We might not all be musicians, yet it doesn’t take a musician to appreciate the power of music. Like art and mathematics, the language of music is universal and has been known (and proven by studies) to elicit emotional responses, bring back memories and promote physical healing. Historically, music has been exploited for many purposeful applications, such as boosting military morale, influencing social behaviour and defining entire eras of art and subculture. It was only a matter of time before it became an integral part of popular culture through film and radio, eventually trickling down into commercial advertising. Since then, more than films, commercials have given us some of the most unforgettable, timeless and catchy jingles, many of which have been etched deeply into our hearts and minds.
Hardwired to groove
Unless you are absolutely tone deaf, your brain is already highly-attuned to process and remember complex sounds, melodies, rhythms and tempos. Before you were even born, your sense of hearing was already so acute that you could recognise your mother’s voice in the womb. Studies have also shown that children which are exposed to music inside the womb can recall the same music after birth. In a nutshell, our brains are instinctively wired to prioritise and respond to audio stimuli on a subconscious level. That is probably the main reason why you forget important information like addresses and telephone numbers yet retain useless jingles and lyrics without trying. You can thank your ever-evolving and overactive cerebrum for that.
More than a feeling
In addition to music being subconsciously sticky, it is intrinsically emotional. Music can sound happy (major) or sad (minor), suspenseful, motivational, curious and playful. Essentially, it can reflect every emotion you are capable of feeling. So, it’s not your fault if you feel melancholic every time you hear Moonlight Sonata played softly on a piano, or anxious when you hear the infamous shrieking of violins in the 1960 classic Psycho. Not only is music fundamentally designed to evoke feelings, it has been perfected by the masters of emotions – humans. Combine this with a visual medium and you have created the mother of all emotional stimuli. This is why some commercials are able to reach deep down into your chest and squeeze your heart every time you watch them. The choice of instruments, composition and tone have all been carefully crafted to compliment the visuals and tell a story that plays out even when you close your eyes.
The sound of success
Considering the emotional power music has over consumers, it is one of those weapons that brands should learn to wield wisely when fighting for their share of heart and mind. Some brands have embraced this wholeheartedly. Coke, for example, knew exactly what it was doing when it hijacked the music platform to win over a nation of music lovers. Other local brands, like Servis, Sooper, EveryDay and others have invested in creating contagious jingles that not only sold products but effectively delivered information and told stories. Fluffier brands like Omore and Wall's have stuck to their guns with simpler infectious tunes, designed to melodiously burrow their way into your subconscious. Big brands, such as Lipton (in the past), borrowed existing music to boost recall and play on old associations (I’m recalling the Pink Panther theme), while other global brands invest in scoring commercials with original compositions, famous musicians and producers, live instrumentation, and big budget arrangements. This said, there are still legions of brands out there that treat music as an afterthought. For them, there is usually no discussion about the music during the production phase until it’s seen on the final cut, which at that point is reduced to window-dressing. If it works, great. If it doesn’t, just dig out some more options of canned music. Sigh.
Good advertising doesn’t just look good, it sounds good too. The right choice of melody, music, and lyrics pulls audiences in and plays with their heart strings by making them laugh, cry, and sing along.
Hear for good
The bottom line: good advertising doesn’t just look good, it sounds good too. The right choice of melody, music, and lyrics not only grabs attention and increases memorability, it pulls audiences in and plays with their heart strings by making them laugh, cry, and sing along. It’s another dimension that can independently create a complete ambiance, enveloping audiences and getting them to invest emotionally in your communication. Music is nothing short of magic. If used well, it can literally touch audiences through the speakers, alter their emotions, change lives – and take advertising to the next level. As an advertiser, if that doesn’t sound important to you, then you my friend, need to wake up and hear the music.
Some of my personal favorite commercial soundtracks:
1. ‘Mad World’ Gears of War: Ultimate Edition Commercial (Microsoft/Xbox, 2006)
Juxtaposing Gears of War’s ultra-violent and action packed visuals with Gary Jules’ soft and somber Mad World twists your soul in ways that will leave you feeling pumped up and catatonic at the same time.
2. ‘Human Energy’ Corporate Commercial (Chevron, 2007)
Scored by BAFTA Award-Winning Composer, Paul Leonard-Morgan, this fragile and patient track will make you feel warm and fuzzy about the cold hard realities of fossil fuel and natural gas.
3. ‘The Meow Mix’ Cat Food Commercial (J.M. Smucker Company, 1970)
Although written by a human (Shelley Palmer) in 1970, the Meow Mix theme was apparently performed by a singing cat. I am not entirely sure if this is the stupidest thing I have ever heard or the greatest, but that’s probably why I like it so much. Who needs lyrics when you have music, right?
4. ‘Burning Desire’ Mercedes-Benz Fashion (Mercedes-Benz, 2016)
This ad is a perfect example of awesome film scoring. From the visual tone to the tempo of the ad, everything stems from a single vision, flowing in perfect sync... one incredibly dark, evil and sexy sync.