101 Great Minds on
Music, Brands and Behavior
Monica Rustgi Mody
VP Marketing at Budweiser
“Music is another dimension for people to feel what your brand is.”
Monica Rustgi Mody, VP Marketing, Budweiser.
Monica Rustgi Mody is currently the Vice President of Marketing for Budweiser. During her time on Budweiser, the brand has seen restored and sustained brand health trends for the first time in 10 years. During her time, Budweiser’s creative work, which includes the last four Super Bowl campaigns, collectively has been awarded a total of ten (10) Cannes Lions, six (6) Clios Sports awards, and nine (9) Clio awards. All such work has landed Monica on Ad Age’s “40 under 40” as well as being deemed by Ad Week as one of the “30 Most Powerful Women in Sports”. Prior to working at Budweiser, Monica held a career in the music industry both as a recording artist and producer, signed to Grammy Award winning producer Cory Rooney. She has also written and produced for Jennifer Lopez and Pitbull during her time in the music industry. From there, she attended MIT Sloan School of Management, where she earned her MBA.
Uli Reese: What is your role at the brand?
Monica Rustgi: I lead marketing at Budweiser. My job is to put out work that is creative, and that builds people’s hearts for Budweiser. It’s everything from a Superbowl spot to a sign in the store as you’re buying the beer. It’s about bringing the brand to life so that it disrupts beyond being just a liquid in a can.
Reese: Your background is in music. Tell me a little bit about that.
Monica Rustgi: I was born to Indian immigrant parents and spent my childhood singing Indian classical music, even competing nationally. I played the sitar, the tabla and the piano. Once I got to 16, I wanted a social life, so I stopped. I went to Business School in New York, but while I was an undergraduate, I realised I didn’t want to sit at a desk and crunch numbers. I took a year out and, in that time, met my production partner. I made a demo, and before the end of that year, I had three major label offers. In my final year of school, I recorded my album and started writing for other artists, including Jennifer Lopez and Pitbull. I had a song called 100 Dollar Bill that had c-list success. But I came to a point where I was tired of being the brand. I was creative and liked to reach people, so the next best thing was marketing. I joined ABI and have been with them for seven years. I get to work with amazing artists and put out albums with every new campaign. Music and creativity are part of everything I do.
Reese: How important is music and sound in building a brand?
Monica: It’s another dimension for people to feel what your brand is. It can play different parts. It can be a support piece or be highly dynamic, but I don’t think it’s valued enough as a point of distinction. The biggest hurdle is that not a lot of people understand music or speak the language of music.
Reese: How do you combat the fact that music is often seen as an afterthought?
Monica: In the same way you take a full hour to discuss a treatment and which directory you are going to use, there should be an actual meeting about audio. It’s so important that it’s not rushed at the end because that means a decision is made on cost. We have productions where we make sure we discuss music, like a Superbowl spot, because music plays a huge role and is a huge investment. But just because you can’t afford the perfect song, if you bake in the time, you can actually get something that is just as strong.
Reese: CMO’s don’t like relying on music companies and licensing because they are being told they cannot own but rent. Should that change?
Monica: First and foremost, music is complex. Publishers, songwriters, label and producers are all competing for attention. But I think labels today have it wrong. Back in the day, there were maybe ten legends popular at any time, and today it’s one person every four or five years. Lady Gaga comes to mind. Labels used to have all the power, but they don’t anymore. They need us. If we offer a Superbowl spot that’s going to get millions of views, the labels should give us the music for free. It’s short-sighted not to because of the digital life they go on to have. That longer exposure turns into concert tickets sales, and they would ultimately make way more money.
Reese: Do you think brands should have a sonic style guide?
Monica: I think the more you can codify something, the better. Everyone then has a shared language to articulate what they are thinking. Then when they can’t afford the music, or the label is charging too much for a well-known song, they have a clear way to brief a composer or creative. Many times, the creative team asks me to speak to the audio engineer because I speak better to music, but sometimes even I don’t have the right repertoire.
Reese: How important will sonic identity be in the future?
Monica: People are already evolving to audio; look at the boom in podcasts and audiobooks. There are so many distractions, and music is a compelling way to get people’s attention. How that comes to life is tough to know. Brands sometimes feel that in order to feel relevant, they must create something new every time, but that’s not necessarily true. I think it just needs to be interesting enough to hear over and over.
Reese: Is there a trust building factor when it comes to audio?
Monica: We’re living in an age where people like to hear the things they’re familiar with. Because of how we digest media, we can tune out very easily now, so if you’re transported to a place where it doesn’t take a lot of effort to recognise something, it’s a plus.
“We’re living in an age where people like to hear the things, they’re familiar with. Because of how we digest media, we can tune out very easily now, so if you’re transported to a place where it doesn’t take a lot of effort to recognise something, it’s a plus.”
Reese: How do you view the idea that smart speakers will be the consumers and decision-makers of tomorrow?
Monica: It goes back to anything that makes life easier, but I think they will be. It’s scary because it will make us less patient. Interestingly, in this quarantine world, we’ve been brought back to basics, but I think this will happen. I just don’t know when.
Reese: Why are brands so late to the sonic party?
Monica: I have an Alexa and probably use two percent of its potential. When I think about why brands have been slow to pick this up, I think the reason is that it’s tough to quantify the impact of music. When we test ads, we should also be testing the music. But it’s so subjective, and people are still figuring it out.
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