Branding By Halves: 5 Questions With Yamaha’s Julian Ward


Yamaha Revstar Meet Your Other Half

For many people, Yamaha means motor vehicles. For many others, it is a music instruments brand. But do you know which came first? A web series by the brand, “Meet Your Other Half,” aims to highlight the brand’s roots with a nod to its other side.

If you’re Team Music, then you’re right: Yamaha started in 1887 as music instruments company, launching its first piano in 1900. Yamaha did not make guitars until 1942, 13 years before the brand’s first motor vehicle. Today, Yamaha has over 20,000 employees worldwide and makes pianos, guitars, motor vehicles, semiconductors and even pop music. In the US, the brand is getting in touch with some of those roots with the ‘Yamaha Revstar: Meet Your Other Half’

Revstar is its line of electric guitars, unveiled the “Yamaha Revstar: Meet Your Other Half” video series featuring musicians Twin Shadow and Andrew Aged of Inc. No World, as they share their first experiences with a guitar. The two artists participate in an unrehearsed jam session “to show just how unique every player and guitar are, and the role the guitar has as an extension of self,” as the brand notes.

We spoke with Julian Ward, Global Strategy Manager for Yamaha Guitars, about its content strategy, Revstar campaign and how the brand is tapping into its heritage to reach a a new generation.

brandchannel: How is this project aimed at millennial male—and why is this demographic important to Yamaha?

Julian Ward: Millennial players are important to us because, to put it bluntly, they’re the future of music. Our philosophy is based around the concept of ‘never standing still’ and when we talked to guitarists during the development of Revstar, we kept hearing the same theme about what inspired them – creating something new, but with a clear link to what’s come before.

They were interested in finding their unique voice in music, not just rehashing what’s already been done. The experiment with Twin Shadow and Andrew Aged felt like the perfect way to illustrate the concept—creating something totally new, but reflecting on how all of their experiences made it possible.

bc: It goes without saying that both categories of Yamaha’s products are well-known. But has the brand ever put them together like this before?

Julian Ward - YamahaJulian Ward (right): No. When we started the process of developing Revstar we began talking about bikes almost straight away – they’re such a big part of Yamaha, and there’s an obvious synergy between bikes and guitars, but we’ve never found a way to make it work before.

Yamaha bikes are best known for racing and sports bikes today, but there isn’t much of a link between that world and guitars. So when we started digging deeper into the history of Yamaha bikes we found the Café Racer movement from the UK in the 1960s, which Japanese bikes were a big part of.

That’s when we really began to see something that resonated with guitarists, both aesthetically and philosophically. The bike influences in Revstar are pretty subtle—some of the lines and a few material choices are probably the biggest things—but that’s why it works.

No-one really wants a guitar that’s dressed up like a bike, or just painted in bike livery—but capturing the spirit of great bike design is a pretty easy fit with rock n roll. That’s what we were aiming for.

bc: How does a recent increase in interest for brand heritage speak to what Yamaha did with “Meet Your Other Half?”

Julian Ward: The whole design process behind Revstar, and the Meet Your Other Half campaign, was based on an understanding of who Yamaha is and what we stand for—the unique things that define us because we’re Yamaha and because of our Japanese heritage.

When we started looking into what defined ‘Japaneseness’ to people, a lot of themes around style and individuality emerged, albeit in a distinctly Japanese way. With Japanese fashion there’s a sense that every detail matters, that you have to take care, and get it right to complete a look. We know the same thing’s true with guitarists—you need the right instrument to make your best music.

“Meet Your Other Half” was inspired by that idea, and by the subtlety of contemporary Japanese design, the notion that you can be individual without needing to be some kind of crazy cartoon or outlandish character.

bc: Yamaha music is global—what’s the biggest challenge facing the brand in the US?

Julian Ward: Our biggest challenge is keeping music-making relevant. In a world that expects constant, instant gratification, something that takes years to perfect isn’t a natural fit. Understanding what drives the next generation of musicians, and making instruments that inspire them to make music, is what we’re working on.

bc: What other creative campaigns does Yamaha looking at to maintain its top position in the music sector?

Julian Ward: “Meet Your Other Half” represents a new phase for Yamaha Guitars and may be a first for the guitar industry as a whole in terms of its style and direction. Traditionally, guitar marketing is quite self-referential and all about iconic artists, and while that’s still important, it doesn’t resonate quite as much as it did in the past.

How people write, make, play and share music is changing, and centering our marketing around a message of aspiration to a ‘rock star’ status which is becoming increasingly anachronistic isn’t necessarily something that’s going to inspire players in the future.

We worked with some brilliant people who don’t usually work in the musical instrument industry on “Meet Your Other Half” to find ways to talk to and fire up our target audience in new and different ways, and the response so far has been outstanding. That’s a model that we’ll be repeating in the future. It’s all about understanding what really makes guitarists tick, and accepting that it might not all be about the dream of playing at Madison Square Gardens or fetishising a bygone era!

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