Music Might Be the Most Crucial Element in Your Commercial Mix

They Payoff for Marketers Can Be Substantial

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With so much free content around, marketers need to up the bar when they use music in their ads.

The payoff can be substantial. Good music can get a spot noticed; bland music can get it ignored. As my granddaughter Ramsay Hanson, an advertising major at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, told me: "If a TV is on and I'm busy with something else and I hear "blah blah blah buy me now blah blah' I won't bother to look up, but if I hear great music, the commercial will definitely get my attention."

And because the internet has created such sophisticated musical tastes, "music -- great music -- has become totally decentralized and diffuse, meaning it can come from anywhere (Psy in Korea, Swedish House Mafia, a cover-band singer from Manila), and the traditional revenue streams are struggling to keep up," Yaron Schwartzman, a partner in Game7Films, said.

"There is a huge fight between artists, labels and the new pipeline (YouTube, Vimeo) on how to best interpret and commodify the scattered online audience. If there is a story here, it has to be the struggle to corral and engage a growing group of individuals who have a limited attention span, shifting brand loyalties, and have been weaned on an endless supply of free content," he added.

Lil Wayne's message helped give Mtn Dew an extra boost.
Lil Wayne's message helped give Mtn Dew an extra boost.

Some creative people think it's worth the tradeoff to scrimp on the shot and put the money into a great music track. Niels Schuurmans, creative head of Spike TV (and exec VP at Viacom) said music can make or break a campaign. "Using a great known commercial track helps the ad hit an emotional chord that stock music just can't. ... A great music track can be more than 50% of a spot. In my business, I always push to get commercial tracks into the work; it's expensive, but it's worth the money. Hell, sometimes it's better to spend the money on a great track without doing a big shoot. We just cut a spot for Bellator MMA for Spike using Diddy's "Coming Home' track and it just makes the piece."

Livio Sanchez, a film and commercial editor at SpotWelders, acknowledged that using celebrities, artists and sports stars in ads is nothing new. Finding new ways to incorporate them into ads, however, can be achieved by using great music. He cited the example of a recent spot he edited for Mtn Dew via BBDO, New York.

The challenge was to reach a young and diverse demographic among the competitive energy-drink market. Hip-hop artists Lil Wayne and Mac Miller, country-music singer Jason Aldean, Nascar driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., snowboarder Danny Davis and skateboarders Paul Rodriguez Jr. and Theotis Beasley had all signed on. BBDO needed to figure out a way to tie them all into one ad.

By incorporating a statement recorded live at a Lil Wayne concert, the creative team was able to combine those disparate lifestyles into a montage with the tagline, "This is how we Dew."

The music binds the whole thing together.

Livio also mentioned a spot he edited for Nokia by Wieden & Kennedy, New York. Yessian, a global collection of producers, composers, music supervisors and recording artists, was hired to reimagine the Cole Porter song "Don't Fence Me In."

"By integrating the music and lyrics into the initial concept, a strong emotional connection to the brand was built into the storytelling, making it both familiar and fresh," Livio said. Many of these types of "hybrid" music companies, such as Yessian, have existing relationships with brands and artists that can help create content-specific music.

With "decades of access to so much free content in the age of the internet, audiences today are far more sophisticated and global when it comes to musical tastes, making it increasingly more vital for advertisers to stay current," said Livio.

My daughter Cindi's good friend Lisa Rolls Hagelberg does marketing work for the United Nations out of Nairobi, where her husband also works for the UN. Lisa believes that music can play an even greater role in the public sector, where organizations don't have the money to hire expensive talent or funds for music rights and production services. Lisa produced an album in June with Artists Project Earth for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, or Rio + 20.

"These sorts of collaborations are extremely effective in bringing a cool cachet to what can be perceived by the general public as boring governmental bureaucracies. Once the door is open, we find that people are receptive and really do care about the messages," she said.

The marketing of music and artists taps into social media to identify the most-avid fans. Troy Carter, manager of Lady Gaga, told the Financial Times that the singer wanted to build a social network, but the problem was not the quantity but the quality of data. So Mr. Carter created Backplane, a social-media platform designed for the hardcore 1 million Lady Gaga fans.

"Right now we're planting an oak tree," he told the FT. "What we are planting today we may not see the full benefits for five to 10 years," what with the core tenets of the music business, such as digital-rights deals, undergoing dramatic change.

But however excited one gets about data, Mr. Carter offers a word of advice for anyone thinking of using it to tinker with the creative side of the business: Don't.

"I stay away from the arts -- writing songs, being creative -- those are downloaded from God. You can't do analytics on art."

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