That does John Lewis sound like? While not everyone is a fan of the retailer’s use of winsome, slowed-down cover versions in its commercials, most of us would be able to answer that question. Now try to think of another brand with a similar ‘sonic identity’. Used well, and consistently, music can be an incredibly powerful tool for brands. But in advertising it is usually employed tactically, in the service of a particular commercial, rather than strategically for the wider objectives of the brand as a whole. Is it time to introduce brand guidelines for music, in a similar vein to those that set the tone for type, colour and imagery?
Music and marketing are two industries locked in an ever more mutually-reliant relationship. Their earliest dalliances seem somewhat quaint now. The golden age of the jingle (see p20) matched copywriters with specialist songwriters to create the original ‘ear-worms’ chanted by kids in every playground.
In the UK, perfectly crafted gems such as “Beanz Meanz Heinz”, “A Mars a day helps you work, rest and play” or “A finger of Fudge” lodged in the collective memory. While there was always something unnerving about hearing an eight year-old boy give a full-throated rendition of “Wooaaaah, Body Formmmm!” as one of my classmates was wont to do.
Rather more sophisticated was the adoption by many brands of classical music ‘theme tunes’. The association between Antoine Coercy’s Air on a G String and Hamlet Cigars is indelible, as is Léo Delibes’ Lakmé and British Airways. They became as intrinsically linked as the theme music to popular TV shows or films.
Then Levi’s, BBH and the shifting fortunes of the record industry changed everything. Of course there had been commercials that used classic pop songs before Laundrette, but that 1985 spot fully awoke both advertising and pop music to the potential of working together.
The version of I Heard it Through the Grapevine used on the ad was actually a re-recorded soundalike by Tony Jackson (one of Paul Young’s backing singers) but the spot’s popularity prompted Tamla-Motown to re-release the Marvin Gaye original, complete with Levi’s logo on the sleeve. Four Levi’s-related tracks went on to make the UK top ten in the coming years.
Fast forward to 2012, and the ‘sync’ market – recorded music licenced to be used in ads, games and television shows – was worth $337 million worldwide. Music Week now runs a dedicated sync awards, while 2011 saw the launch of the Music+Sound Awards “to recognise and celebrate the indispensable role and outstanding contribution [of] music and sound design in visual media”.
For brands, a great commercial track is a shortcut to the emotional connection deemed so important in modern marketing and a tried and trusted means of cutting through the chatter to grab an audience’s attention. For the music industry, sync represented something of a lifeline, simultaneously benefitting both established acts through back catalogue re-releases on top of lucrative licencing deals, and new artists who could be ‘broken’ to mass audiences.
However, in a presentation at Centaur’s recent Festival of Marketing event, Alex Lavery and Simon Robinson, founders of music agency Pitch and Sync, argued that as much as 95% of the money spent by brands on music was wasted.
They argued that because music is predominantly treated very tactically for short term marketing objectives, it rarely says anything strategically about a brand. To illustrate this, they played several soundtracks used in commercials over the past year and asked the audience to name the brand – no-one could. In an accompanying white paper, Lavery and Robinson make the point that
“The (sympathetic and careful) marriage of music and brand worlds provides a uniquely powerful tool…. For brands such as John Lewis, music has become a core element of their marketing (mix), building values, beliefs, trust – and ultimately sales. They understand that music touches the listener’s deep subconscious, inspiring emotive reactions that provide depth and resonance to brand values and create long lasting equity that can deliver spontaneous brand recall from just a few notes. But why are examples like John Lewis so few and far between?”
“We only ever seemed to be having conversations about how music is serving a picture,” Lavery says. “Music is so far down the chain of where planning for advertising commences, we thought, what can we do to change it?”
Pitch & Sync brought an ex-client into their team to understand better the needs of brands and devised a three-stage process which, they claim, gives brands the tools to adopt a more strategic approach to their use of music.
The first step is, Robinson says, “to fully understand a brand’s beliefs and values as well as their audience and its motivations”. Are their consumers individuals or do they like to be part of a group? Do they like to be in control or enjoy letting go? “Once you are able to place where a brand and its consumers sit you can build a musical world around a brand,” Robinson claims.
The second stage is “understating where to use those assets in the most effective way”, Robinson says. It’s not just about soundtracks to commercials, but whether a brand wants to create a partnership with an artist, what ‘activations’ it needs, does it need some kind of mnemonic device like Intel has and so on. “We map out a consumer’s day to understand how and when they interact with music and what they are feeling at that moment,” Robinson explains. “It could be a normal day or it could be when they are at a festival. We highlight the opportunities where music could play a role, so that every bit that has music in it has meaning.”
The final stage is the more mundane but essential business of ensuring a brand gets the best deal for the assets it needs, with all the right licences and permissions secured upfront. At their Festival of Marketing talk, Lavery and Robinson cited the example of Durex’s Turn Off to Turn On Earth Hour film. The brand had only licenced the track (a re-record of The Four Tops’ I Can’t Help Myself) for three months, they said. However, the ad proved immensely popular online. When Durex went back to the rights holder to renegotiate, the price was reportedly upped to such an extent that they couldn’t afford it and the film had to be pulled. “It’s about futureproofing work so that you don’t get bitten later on,” Lavery says.
Licencing needs have become increasingly complex as the number of places where music will be employed has increased. This has led to an upsurge in the popularity of what used to be called library music but is now more commonly known as ‘production music’.
Somewhat analogous to royalty free imagery, production music offers a simple licencing model (no chasing round multiple rights owners who each may own part of a song) and considerable cost savings. “That old stereotypical opinion of it being elevator music is disappearing rapidly, we have access to great composers and artists and it really shows,” says Universal Publishing Production Music’s senior key account manager Phil Stubbs. The likes of Nitin Sawhney, Chuck D and Michael Nyman all have music in the UPPM catalogue.
Production music also offers a route into the business for up-and-coming artists: Stubbs’ colleague Ben Ziapour set up Radar, a production music label at UPPM specifically for new artists. “Young guys making music are becoming more switched on to publishing and the money they can generate from that side of things,” he says. Radar is positioned to be a label for artists who have yet to sign major deals and who therefore still own all the rights to their work and are looking to exploit them. “We own the master 100% and have ability to grant licences for what we want – we don’t necessarily need to OK things with the writers first,” Ziapour adds, making things much simpler for brands who need music for a variety of usages, not all of which can be specified in advance.
With so many demands for content, across a bewildering array of platforms and media, Pitch and Sync’s strategic approach makes a lot of sense, but it may well be received with less than 100% enthusiasm in creative departments. The strictures of brand guidelines that dictate everything from what colours, typefaces and even photographic styles can be used in advertising are galling enough: if music is added to that list, creatives may well be up in arms.
Lavery and Robinson insist, however that “we don’t want it to be creatively restricting. We want this [approach] to help the creative process. It’s there to unlock creativity so that everything you’re using is adding to the brand.”