Storytelling in a universal language: how brands can leverage music to reach audiences

By Kazoo Sato, Chief creative officer



Opinion article

May 23, 2018 | 6 min read

It is passion. It is culture. It is love. It unites people and fights hate. It triggers memories and stimulates emotions. It's funny, heart-breaking and kind. That’s the power of music. Nothing compares with its capacity to embrace diversity, transcend borders, and bring different people together. That’s why people call it the world’s universal language.


The challenge for brands, filmmakers and artists is how to tell their story through music.

The challenge for brands, filmmakers and artists is how to tell their story through music. It has been a core part of advertising since the early days of radio, as brands attempted to cement themselves into the audiences’ memories using jingles. But now, music plays a more important strategic role than simply trying to boost brand recall.

Technological disruption has changed how brands need to think about music. As voice-activated search enters living rooms through virtual assistants like Google Home, Amazon Echo, and Apple Home Pod, how should brands relay their information on these devices? It’s increasingly important to focus, not only on how your brand looks, but how your brand sounds.

Additionally, with a growing trend of content being consumed on mobile with sound-off, brands need to entice audiences to switch it back on – one method is to become renowned for creating great content with great music. Many brands are adapting by finding ways to tell their stories with no sound, but I believe this approach will prove less effective as it underestimates the influencing power of music.

A study from Nielsen a few years ago looked at the effectiveness of more than 600 ads, and the research showed that those with music performed much better across four key areas—creativity, empathy, emotive power, and information power.

Leveraging artists and songs

Popular songs are most effective at invoking some kind of emotional response because the viewer will already have an existing connection with the track. When brands get it right, the benefits are immeasurable - viewers connect, enjoy and remember the commercials better, artists get massive exposure, and it elevates the brand image. Think Cadbury x Phil Collins, Apple iPod x U2, Volvo Trucks x Enya, and the recent Samsung x Elton John. All memorable and compelling pieces of content perfectly synced and driven by a famous song.

But of course these music rights come with a hefty price tag, and therefore, many marketers opt to leverage up-and-coming artists instead, which can also prove to be very effective and has its own unique benefits.

Firstly, less-known artists are much more open to being featured in commercials, because the opportunity can often provide the exposure they need to become famous. It’s essentially like having a music video produced by some of the best creative minds and getting it broadcasted across screens worldwide. One example is Sony’s Bouncing Balls commercial which brought indie artist Jose Gonzalez to fame, with ‘Heartbeats’ becoming a huge hit in numerous countries.

Secondly, when a brand is renowned for using great new music, it adds an aesthetic value people begin to expect from its content, making them sit up and turn on the sound when it comes across their social feeds. They trust the brand to help them discover new artists, and it’s another reason for them to like and share the content. A good example of this is Apple, a brand that has been using great new music across all their communications ever since the launch of the iPod.

Infuse into the creative process

Traditionally, Japanese ad agencies leave music down to the production company – simply selected and inserted into commercials at the editing stage. But agencies that truly appreciate the power of music, infuse it directly into the mix right from the very beginning of the creative process.

At TBWA\Hakuhodo, we have partnered with progressive music studio Black Cat White Cat, giving us access to music professionals who we can bounce ideas off and develop creative concepts together. We team up with top-level composers as well as up-and-coming musicians and artists to inject dynamic new perspectives into our work.

It’s crucial in setting the tone of any commercial and helps catapult a distinct emotional connection, as well as a unique sound for the brand. The tempo is also fundamental to instilling the desired mood for the content, with up-beat songs stimulating happiness and slower songs making the audience more reflective. The music also enhances the structure and continuity of our storytelling and helps emphasize certain parts.

Most importantly, it puts music at the core of our creative process to provide an elevated immersive experience that takes the audience to a different place and builds a stronger connection with the brand. People can close their eyes, but they can’t close their ears – so give them something they want to listen to, and the rest will follow.

Kazoo Sato is the chief creative officer and executive creative director at TBWA\Hakuhodo.


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