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Creative Future of TV Creative Works

Music in advertising isn’t dead – the right song still makes all the difference

By Maik Cox, Head of music production at Amp.Amsterdam



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July 10, 2024 | 7 min read

Whether or not Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire was used in an ad for hemorrhoid cream is a thing of lore. Maik Cox of Amp.Amsterdam, part of Ambassadors, says the future of ad music is bright – if agencies encourage brands to be bold.

A casette tape is illuminated against a black background

The right music can light up an ad, says Maik Cox / Ansfoto via Pixabay

When you think of music in adverts, familiar scenes likely come to mind: a cool sports brand with thundering tribal drums, triumphant orchestral scores for brand manifesto films, or a cheery ukulele and glockenspiel tune for a children’s toothpaste commercial.

These musical choices are deeply ingrained in our cultural memory, recognized even by the younger generation – a testament to their enduring presence. But amid this familiarity, questions arise: are these musical tropes too conventional and devoid of innovation? Or, do they persist because they serve a purely functional purpose in advertising?

The fact that we hear a lot of the same isn’t new; it’s been like this for ages. And for some brands, conventional music just fits – if it works, it works, right? When crafting music for a film that resonates with your brand and evokes the desired emotion, you may not have the luxury of exploring multiple styles, often defaulting to what’s been done before. There’s only so much variety in music styles, and new ones don’t emerge daily. In fact, the main styles have changed little over time.

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Unexpected sounds

When I think of what’s ’dead’ in advertising music, I envision music that feels generic and fails to grab the viewer emotionally. However, revitalization doesn’t necessarily require innovating new music or blending together genres or styles in unprecedented ways. It’s about using something more unexpected. Imagine using an elegant ’60s crooner track in a dynamic BMX commercial, or a ’90s hip-hop banger in a ballet film. It’s unexpected, refreshing – and stands out precisely because it’s unconventional. More often than you think, it can convey the feeling you’re looking for. Something that Nike has got right before.

Fighting for a script, a particular animation, or a music direction is a challenge we face daily. Unfortunately, we often lack direct interaction with brands; our primary contact is the ad agency. In my opinion, this linear process feels outdated – it’s not 1990 anymore. Why not foster a four-way dialogue between the brand, ad agency, director, and music house?

Of course, the ad agency often knows very well what the brand wants and doesn’t want and protects the brand as its gatekeeper. However, there have been moments in the past where we found that the ad agency and the brand were not on the same page regarding innovative music. We might have come up with something much more distinctive or ’ownable’ if we had been involved earlier in the conversation with the brand.

Culture incorporated

Another way to inject more vitality into your advertising music is by integrating new cultural input into your brand. However, I see that this concept is sometimes overlooked or not executed correctly. We all know examples where a well-known artist makes a connection with a brand, strengthening the brand’s image and scoring much higher in ad-testing on values that the brand wants to be associated with.

When you adopt the culture and let the artist be who they are meant to be, you create authenticity and sometimes even innovation. The moment you interfere too much though with the creative choices of such an artist – if the artist allows it – you end up with a product that is no longer authentically created, potentially losing that bit of innovation you or customers are looking for. If you feel the urge to interfere too much with an artist, you should ask yourself if you have chosen the right one for the project.

Where does this leave us? I believe that ad agencies and music agencies need to stay vigilant for opportunities to innovate. More often than you might think, a project is perfect for this. When such an opportunity arises, enlist a good music agency. You’ll see that they can significantly contribute to the project. The two agencies should then work together to get the brand on board and convince them that if they intend to be inventive or distinguishable, they must move fearlessly forward.

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