- Collide, a marketing agency with strong ties to the music industry, brings together prominent consumer brands and independent artists at South by Southwest each year.
- Collide president Alan Miller spoke to Business Insider about hosting more than 100 bands at this year’s SXSW, and elaborated on his company’s goal to “weave brands into the cultural fabric in meaningful ways.”
With a compelling niche in the music industry, Collide is a marketing agency that each year brings together prominent consumer brands and independent artists to a list of venues at South by Southwest.
At this year’s SXSW, Collide is hosting more than 100 bands and artists — including acts like rapper Action Bronson and rock bands Cut Copy and Japandroids — at locations sponsored by brands like StubHub, Showtime, M&Ms, and Doc Martens.
Collide president Alan Miller spoke with Business Insider last month about his company’s increased presence at SXSW, his recent move into vinyl production as a marketing strategy, and his agency’s stated goal to “weave brands into the cultural fabric in meaningful ways.”
John Lynch: Could you give a quick introduction to what Collide is all about?
Alan Miller: The short-form of Collide is that we’re a North American boutique agency, and our goal is to weave brands into the cultural fabric in meaningful ways. So what that really means is we work with brands and companies to build and execute marketing-cultural strategies, based in actual demographics and interests of people, rather than a traditional way, which is based on what kinds of media people consume. It’s a unique way of building campaigns from the inside out, and creating a great vertical and a really strong basis for brands to integrate into markets.
Lynch: How would you describe the niche you’ve filled in the music industry specifically?
Miller: I came originally from the music business, and I was really able to understand where the opportunities lie in marketing, and where there was a lot of room for improvement. What we wanted to do was develop a model in a place where we can represent brands in a very strong way, but also understand what an artist needs and what any music property needs to be successful as well. So we’re a strong partner for brands who want that music strategy or a different cultural strategy. We basically help them navigate those waters so they are not taken advantage of, and they’re able to build a sustainable campaign that has credibility in it. And that’s something that’s very hard to navigate, so we’ve become their partners, their representatives to help them make the best choices possible for their budgets and what their inevitable goals are.
Lynch: What are some of the standout campaigns Collide has put together?
Miller: Well, we’ve had quite a few. If we’re talking about the music side, we did this campaign for E&J Brandy a few years ago based on generations. And what we did was we found parallels in generations of consumers of their product, the brandy, as well as generations of music, and soul music, specifically. So we were able to bring together generations of artists — Raphael Saadiq, Lee Fields & The Expressions, and BJ the Chicago Kid — and actually go and create content. We created what turned out to be a documentary about the history of soul music and how they all play a part in that. And we were able to create concert events, limited-edition 7-inch vinyl, all kinds of other pieces that we were able to build into those communities. It was a very successful campaign on a lot of different levels, but it really showed what you could do with something that would have value for the campaign, and value for the brand, and value for the artists, and was beneficial to everybody and something I think everyone was proud of.
Lynch: Tell me about your presence at SXSW this year. I understand it has increased a lot since last year.
Miller: It has. We’ve got about six to seven venues now. We started from the beginning of Rainey Street when it was just Lustre Pearl on the corner. From then we’ve increased and we’ll be activating at Lustre Pearl, Container Bar, Clive Bar, Alibi, L’Estelle Drafting House, Parlor Room, and Bangers as well. What we’re doing, and why SXSW I think has always been such a special place, and why Rainey Street has become such a great destination, is that this is really one of the one opportunities where, once a year, a brand really gets to show the character of who they are. We put a different brand to each different house, and we work with them to build talent, build great activations, from creative execution, all the way down to brand ambassadors, and the messaging and product distribution. But what is so cool about it is that brands really get this opportunity to curate — to curate the music they want on their stage, and to curate all these different experiences that people have. So you have a much longer time to make these impressions with people. Some of the brands we’re working with this year, some new, some that we’ve worked with before, they include StubHub, Showtime Network, Snickers, M&Ms, Twix, Maltesers. We have the Produce Marketing Association, Doc Martens, Jansport, Playground, and Vega.
Lynch: In general, how do you decide which brands to work with?
Miller: We’re very fortunate in that a lot of brands often come to us and seek our help in building culture campaigns. So we have a good list of clients that we work with year-round, who we advise and help build their strategies across music festivals, content creation, travel guides. We launched a new travel site last year based on artists and musicians and chefs, and their recommendations of what to do in every market, so that’s at culturecollide.com. We’ve got a lot of different campaigns and pieces going. We curate travel guides now for the Hard Rock hotels and all of their properties. We just put out a great “Travel With Purpose” book with Graduate hotels that goes into all the Graduate Hotels, in-room. It seems like South By is the culmination of a lot of those things, and what we’ve always used South By for, which is really important, is that South By should not be the one thing brands do all year. South By should be a launching pad or a reflection point or a tactic in an overarching campaign. Doing one event isn’t as effective as having a campaign and then showcasing the campaign, what you’re doing and what you’re committed to doing all year, as well. So we’re always open and excited about working with new customers and clients. The bigger the challenge, the stranger the brand, for some reason, is always the most appealing to me.
Lynch: I understand Collide is also getting involved in vinyl production. What inspired that and how did it come about?
Miller: I think vinyl has an interesting place in our culture. And I’ve always found that music fans and people who go out and experience music, they want a takeaway. A CD never did that. A download doesn’t do that. A Spotify playlist is amazing, but it doesn’t have that takeaway value. So what we did was create an imprint record label, not necessarily based upon artists, but based on cities and concepts. Last year, we launched several different cities. We launched a Chicago vinyl, which was ten of the great developing artists that we believe in in Chicago, and in addition to that we had them curate what you should do in Chicago when you go there — what’s their favorite gallery, what’s their favorite architecture tour, where to eat, where to go. And we put together a book that actually lives inside the vinyl. So you’ve got this great take-along reading, learning about the artist, hearing their music. It’s a cool experience, and I think it’s a kind of next-level piece that combines content and music in a new way. We launched Chicago and New Orleans last year. Our Austin one will come out in the next couple weeks. And then we’re launching some other markets, and we’re also working with some different brands to create records and vinyl for them. As the brands support music in different cities and cultures, we’ll work with them to curate and clear music licensing, so they can have a cool piece as well to distribute to their fans.
Lynch: What is a specific project that you’re particularly looking forward to, perhaps at the intersection of music and brands?
Miller: We’ve been working with Doc Martens for a while, and I really appreciate how much Doc Martens does with music and culture. What we’ve done over the last year with them is that they came in and have supported Baby’s All Right, the venue in Brooklyn. And we’ve built this program with them that we’re working on continuing through the year, where they basically pay to build out free shows every month of local and great talent coming through. So they’re supporting all these artists and fans in Brooklyn to be able to come out and see music, and tying it back to all their New York retail locations. But I think that’s really something for them to be proud of, because I think brands should have the responsibility of supporting culture. And whether your brand aligns with art or music or sport, I think it’s very important to be able to give back to those communities and support the artistry and the consumers, and let them know that it’s aligned with what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. And the brands that do that year over year, and constantly support culture in that way, are the ones we see having so much longevity and success.