Music has an awesome power to create shared experiences and emotional common ground. Which is why it’s an invaluable tool for bringing brands and customers together
To pinch a line from electronic music act Faithless: music matters. There are few art forms that hold such a consistent and ubiquitous presence as the melodies and rhythms that have accompanied our lives. Which is why for startups looking for ways to communicate with their target market, there are few tools that can rival the power of music for forging an immediate connection between a brand and customers.
There’s little doubting that, in a lot of people’s eyes, music reigns supreme. Even in the world of digital video, music demands more attention than anything else; it’s not without coincidence the most closely followed YouTube channel is its curated music channel, with over 86 million subscribers. “That puts into context how much consumer appetite there is to engage with music content,” says Warren Johnson, founder of W, the PR agency, and partner of WVA, W’s music and brands division. “If can you wrap brands around that, you’ll be pushing at an open door.”
Any brand wanting to be a success needs to make its mark on the consumer. “John Hegarty [the advertising mogul] talks about the fact that good marketing rents a space in people’s minds,” says Helen Gammons, programme director of the MBA for music & creative industries at Henley Business School. And certainly the marketing campaigns that stick in mind are those that have used music to relate to consumers, from the iconic Guiness ad Surfer – accompanied by the Leftfield’s Phat Planet – to commercials like Sony Bravia’s Balls, which featured José González’ cover of The Knife’s song Heartbeats.
For this reason, plenty of marketers have explored the impact that music can have on consumers. Universal Music and WPP, the ad agency, conducted joint research on the subject for Bands & Brands, a book that looked at the relationship between music, advertising, brands and consumers. “They found that 61% of their sample audience said music made them feel physically different, while 85% said music changes their moods,” says Gammons. “There’s usually something to each piece of music that touches someone.”
One reason that music has such a pronounced impact upon us is that it carries with it the associations of an entire lifetime. “Music provides a soundtrack to people’s lives, whether it’s their first date, their wedding – it accompanies every important moment throughout their lives,” Johnson explains. “It’s something that consumers have a fundamental emotional connection with.”
But it has also been theorised that our relationship with music is much more fundamental and may actually be hardwired. Simon White, chief strategy officer at FCB Inferno, the creative agency, makes reference to a lecture held by Daniel Barenboim, the renowned pianist and conductor, that explained, in part, why music affects us so deeply. “Of all the senses, sound is actually very close to where we process emotions, which might be the reason music evokes things so strongly,” White relays.
Understanding why emotion carries quite so much weight in marketing circles requires a little knowledge of how people make decisions. Whilst most of us would like to believe our loyalties and purchasing decisions are made based on conscious reasoning, nothing could be further from the truth. “We now understand that between 80% and 95% of our decision making is subconscious and that is totally driven by our emotions,” says White. “Using music can help us trigger those emotions much more powerfully.”
This means that when devising a campaign, the music a brand chooses can have powerful ramifications. And there are several approaches marketers can take. “The classic route is an agency will find an appropriate record that they like, license it from the record label and stick it on their ad,” explains Johnson.
There are two options for marketers looking to license something for their brand. Songs that are familiar to audiences come with a rich heritage of associations, allowing a brand to tap into an identity that is already well-established. “If you choose a particular rock and roll track known for rebellion, you can immediately pick up values which you want to apply to your brand,” says White.
Conversely, brands can break new ground and create a new set of associations. “You might choose something that is very cool and unknown,” White says. Working with a breaking artist, whilst much more of a gamble, can also accelerate an ad’s profile massively as both the ad and the chosen piece of music trigger recollections of each other. “At the same time that your ad’s out there, the actual track is going up the charts,” he continues. “You’re constantly triggering memories of your ad because of the fact they are also hearing that track on the radio at the same time.”
As strategies go this can have incredibly powerful results. “Levis and [agency] Bartle Bogle Hegarty pioneered that in the 1980s; they were literally picking hits ahead of the time and getting them to number one,” says Johnson. However, unilaterally deciding that an artist is going to be the next big thing is a risk and potentially might not go to plan. “Picking the stars of tomorrow is something that, even by their own admission, record labels struggle to do,” he says. “So it’s a dangerous strategy because, as a brand, you effectively have to set yourselves up as being better at A&R than record labels.”
But there are other options for brands wanting to position themselves as part of the conversation around music. Johnson makes reference to the work of the Martin Agency which, for its Chipotle ads, moved away from licensing and toward creating unique musical content. “It would pick one record that it loved and then have another artist cover it in a really unique way,” he says. “Its engagement on that was through the roof.” This means that, rather than simply dressing their brand in some borrowed credibility, enterprises can actually help deliver musical experiences their consumers will love.
Regardless of whether brands go down a licensing route or get involved as musical content creators in their own right, it’s hard to overstate the impact the right music can have on a campaign. “It can truly make or break an ad,” says White. He points to some research conducted by BrainJuicer, the market research company, that demonstrated the same ad with two different pieces of music could go from scoring top scores with consumers to bottom. “The interesting thing is that every single thing changes,” he explains. “Not just how much you liked the music or whether the ad stuck in your mind; the actual brand message itself is considered more positively.”
Musical missteps can be costly indeed but they often come about because an enterprise hasn’t fully understood the nature of the connection between the artist and their fans. Gammons believes the biggest mistake is when a marketer doesn’t look beyond the size of an artist’s fan base. “Brand marketeers sometimes misunderstand the psychological and emotional side of the engagement of the music,” she says. “They forget that you can’t just take eight bars out of context of the song, stick it in and expect that emotion and engagement to remain.”
Whilst it may seem difficult to quantify what makes a certain piece of music chime so strongly with a consumer base, as in any marketing effort, failing to target and track spend can result in rather misguided investments. “You need to map audiences, understand how the artist motivates your audience and assess what kinds of metrics you need to use,” Johnson says. “It’s absolutely vital that the planning of music up front and the evaluation at the back end is treated very seriously and that we move away from acting on gut instinct.”
It is tempting to view something as creative as music as being somehow ineffable and
beyond rational analysis but there is plenty that can be done to monitor the success of music in campaigns, as long as one is clear on the objectives it aims to achieve. “Right from the outset, you need to be clear as to what is it that you want to get from the campaign,” explains Gammons. “You can then decide whether the campaign has met those targets or not and actually measure it against what you’re hoping to set up.”
But if a brand is clear on its campaign objectives and understands the audience it wants to reach, there are few better ways to ensure its message is music to consumers’ ears.