It can be very entertaining when people ask what it is I do for a living. Usually at parties or weddings I’ll cobble together some rhetoric that includes the words ‘music’ and ‘brands’ and use my hands to gesticulate a motion that looks like two Red Arrows coming together in a special aerial display.
At this point the questioner will usually either a) walk away or b) quizzically furrow their eyebrows and begin to ask more questions or c) start singing a variety of jingles that will, without fail, always include ‘do-do-do-do-dooo’.
For those who don’t take route A, the conversation can become quite impassioned and more often than not, people will feel the urge to tell of their favourite artist, their favourite music in an advert and recall that washing machines live longer with Calgon.
The world of brand sound has of course come a long way since ‘the jingle’ but these reactions are a great reminder of music’s power – to engrain itself in our lives, to be instantly recalled at the flick of a wrist and to impart messages that we live by and seemingly never forget.
Brands have been reaping these rewards for almost a century by employing the services of specialist agencies such as ourselves. But politicians have looked to music to win big on the campaign trail too. As far back as 1932 Roosevelt harnessed “Happy Days Are Here Again”, while Blair brandished “Things Can Only Get Better” in 1997 and Obama inspired a nation with “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours” in 2008.
Then for about a decade, the world of politics seemed to stop pressing play on its soundtrack. Everything had gone a bit quiet. Then this happened:
Theresa will always be my dancing queen, but she got this one wrong. Comedy gold - yes. YouTube favourite – yes, with 2.5m views and rising. Rousing, inspiring and galvanising a nation to join her journey of European exit - certainly not.
It is well documented that these uses of music by politicians often leave a distinctly sour taste in the mouths of the recording artists themselves. Moreover, even with aggressive cease-and-desist orders they can be hard for the labels, publishers and lawyers to stop. One can only wonder how the ABBA gang felt when they saw Mrs May live on air.
Today in 2019, almost a year on from Theresa’s greatest moment, we have a new man at the helm. Some say he’s now the biggest brand in Britain. Until the audacious events of this week unfolded others were saying the 'Boris brand' of the bumbling, zip wire flying, rugby tackling and red wine spilling Boris had been diluted, as even the press started calling him Mr Johnson. Love him or loathe him he has demonstrated his ability to lob a curved ball that few seemed to see coming, demonstrating that Boris is still very much a brand and must maintain this persona to take the nation with him as he navigates towards 31 October.
It can be easy to forget that the PM’s real name is in fact Alexander – known simply as Al to his friends and close associates. Boris is the alter-ego; entertainer, the public figure and the bonkers façade of what is now unfolding to reveal a pretty ruthless politician.
With the conservative party conference now just weeks away, the stage is set for brand Boris and I am intrigued to see if his team will turn to music as a key asset in his Brexit toolbox. Will he wander on stage in silence or deliver his brand of Johnson entertainment through a soundtrack that could send a powerful message to audiences throughout the UK, around the Brussels negotiating table and to fellow nations across the world?
There’s also the opportunity for him to go one step further. The historical relationship between politics and music has typically centred solely around walk-on entrance music. However, it goes without saying that the media world is a different place since the days of Roosevelt. Global brands are currently investing in sound like never before as they look to capitalise on the booming audio economy; seeking to drive consistency, memorability, message and emotion across every communication channel and touch point. Could Johnson be the first politician to follow suit and coin his very own sonic identity?
One thing’s for sure - if Boris treats music and sound with the same strategic care and attention that he applies to his haircuts, his suits, his speech and his mannerisms, then he has a chance to land a powerful message on the world stage in the run up to one of the most significant moments in this country’s history.
Music is a universal language that gives any brand the potential to control a narrative and deliver emotion on scale. But if team Johnson choose to ignore the power of one of the greatest branding devices at their disposal, they may as well let an unshaven Boris get up on stage in his pajamas. Now there’s a thought.
Max de Lucia is co-founder and client director of specialist sonic branding at the agency DLMDD.