A recurring theme of music in advertising conversations I’ve been having over the first few weeks of 2015 has been the impact of using music from new and breaking artists versus well-known and popular music, perhaps from the past, to soundtrack advertising campaigns.
Both avenues clearly have their merits and there are countless examples of each both recently and historically in highly memorable ad campaigns from some of the most iconic and household-named brands.
Your audience are more likely to have an existing association with a well-known song – a song that was on repeat over a high-school summer vacation, a favourite movie-moment, the song they chose for the first dance at their wedding or just a song they love, without a relationship to a specific moment or time.
The more likely an audience are to have an “Oh! I LOVE that song!” reaction, the greater the likelihood of evoking the emotions they associate with the song.
A recent example of a brand that’s been able to nail that side of things is Freeview – who among us didn’t crack a smile at the Singing Toys “lip-syncing” to Foreigner’s 1984 power ballad, “I Want to Know What Love Is”, crafted by Leo Burnett?
…or the string of previous campaigns featuring iconic hits like “You’re All I Need To Get By” (Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell), “You Really Got Me” (The Kinks) and “Happy Together” (The Turtles) to name a few. Given, the clever and tongue-in-cheek creative is what made the ads memorable, but the recognisable soundtracks were a key part of that creative.
It’s hard to have that similar nostalgic association with a new or breaking artist, however, the kudos relating to association with a specific and current music scene or subculture can also be effective. The “Oh! They know their French Progressive House!” effect can create just as powerful a connection.
There are two types of artist-related Kudos – one of which lies in the ability to licence a huge and well-known song from an iconic artist. Artist-label/publisher agreements usually require approval from writers before a track can be used, and a nod from the likes of David Bowie or Robert Smith, for instance, can inspire an instant elevation in brand status. Take this Xperia Z TV Ad from 2013:
Perfect narrative for the product, provided by the venerable and iconic David Bowie.
The other side to kudos is the ability to catch a breaking artist, before they break – or even to be part of the team responsible for bringing them to the ears of the public.
Who can forget E.ON propelling The Lumineers and their euphoric folk track “Ho Hey” to fame, or Tesco F&F Clothing ft. Ben Pearce, whose song “What I Might Do” peaked at number 7 on the UK Singles chart after being used in the campaign. The most recent campaign for Apple’s iPad Air 2 – a brand with a clear music association – features “Who Needs You” by Chicago-based indie rockers, The Orwells – it will be interesting to see how their popularity develops as a result. Feist’s “1,2,3,4” famously scored a top 10 UK & US Chart hit following an iPod Nano ad feature in 2007.
Chart success isn’t the only end goal – it’s often enough just to evoke a reaction with great creative or a perfect narative and music from emerging or lesser-known artists can do that just as well as popular hits.
A hybrid option
A growing trend in recent years has been to favour a combination – sourcing or commissioning a new cover version of a popular, well-known track, by an emerging, up & coming artist. John Lewis Christmas campaigns are the most obvious example for re-versioning hits from the past (The Smiths, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, John Lennon and more), but here’s a recent example of an emerging artist covering a UK No. 1 Single from 2012.
Australian artist Josef Salvat covering Rihanna for Sony last year:
The audience recognise the song but are introduced to a new artist or unexpected version along the way.
There’s clearly no “right” answer here – both creative and brand-positioning arguments support all three options, however, two key drivers are audience and impact, with the music working alongside the rest of the creative to evoke the desired response.