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Advertising's gender jam: Ad music leaves women out of tune

Songtradr

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October 12, 2023 | 6 min read

By Joe Sauer, EVP marketing, Songtradr

By Joe Sauer, EVP marketing, Songtradr

Over the last decade, renewed movements for gender equality have swept from Hollywood to Silicon Valley and, at long last, to Madison Avenue. Advertisers finally seem willing to confront bias in advertising, armed with a better understanding of just how corrosive the objectification of girls and women is to an inclusive and modern society.

Even without the moral imperative, the financial motivations for advertisers have become inarguable — despite only representing half of the population, women control or influence 85% of consumer spending, with more than $10tn at their disposal annually.

No less an authority than Cannes Lions waded into the issue all the way back in 2015, launching the Glass Lion award to honor campaigns that address gender inequality or prejudice. Whither goes Cannes, goes the industry: according to one global survey of advertising executives, 76% of female and 88% of male marketers now believe that they successfully avoid gender stereotypes when creating advertising.

To be sure, there has been a steady stream of exemplary ads since Always’ seminal “Like A Girl” campaign in 2014, including work that Songtradr and its creative agencies MassiveMusic and Big Sync Music have been proud to support, such as the 2023 Emmy-nominated “Cost of Beauty” campaign by Dove.

But as is too often the case, rhetorical flourishes have belied meaningful and systemic change. The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media has found that, of the ads up for awards at Cannes, male characters outnumber female characters two-to-one, have twice as much screen time and speaking time, and are shown in workplace settings almost twice as often.

This persistent gender bias is reinforced — if not exacerbated — by the music that agencies and brands use in their ads. We recently applied our AI-powered audience prediction tool to analyze the top 50 TV ads aired to date in 2023 (as measured by household TV ad impressions), and found that the music used in those ads was much more likely to appeal to men than women.

The ads included in our analysis were drawn from a wide assortment of categories, including those that have traditionally, if not defensibly, targeted women (such as home care products) and those that traditionally targeted men (such as beer and cars). The majority, however, were for categories that have no ostensible gender skew. Of those 50 ads:

  • Half used music that was significantly more appealing to men than women;
  • Another third used music that was equally appealing to men and women;
  • A mere 16% (8 out of 50) used music that was significantly more appealing to women than men.

The data-informed drumbeat

To be fair, it’s unlikely the brands included in the study deliberately or even knowingly selected music that excluded women. The issue is really about sourcing and using data about music more strategically. The science of media selection — identifying where to advertise to reach different demographics — is well established, but the data required to identify music that does the same thing has only been developed more recently.

Recent or not, it does exist. Songtradr’s data analytics platform provides valuable insights into the music preferences and behaviors of your target demographic. By analyzing this data related to demographic variables like gender (as highlighted above), age, and geographic location, you can identify the music genres, styles, artists, and even individual tracks that are most likely to resonate with a particular audience. Similarly, data on variables such as mood, personality, and composition enable you to choose music that is not only audience-aligned, but also matches your brand’s positioning and enhances your ad’s narrative.

This data-informed approach increases consumer engagement with your creative, ad & brand memorability, and brand preference. Doing this systematically across campaigns has several benefits:

Emotional impact — Music has the power to evoke emotions: excitement, nostalgia, serenity, etc. The right musical choice can amplify the emotional impact of an ad. Data analysis can help you identify the emotional triggers that resonate with your audience. For example, if your target demographic responds positively to music that conveys a sense of adventure, you can select music that aligns with this emotion to create a more compelling and memorable ad.

Brand consistency — Your choice of music should align with your brand's values, personality, and overall message. Data analysis can help you ensure that the music you select is in harmony with your brand's identity. By examining the musical preferences of your existing customers and potential audience, you can choose music that not only resonates with your target demographic but also reinforces your brand image.

Measuring impact — By utilizing data analytics tools, you can measure the impact of your music choices in real time. Tracking metrics such as engagement rates, click-through rates, and conversion rates can help you determine the effectiveness of your musical selections. If a particular music choice is not resonating with your audience, data can guide you in making adjustments to improve your ad's performance.

Adapting to trends — The music landscape is ever-evolving, with new genres and trends emerging regularly. Staying attuned to these changes is crucial for maintaining the relevance of your brand. Data-informed decisions allow you to adapt to shifting musical preferences and keep your advertising campaigns fresh and appealing to your audience.

Music has far too great an impact to be left to chance. Picking the right music is often the deciding factor between the success or failure of million-dollar ad campaigns.

The days of unreflectively or subjectively selecting music for advertisements are over. As our gender disparity analysis shows, the cost of getting music wrong is just too high to ignore.

Brands that make data-informed music choices have a significant advantage over those who don’t. By leveraging data analytics to understand their audience, enhance emotional impact, maintain brand consistency, measure impact, and adapt to trends, brands can create advertisements that not only capture attention but also leave a lasting impression on their target audience.

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