Top of the brand charts: Music Dealers' Eric Sheinkop on how John Lewis creates hit ads through its soundtracks

By Eric Sheinkop |

John Lewis



December 19, 2013 | 6 min read

All major brands invest in music as part of their communications, but few can claim to have created a ‘hit’. So, as John Lewis once again tops the charts with the soundtrack to its Christmas ad, music branding pioneer Eric Sheinkop, co-author of new book ‘Hit Brands: How Music Builds Value for the World’s Smartest Brands’, looks at the secrets behind music’s power to make a brand instantly recognised and loved.

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John Lewis has all the right ingredients for the making of a ‘hit brand’, and its latest Christmas advert, ‘The Bear and The Hare’, is no exception. The retailer has created spectacles of its Christmas campaigns, which have become events in and of themselves, leaving the whole country abuzz. In fact, John Lewis has become so synonymous with Christmas that the annual rollout of its Christmas advert seems to officially mark the start of the holiday season. But how is it able to do this so successfully? When assessing content at Music Dealers [the licensing firm Sheinkop founded in 2008 and which now does deals with clients including Coke, MTV and CBS], we first like to understand how the visual and music stand alone before we merge them to tell one story. We ask ourselves questions such as: What does the commercial mean without the music? What is the story being told? What is the song trying to communicate? Does the music bring value to the story? How effective are they together?In the case of The Bear and The Hare, the music selection perfectly supports and complements the narration of the visual, and transports the listener into the story. Watch the spot without the music; its impact cannot be achieved solely through the visual. The emotional impact is fully experienced through this particular cover song. It’s through this union that it finds success, inspires conversation, creates memories and engenders brand loyalty. After understanding the visual and music, an analysis reveals several shrewd music marketing strategies, one of these being the well-executed rerecord. If a famous song is put into an ad, it usually fades to the background: no one notices it, let alone will talk about how great an ad it was. They already know the song, and hearing it repurposed in an advertisement becomes overkill. Had John Lewis dispassionately slapped on a popular song, the magic would have been lost. Instead, the brand embraces authenticity, stripping away the outer layers of the well-known track, leaving its essence, rebuilding it with emotion and Christmas spirit. And the nostalgia of the original record is maintained – a wise strategy from the marketer’s toolbox. Most associate a popular song with positivity; the cover taps into that association, leveraging the familiar, bridging the gap between positive emotions and the brand. ‘Social empowerment’ is a sustainable marketing model whereby a brand can organically insert itself into a consumer’s everyday life, beyond its product or service. John Lewis greatly emphasises music – finding the right songs to cover, targeting and auditioning the right artists, and ensuring that the music is produced in harmony with the visual. As a result, John Lewis inserts itself into its consumers’ everyday lives, extending beyond one particular product. There’s no scarf, or toaster, or tie for dad featured in the commercial. Rather, it’s the brand and the song, and people walk away thinking about John Lewis, not something they can buy from John Lewis. In ‘Hit Brands’ we focus heavily on the power of discovery, something John Lewis employs with spectacular results. If a brand can consistently deliver cutting edge, tailored music to fans, whether through advertising or a specific online music discovery platform, then that brand fulfils the needs of the consumer. John Lewis has become a trusted filter for great music, and consumers rely on it for upcoming releases. The songs in these advertisements take on a life of their own and go on to become chart-topping hits. Consumers eagerly buy copies of the releases, propelling the songs to amazing heights. By fulfilling a need, a strong bond and connection are made – the kind that creates a lifelong relationship and loyalty to a brand. At Music Dealers we have been instrumental in helping brands harness the power of music discovery, such as in 2012 when we placed our artist The Majority Says in an advert for Scandinavia’s largest broadcaster, Viasat. By placing a story-driving song, Viasat became a source of music discovery. The commercial became a success – the song went from zero radio play to high rotation on Sweden’s biggest station. Then we worked with Viasat to offer the track as a free download, amassing 150,000 downloads within 10 days. The band, who previously had never played a show outside of Sweden, was then booked on a major European tour.As a result of publishing stellar content that resonates with consumers, social media explodes with positive praise, as we saw from Twitter’s reaction to the ad. It goes to show that in the new era of marketing, the brands that succeed will be the brands that look to new methodologies to connect. John Lewis and its creative agencies chose the road less travelled, and look what it has accomplished as a result. Its Christmas campaigns are a phenomenon, a new tradition whose connection to consumers is unparalleled. The artists involved, from Lily Allen to Slow Moving Millie and Ellie Goulding, have built and resurrected careers. And the true beneficiaries, the consumers, are forever grateful for a touching experience.Eric Sheinkop is co-founder and president of Music Dealers, the licensing firm which works with brands including Sony, MTV, Coca-Cola and Nike.Praised by Crain’s Chicago Business as “the Music Man of the 21st Century”, he was also an inductee into Billboard magazine’s ‘30 Under 30’ listing of young leaders moving the music industry forward. He also once rapped on a McDonald’s commercial. Now he co-authored of Hit Brands: How Music Builds Value for the World’s Smartest Brands, which is out now published by Palgrave Macmillan.This article first appeared in the 13 December issue of The Drum. Click here to order your copy

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