Ever catch yourself unconsciously singing along to a Britney Spears song? Or becoming teary-eyed to Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata? Or feeling the urge to run naked through the woods when the theme song from the Last of the Mohicans is playing? (Okay, maybe that last one is just me).
The point is, whether you realise it or not, your auditory cortex is biologically hardwired to process and respond to audio stimulation. Therefore, your impulse to react to music is not entirely your fault (unless you actually like Britney Spears). That is why, certain types of music can illicit responses, such as tapping your foot, getting pumped up at the gym, or feeling nostalgic about your ex.
It is also why something as seemingly trivial as music has been used throughout history for many real world applications, such as boosting military morale and defining entire eras of art and subculture. And since music has the power to tap into our emotions, no wonder that brands have exploited it to grab our attention and find their way into our hearts and minds.
It all started in the days when brands were relying on jingles to gain their share of mind. From toothpaste to confectionary, brands jumped on the jingle bandwagon, using simple, limerick-styled rhymes and audio mnemonics to increase memorability. Needless to say, it was an incredibly successful strategy, so much so that jingles continue to be used by many big brands today.
And why not? If a brand can etch its way into consumers’ minds by spending a minimal amount of time and budget on creating a jingle and jack-hammering it into our skulls, can we blame them for doing so? Yet, despite the effectiveness of jingles, I doubt there are many out there that consumers have grown to love (the majority are irritants). Just because we remember them, doesn’t mean we want to. Dare I remind you of Telefun?
Luckily, by the nineties, brands began using music more maturely to create a deeper affinity with their audiences. Commercials began featuring mainstream songs, as well as original compositions – ushering in a new level of commercial music that was a far cry from the juvenile jingles of yesteryears. Commercial music took on a new dimension, giving us some of the most anthemic and iconic compositions of our generation.
You may, for example, recall State Life’s fondly reminisced ‘Aye khuda mere abbu salamat rahen and Molty Foam’s Meri nanhi pari, naye ghar ko chali’, which are revered as classic commercial hits of our time.
Naturally, it was only a matter of time before the artists behind the music drifted into the spotlight, cementing their celebrity status by pairing up with successful brands. In the early nineties, Vital Signs were catapulted into stardom after appearing in a series of Pepsi commercials.
Coke merely provided a platform for artists to work together to create music that appealed to the young and older generations of our music-loving nation. They saw an opportunity to leverage music commercially in a way that no one had done before.
As time passed, the celebrity singer-songwriter trend continued with commercial cameos from Ali Azmat, Ali Zafar, Strings, and so on, catalysing their journey to fame and solidifying the bond between music and commercial advertising.
Solo artists and bands began crossing over from music channels to commercials, and so seamlessly that at times you couldn’t figure out whether you were watching a music video or a new product launch. Pepsi was the first to make waves by extending this platform to non-celebrities with their 2001 ‘Battle of the Bands’. By the early 2000s, music and commercials were so intensely mashed up that they had become inseparable.
Much like cricket, music became a platform brands would turn to when they felt they needed to reconnect with their audiences.
Fast-forward to 2009 (after a lengthy lull) and Coke suddenly exploded onto the scene with a musical renaissance: Coke Studio. For me, this was the pivotal turning point when brands began taking a courageous step backwards, allowing the music to remain at the forefront and without compromising its integrity.
Brands are keeping artists alive, and artists are providing brands with a platform to connect with consumers. Whoever saw that coming? (In all fairness, maybe Pepsi did in 2001). What is clear today is that music and advertising enjoy a fruitful symbiotic relationship, one that is benefiting brands, artists and audiences.
Yeah, it was a completely branded show, but no one sang about Coke or refreshment or anything lame like that. The brand did not interfere with the content or its purpose. Coke merely provided a platform for artists to work together to create music that appealed to the young and older generations of our music-loving nation. They saw an opportunity to leverage music commercially in a way that no one had done before. More importantly, they did it tastefully.
As always, everyone else followed suit. Big brands such as Pepsi, Nescafe, Strepsils and even Levi’s replicated the format (with minor tweaks), engaging in an intense battle for their own share of megabytes on our MP3 players. But guess who won? The music. Sure, brands enjoyed a big slice of the pie, but it was the local artists and their craft that finally received due recognition.
Whereas music was initially used as a gimmick to hook audiences and sell products, it has now become the tidal force that brands are tripping over themselves to harness. The irony is that without brands, Pakistan would have probably never seen such a remarkable resurgence in the local music scene, as brands are the only ones today making any significant investment in our home-grown artists.
In a nutshell: brands are keeping artists alive, and artists are providing brands with a platform to connect with consumers. Whoever saw that coming? (In all fairness, maybe Pepsi did in 2001). What is clear today is that music and advertising enjoy a fruitful symbiotic relationship, one that is benefiting brands, artists and audiences. The way I see it, that is a big step forward from where we started and gives us an insight into what we may hear in the future.
Taimur Tajik is Executive Creative Director, Manhattan International.
First published in THE DAWN OF ADVERTISING IN PAKISTAN (1947-2017), a Special Report published by DAWN on March 31, 2018.