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By Jennifer Faull | Deputy Editor

November 8, 2016 | 6 min read

Cow & Gate recently launched what it believes is a scientifically proven song that will make babies happy.

It was done to showcase the company's online community, the Cow & Gate Baby Club and cement its positioning as a brand that promotes happiness. Despite the result being what many might see as a simple song, the process of getting there was anything but. The Drum caught up with the agency and scientists behind it to find out more.

Creative agency BETC London was originally tasked with something that would get the Baby Club off the ground. It’s an online community of parents all sharing advice as they navigate the first few years of their child’s life. It also has tips and a 24 hour helpline.

“Music has been a big theme in what we’ve done for it [in the past],” said Rosie Bardales, executive creative director. “We wanted to reach as many families as possible and a song seemed like the easiest way to make it shareable and introduce new families to the club.”

The simplest solution might have been to knock together a song with a catchy tune and seed it out far and wide. But BETC decided that if it was really going to make the parenting community turn their heads away from the dulcet tones of Peppa Pig then it needed science on its side and a composer who was willing to be experimental.

For that, it enlisted two psychologists from Goldsmith UCL, Casper Addyman and Lauren Stewart who have spent their careers trying to understand the minds of infants.

“There’s so much noise out there that [parents] don’t know what to believe,” said Stewart. “But parents like the evidence based approach to what they’re doing with their babies. It’s also a chance for us as scientists to take something into a real-world context. Normally we’re just in a lab manipulating one or two factors.”

For both Stewart and Addyman it was the first time they’d been involved in shaping a creative product.

They began by going through the literature on what aspects of music were likely to be engaging and positive for babies. But they found that there was very little out there.

"[Most of what had been done] was about what maintains a babies attention or aspects of voice that sooth. There was very little about how to create positive enjoyment,” continued Stewart.

But what they already understood from their own research was that babies learn extremely quickly based on music they’re exposed to. Even at a young age, they can work out how a melody will unfold and how rhythms will play out.

“Our brains are prediction machines, they have evolved to be good at anticipating what will happen. And every time we get it right, or even sometimes wrong, we are rewarded by a hit of dopamine – the brain’s pleasure chemical.”

So, the theory was that both psychologists would be able to work out exactly what elements of sound, melody and rhythm were releasing this pleasure chemical. They would then feed this information back to musician Imogen Heap who would compose a song based on these key factors.

Bringing this into practice, four basic melodies and a vocal track were created. They then worked with 26 babies aged between 6 to 12 months (“any older and they’re walking so won’t sit still”), who had been volunteered by their parents for the experiment.

Each baby was put in a dark room with camera and were played around eight variations of a song based on the different melodies and vocal tracks.

Although there was talk of measuring heart rates, what the team realised was that the best test of how much a baby was enjoying the trackwas simply to look at their facial and body expressions.

“We filmed each baby and looked at how many times they smiled, laughed, waved arms etc,” explained Addyman.

“Within each of the songs we could zoom in on what the babies were doing at each point and see if certain sounds work more and we could then take bits from different versions and put them together.”

After deciding on the melody, the team then began work with Heap on the lyrics. They knew they would need interesting noises and sounds and so asked around 2,000 parents via a survey to reveal which noises made their children smile.

These ranged from the sound of sneezing and animals to raspberries being blown against a tummy.

“We needed to have a bit of a top down approach, so we looked at the melodic framework first and then tried to add some of the sounds in a way that made sense for the narrative,” continued Stewart.

They kept going back to the 26 babies throughout the process to see which parts worked, making small tweaks to each line of the song along the way.

“Then we played it to a group of babies to see how they reacted in a natural setting,” said Addyman. “Those in the group test were transfixed. It had been chaos in the room and then the song came on and everyone was focused on it.”

So, the scientific conclusion was that it worked. And Cow & Gate Baby Club’s ‘Happiness Song’ really does make babies happy.

Since then, the brand has released the track for free on Spotify and SoundCloud and is now working on a ‘create your own playlist’ function which will again, using science, allow parents to access playlists with suggested songs for different moods.

Meanwhile, Stewart and Addyman are looking at doing additional research into the role of music in a baby’s development. “We want to explore music as a vehicle for speech development and the song is the ideal vehicle.”

Marketing Cow & Gate Brand

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