Will brand sponsorship bring back music videos?

Dr Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (OK Go and State Farm)For most bands in the slumping music industry, the day of big budget videos is a luxury of the past.  But last week undisputed kings of the viral music video, OK GO, found a new avenue to make their art a reality: corporate sponsorship.

The band’s clip for “This Too Shall Pass,” which features a mind blowing two story Rube Goldberg contraption, was bank rolled by none other than State Farm Insurance.  In a brilliant move, the band also arranged the deal so that State Farm paid for the right to make the YouTube clip embeddable anywhere on the web.  The band’s singer Damian Kulash recently wrote a piece for The New York Times questioning EMI’s decision not to allow embedding of YouTube videos and State Farm graciously presented a work around solution.

This is the first example of prominent corporate sponsorship of a major music video that we know of and State Farm’s bet has paid off handsomely– the clip received close to a million views a day in the first week of launch.  The video includes a toy car with the State Farm logo as well as a State Farm teddy bear and a closing thank you to the brand for making the video possible.

The deal was put together by the band’s label Capitol, which still maintains ownership of the video.  I spoke to the band’s guitarist Andy Ross, who says their experience with State Farm was great. “They paid for the video without getting in the way,” says Ross.  “They had minimal requirements.”

This is one of a series of moves by State Farm to make insurance cool through music and could spark a new trend in brand-sponsored music videos.  The company has previously aligned itself with artists like Blink 182, Maroon 5, and Counting Crows in elaborate microsites like ThereTown.com which give fans a unique interactive experience with subtle branded entertainment.

In the past few years, unlikely companies like Tag body spray and Red Bull launched record labels with mixed results.  Regardless it is clear that with the decline of record sales, increased alliances with corporate sponsorship will be a matter of Darwinian survival for artists and record companies alike.

As with all blossoming trends, there is the potential to take things too far.  The OK Go video is a prime example of how sponsors and artists can collaborate to create non-invasive branded entertainment without diminishing the fan experience. That said, let’s hope we never see the limited edition release of The Beatles’ re-branded album Dr. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.