In today’s highly competitive market, luxury fashion brands often seek innovative ways to enhance their brand image and captivate their target audience. One popular method is by association with an artist, either by licensing their music or recruiting them as a brand spokesperson.

Artist collaborations like these showcase the luxury sector’s appreciation for originality and authenticity, and facilitate opportunities for brands to successfully rebrand. But while this may seem like an attractive strategy to create powerful emotional connections and elevate brand perception, luxury fashion brands should be cautious of the potential pitfalls including, but not limited to, reputation and financial implications.

They should also be aware that there’s another approach. An approach that can help mitigate the problems above and ensure effectiveness when executed correctly: Their own sonic brand.

For me, a sonic ID is the audible expression of a brand, aligning with its mission, values, visuals, positioning, and personality. Brands can use their sonic IDs as part of their overarching brand identity to create specialized sonic assets for all audible touchpoints, allowing for an immersive, ownable, and fully holistic brand and customer experience that evolves with the zeitgeist.

Such an approach can, and should, be considered by luxury fashion houses as they look to build long-term relationships with both today’s creators and their fans. Why? Read on to find out.

Today’s brand-artist partnerships, as seen through the eyes of K-Pop

Just by looking at some of the biggest K-Pop bands in the world, you’ll see many instances where artists are working with multiple luxury fashion brands. Take BTS as an example. In the past, BTS has represented Samsonite, Seoul Tourism, Puma, FILA, Formula E, LG, Hyundai, and many other brands, and in 2021, the group became an ambassador for Louis Vuitton.

BTS is the most popular K-Pop group of all time, so it’s no surprise that brands are interested in tapping into their devoted fan base. After their group hiatus announcement in June 2022, brands lined up to approach each band member as they launched their solo careers.

After hitting pause on band activities, BTS members have gotten cozy with many brands, bagging sizable deals. J-Hope is Louis-Vuitton’s official brand ambassador, Jin works with Cartier, Jimin with Dior and Tiffany & Co., RM with Bottega Veneta, Jung Kook with Versace and Calvin Klein, and lastly, Suga with Valentino.

And if we delve further into the K-Pop scene and its various brand collaborations, the intrigue only deepens: Rosé from BlackPink, like a twin of Jimin, also finds her place among the ranks of Tiffany & Co., weaving an enigmatic tapestry of connections within the industry.

Once a luxury brand’s collaboration with an artist reaches its end, what is the brand left with?

More often than not, brands are forced to remove artist advertising across channels once a campaign is over due to limited licensing deals. This can be disheartening both financially and emotionally, considering the substantial investment and months of hard work that go to waste after a campaign runs its course.

Overlapping artist associations in the luxury fashion market can also have significant financial implications for brands. According to a 2021 report in Korea Times, BTS was paid north of $4.5 million for endorsing Korean brands, and this figure multiplied once the group became a prominent ambassador in the luxury sector.

The competition to secure partnerships with in-demand artists can drive up the cost of licensing agreements, making them financially burdensome for luxury brands. Furthermore, the extensive marketing investments required to maximize the impact of these associations can strain brand resources, potentially affecting other essential aspects, such as product development and customer experience.

Artists come with changing reputations and controversies

While luxury fashion brands seek to associate with artists who embody their desired brand image, shared artist associations can pose reputational risks. Artists may become entangled in controversies or scandals that could tarnish their image and reflect poorly on any associated fashion brands.

We don’t need to look too far back to find controversies featuring artists that have had a devastating impact on brands. Adidas immediately comes to mind, with the notorious ending of its partnership with Kanye West following his antisemitic remarks. The termination of this relationship resulted in a projected $771 million loss for the brand.

This kind of negative impact compounds when multiple brands are involved with the same artist. Any negative associations end up impacting the reputation and consumer perception of all brands involved. Luxury fashion brands must exercise caution when collaborating with artists, ensuring their values align with said artists’ reputation and public perception.

In some instances, a brand’s obsession with maintaining its carefully cultivated image can lead to an extreme approach in artist collaborations. Even when partnering with an artist, the brand opts to use music that is not directly connected to the artist’s style or persona. As a result, upbeat podium (read: generic) music is transferred to their videos, even when the artist has been invited to serve as an ambassador.

This approach undermines the potential of leveraging sound to create a powerful emotional connection and instead treats artists merely as models to endorse the brand. For instance, we can observe this phenomenon in cases like Baekhyun collaborating with Burberry (seen below) or BTS collaborating with Louis Vuitton.

Don’t risk diluting your brand’s sound

In an already crowded market, the prevalence of shared artist associations can dilute the brand identities of luxury fashion houses. When multiple brands collaborate with the same artist, it becomes challenging to ensure differentiation and create unique brand narratives. The risk of brand dilution increases when there is an overlap in artist associations within a single group, such as BTS or BlackPink, where individual members endorse different luxury fashion brands. This can lead to confusion among consumers and weaken the distinctiveness of each brand.

Throughout the history of advertising, there are many examples of different brands licensing the same track. For example, “She’s A Rainbow” (a song by The Rolling Stones), has been used by Dior, Apple, and Sony. When brands license music to associate themselves with a certain artist, they run the risk of having the same track licensed by a competitor at a later stage: A British Airways competitor, for example, poked fun at the airline using “Flower Duet” from the opera Lakmé by Léo Delibes–something they could legally do given the track’s status in the public domain.

Perhaps your own sonic identity is the better solution

Bearing all this in mind, licensing music to associate your brand with a K-Pop star can still prove advantageous. There’s simply the risk that you may pay top dollar only to run into unforeseen controversies down the line.

If brands invest in the creation of a bespoke sonic identities rather than licensing expensive music, they have the opportunity to share owned music with artists for unique reinterpretations of their brand sound. When working with music artists such as BTS, brands can share their sonic ID with BTS and have it reinterpreted by the band.

An example of this is Mastercard’s collaboration with Domino Saints, which resulted in #1 chart hits in multiple markets across Latin America. Instead of promoting existing popular music or coming together to make a “brand song”, Mastercard and Domino Saints leveraged Mastercard’s sonic identity to create new music, driving popular culture on a global stage.

While heard in Mastercard commercials worldwide, Domino Saints’ “Rockstar” (music video below) became the anthem of the 2022 Copa America Feminina and was performed at the 2023 UEFA Champions League final.

Maybe one day, we’ll see BTS perform their interpretation of Louis Vuitton’s sonic brand at a fashion show. The opportunity to build brand equity through sound, while engaging with fans of both the brand and artist, is there.

To misquote Yves Saint Laurent, “Fashions fade, [sonic branding] is eternal.”

Cover image: Meri Fitrah