James: O2’s grass roots music play


O2 is walking off with all the plum marketing deals. Its £22 million sponsorship of the country’s 11 Academy music venues, beating Vodafone and Orange to the contract with music promoter Live Nation and site landlord AMG, is just the latest example of its brand vigour.

It secured the contract for a song too, despite the figure put on it. And it came to the table late, after a host of other big brand names had been in negotiations for some months.

But Live Nation and AMG selected O2 in part because of its previous in music promotion and large-scale ticketing operations, and partly because of its existing brand partnerships.

Success breeds success, they say. So, O2 followed notable music associations with Apple, for the UK iPhone, and AEG, for The O2, with this new ‘grass-roots’ operation.

It sits well in its portfolio, complementing the big show corporate bonanzas at The O2 and the band-fest of the O2 Wireless festival as a ‘proper’ gigging circuit for discerning music lovers.

Aside, one wonders if this – corporate-logo’d live music venues – is a nail in the coffin of sweaty club gigs; the kind of sanitisation of modern, populist places of worship that saw top-flight football grounds turned into shrines to the great god of commerce with the influx of television money, huge foreign investment and sponsorship deals.

In the end, probably only a minority would really mourn the loss of stinky, cramped dens to hear live music (the same who want all-standing football stadiums and smoking back in pubs), and O2 has anyway promised no VIP treatment in Academy venues apart from its multi-million pound priority ticketing operation.

So, it’s another feather in the cap for O2’s brand team. Internally, O2 talks of retaining its challenger mentality. But it is no longer a challenger brand, compared with any sector, and there are increasing groans from low-down and high-up within the UK distribution channel that O2 has finally changed for the worse: a corporate machine deep in legal process and unreasonable, onerous contractual agreements.

The kind of thing brand king Apple likes – and, according to continued rumour, is likely to share among multiple mobile partners come June 2009.