SZA’s Grammy spectacular sows seeds of a marketing revolution

February 4, 2024 | By Sophie Hares

R&B star SZA has always been a force of nature. Her sensational performance from Grammy House Sunday night proved that is no metaphor.

This year’s most nominated artist, the 34-year-old debuted her song “Saturn” from her upcoming album "LANA" amid a set that evolved from an underground oasis to a forest glade. Every aspect of the event felt like it was gradually growing into a lush green creation — even her wardrobe depicted a living piece of nature, intricately laced with tiny seeds. The entire production helped shine the spotlight on a message close to her heart: We all need to work together to protect the planet.

SZA’s performance at Grammy House, presented by Mastercard during the telecast, did more than bring a touch of green to award show glitz. After the performance, she worked with Mastercard to give out the American hornbeam seeds sewn into her outfit via social media, to commemorate the event and with hopes of inspiring fans to take an active role in becoming part of the solution.

The performance was the result of a months-in-the-making collaboration between Mastercard, the Grammy Awards and other partners to create an experience that would engage fans and viewers and inspire them to take action, including taking part in the Priceless Planet Coalition’s mission to restore 100 million trees around the world.

“By collaborating with SZA at the music world’s most high-profile celebration, Mastercard chose to engage in a dynamic campaign that actively involves the consumer,” says Rustom Dastoor, the head of marketing and communications at Mastercard North America. “It’s a shift that we believe can have a deeper and longer-lasting impact than traditional advertising campaigns.”

Most people tune into the Grammy Awards to judge the red-carpet outfits, watch their favorite artists perform and revel in their triumphs. And increasingly, viewers — already bombarded by ads across apps, social media, TV and the Internet — resent their experience being interrupted by unwanted and irrelevant marketing messages.

“This new attitude is forcing those of us in the marketing world to change tack,” Dastoor says. “We’re about to see a massive shift from intrusive ads to more integrated marketing that is finely tuned to what consumers want and welcomes them into the experience.”

Mastercard has been experimenting for years to find ways to scale this approach to reach its massive target audience. By working with creative forces like SZA , powerful platforms like the Grammys, and partners who share the company’s  values, Dastoor says, “We’re turning passive viewers into passionate advocates.”

This doesn’t mean traditional advertising is on its way out. Far from it, he says.  The marketing pie is rapidly growing and diversifying with streaming providers and emerging platforms.

As the digital economy continues to evolve, it’s bringing other opportunities for major companies to collaborate. Once they fought over eyeballs and ad dollars. Now some are forging partnerships to integrate and amplify their marketing campaigns.

For the Grammys, Mastercard teamed up with a range of partners to drive volume and boost value for our broader ecosystem. Ride-hailing firm Lyft and audio entertainment firm Sirius XM are both offering ways for consumers to get involved in the Priceless Planet Coalition.

And that’s just the beginning. Integration with television programs such as the “The Drew Barrymore Show” and social media campaigns with the Grammys and SZA herself have helped supercharge the message and hugely expand its audience.

As always, the sum of the parts is greater than the whole, Dastoor says. “No one person, company, or even country can fight climate change alone, and this theme of collaboration and partnership is one that runs deep at Mastercard. By working together, we can seed the change we want to see in the world.”

U.S. viewers can watch SZA's performance of "Saturn" via CBS's YouTube channel, below. Outside the U.S., catch her performance on Instagram.  

Sophie Hares, Contributor