Brands: Don't Let Music Be an Afterthought in Marketing

Smart Brands That Are Putting Music First and Tips for Marketers

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I've worked at a lot of places in my more than 10-year creative career, and there's something that's always troubled me: Whether it's a branding firm, a production company or an ad agency, music seems to be treated as an afterthought.

The beauty of music is its ability to punch you in the gut and evoke an emotional response. While visual form alone can have a strong emotional effect, rarely can it hit the soul as hard as music can. Music reaches us on a deeply primitive level. You just "feel" it.

That's why I'm confused to find that so many people in branding and advertising take it for granted. I've often seen music punted to the last minute, undermined or misused in a wide range of creative endeavors and brand-identity campaigns, from commercials to retail experiences, inside restaurants and even in feature films.

Despite this neglect, music is likely to be a major factor in the success or failure of a project. In many cases, it's even more valuable than the visual or written components it's paired with. When used correctly, music creates a visceral connection with an audience that other brand communications can't quite reach.

Brands that are doing it right

Here are some brands that are putting music first and making an impact with audiences:

1. United Airlines. When you think of a United Airlines commercial, what comes to mind? Probably Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue," the thematic motif used in all of the company's brand messaging with audio.

United's new in-flight safety film is a brilliant example of how "Rhapsody in Blue" has been rearranged in different, culturally-specific musical styles while subtly weaving the melodic thread throughout.

2. Virgin Airlines. Another example of music's role in branding is the soundtrack Virgin Airlines passengers hear during the boarding process. The company does a terrific job of creating a calm and relaxing atmosphere with its spa-like playlist.

3. Charlie Bird. Here's a more esoteric example. The restaurant Charlie Bird in New York City has done an amazing job of creating a consistent and interesting restaurant branded experience. To take the pretentiousness out of fine dining, Charlie Bird created a "neighborhood joint," where 1990s hip-hop tunes are juxtaposed with impressively detailed interiors, top-notch service, fine food and wine to create a perfectly themed ambience.

You'd never expect to hear Notorious B.I.G. while sipping a fine red burgundy wine, but trust me -- it works.

The root of the problem

So why don't more brands pay attention to music?

Music may be universally loved and enjoyed as an art form, but is only truly understood and practiced by a few talented people. Unfortunately, the gap between enjoying music and understanding music is massive. By musical understanding, I'm not talking about lyrics, but the melodies, harmonies, chords and instrumentation that make up the backbone of a song.

Composing, performing and producing music on a level where you can score films, write for commercials or create hooks for a brand mnemonic requires a certain level of insanity and dedication because it is incredibly difficult, often requiring a lifetime of study and practice.

Sadly, this is the group of extremely talented people we as creative professionals seem to forget and vastly undervalue. Great branding requires consistency throughout all modes of communication. When done correctly, the logo, design system, written tone of voice, service quality, music creation and even scent embody a brand's mission -- helping form an emotional and intellectual connection between a brand and its audience. Agencies and clients alike need to respect and utilize the power of music if they want to raise their work and brands to a higher level.

Music needs to be treated as equal to design, art direction and writing. It's the most emotionally resonant element. Tap that power and bring it into your brand's expression.

Lessons for brands

If your agency doesn't have any expertise in music theory, then collaborate with a talented composer or music studio and give them the trust and respect they deserve. Your agency and the work will be rewarded.

Here are some tips for brands to start putting music first in their marketing efforts:

1. Music isn't a last minute thing. Composers should be brought in during the project's kickoff.

2. There should be equal emphasis in all the creative disciplines. Include the composer in creative critique with the design and writing teams.

3. Music direction requires expertise in the field. If your creative director doesn't have any training in music, he or she will not be able to adequately direct a composer. Hire a composer or music company to lead music and give them creative license and trust.