It Wouldn't Hurt Brands to Put a Little Sell in Their Songs

Why Don't Advertisers Teach the World to Sing Anymore?

By Published on .

Dear Rance,

I enjoyed your Opinion piece on music in the Feb. 4 issue of Advertising Age. And I would agree with the headline writer that "music might be the most crucial element in your commercial mix." This is true for the reasons you state -- music gets attention and it can strike the right emotional chord. But used to its full advantage, music can do a whole lot more, especially if the advertiser is willing to invest in original music created specifically for a brand.

Keith Reinhard
Keith Reinhard
Back when we used songs that were written not only for a brand, but about a brand, music put the advertiser's name in the minds and on the lips of consumers. You simply couldn't recall the tune to "You Deserve a Break Today" without completing the phrase "at McDonald's." The same was true with jingle lines like "I am stuck on Band-Aids" and "I wish I were an Oscar Mayer Weiner," or even more famously, "I'd like to buy the world a Coke."

In the same way, we used original music to make sure people remembered an advertiser's promise. An example that's been around since the "70s is, "Like a Good Neighbor, State Farm Is There." That line has become so familiar that now the insurer's promise can be recalled by simply playing the last four notes of the original tune, which was written by Barry Manilow.

These days, it seems that writing jingles about brands -- naming the actual product in a lyric -- is out of style. But writing an original song for an advertiser can still assure that sentiments expressed are associated exclusively with the brand that commissioned the music. A good example is the song "Run to You," written specifically for a Nike music video about longing so strong it powers two young lovers to run halfway across the country to meet each other. I'm told the song was a collaboration between Wieden & Kennedy and the music house Beta Petrol, and when I last checked, the Nike music video had been viewed more than 2.5 million times on YouTube.

The benefits of tying an original song to a General Motors brand are dramatically evident in a Facebook comment: "I love this song and I love Chevy. Awesome job on the song. I listened to it while on my family road trip with my black 2010 Chevy HHRLT." The comment, signed by "Chevy Girl," referred to an original song titled "Need You," written for a Chevrolet spot crafted by Spike DDB in 2010.

As soon as it aired, GM's social-media channels were overwhelmed by requests for the song, which consumers couldn't find on iTunes. GM and the agency sensed the opportunity and brought the artist, Jacob Steele, back into the studio to record a three-minute version of the song, which GM then provided free to its customers.

Chevy Girl's comment leads to something else original music can do well. We used to call it "image transfer." When listeners hear an established advertising song on the radio or when they hum the tune while showering, the images of the advertiser's TV campaign are replayed vividly in the mind. Borrowing an existing pop tune runs the risk of transferring images of the artist whose music is borrowed instead of images of the brand that borrowed it.

There's a place for borrowed music, especially if it's reworked to fit an advertiser's special needs. For a spot that paid tribute to the victims and heroes of Sept. 11, State Farm used a children's chorus cover of "Empire State of Mind" by Jay-Z and Alicia Keys. The track was made available on iTunes and Amazon with a percentage of revenue donated to the New York Fireman's Fund.

But I want to call attention to the benefits of original music and the kind of advantages we used to enjoy before we could simply Google to find an existing song that supposedly fit our client's strategy.

Lest I be accused of wallowing in "misty water-colored memories of the way we were," I'd be interested in hearing from present-day creative people as to why we've moved away from writing original jingles and advertising songs. Is it because advertisers see borrowing a hit song as more of a sure thing than taking a chance on an untested original? Is it because we lack the time or patience to establish an original song and make a brand's promise part of pop culture? Is it because of shorter commercial lengths or the lesser importance of radio in launching and sustaining an advertising campaign?

Meanwhile, Rance, I stand by the words of a country song we wrote back in the "80s about why advertisers should use music. We produced it in collaboration with a Chicago music house called Comtrack. It was titled "Put a Sell in Your Song." Buy me a drink and I might even sing it for you.

Usin' music in your spot
Cuts the copy down a lot
Gives your proposition power
When they sing it in the shower
Usin' music in your ads
Has "em dancin' "cross the land
And you're steppin' out from all them other brands.

(Chorus) That's with a song in your sell
And a little sell in your song
You can sing your product's praises

On TV all night long
Twelve ways better, four times longer
New improved, and ever and ever stronger
It's the great American sing-along
With a little sell in your song!



Keith Reinhard is chairman emeritus of DDB Worldwide

In this article:
Most Popular