being able to pay fares on London busses with neither cash nor Oyster card.

Here goes: “Being a London lad born and bred, I have been using public transport all my life so I am really looking forward to performing at the Barclaycard Contactless Gig and to help celebrate this new form of payment on London buses”. I once saw Professor green standing outside Liverpool Street Station waiting for a taxi. Make of that what you will.

Now, before we go, I have one more for you. In the last Howdy Partner column I complained that Mountain Dew had done a deal with a country musician we’d not even heard of. Clearly Mountain Dew was listening, because the latest artist to share in the soft drink’s “rebel roots” is Tyler, The Creator, who has been hired to direct two TV ads for the brand.

Well, that’s what he says, anyway. Tyler’s partial to a hoax, and a URL briefly flashed up at the end of the ad takes you to the website for his Loiter Squad sketch show on Adult Swim. But he has indeed made a Mountain Dew commercial, hoax or not. Imagine if it is real. Imagine if TV stations started showing adverts like this:

Maybe Rihanna was right about these things being a creative outlet.

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