What role does music have to play in marketing?
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What role does music have to play in marketing?

Author: James Cresswell | Posted on: 22 May 2019


This month has seen a spate of articles marking the twentieth anniversary of Moby's 1999 album Play, and one of the main observations recurring through these retrospective pieces has been how the album gained a huge amount of traction through its liberal use in film, television, and marketing. As Ed Gillet writes in The Quietus:

"It's here that Play's easily-understood but endlessly malleable emotional cues came into their own. 'Bodyrock' sold you adventure and energy on behalf of Rolling Rock beer; the wispy melodies of 'Porcelain' gave Volkswagen, France Telecom, and Bosch a gloss of vulnerability and introspection ... By the end of 2000, every single one of Play's 18 tracks had been licensed somewhere."

The high demand for these tracks, and for what they could lend to these campaigns, shows that music has a hugely important role to play in how a brand's message is presented to their audiences.

What, then, is it that music can add? And what do marketers need to think about?

Music sets the mood

One of the first things I learned when studying film production is that there are hours of entertainment to be found in pairing famous film scenes with incongruous music. Featured above is a video that plays a single scene from Notting Hill multiple times, altering the music each time to change how we feel about Hugh Grant’s character — is he in love? Is he a secret agent? Is he a dangerous killer?

It shows that, however meticulously you’ve constructed and arranged your visuals, it only takes a piece of music to either completely make or break the impression that you’re trying to create in the viewer’s mind.

Though licensing popular music for use in content can be a hugely expensive and time-consuming process, there are a huge number of stock music libraries such as AudioJungle supplying music that fits a diverse array of moods and atmospheres to cater to marketers, whatever their budget.


Original music can establish and reinforce an identity

As useful as stock music can be, it’s always a good idea — when the opportunity arises, and the budget allows for it — to get a bit more creative with how you use music.

When we made a video promoting the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire’s state-of-the-art facilities, we took the opportunity to commission original music from one of the conservatoire’s own students. This gave us something more original and dynamic to cut the video to; giving us the freedom to make choices that may not have fit with a more standard soundtrack.

Ultimately, the original music gives the finished product a real sense of individuality, while reinforcing exactly why prospective music students should consider the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire.

And the role played by original music doesn’t end with simply adding a distinct character to an individual piece of content. Speaking to Marketing Week, marketer Ben Brown talks about ‘audio branding’ and why music and sound should be vital components of any brand’s overall character.

“... In less than a second, one short sequence of notes can trigger a consumer to immediately recall a brand. Brand ‘sounds’ are successful when they provoke recognition, stir positive emotion and capture a unique identity."

Writing for Content Marketing Institute, Colleen Fahey states that, to achieve effective audio branding, brands must ask themselves questions about their values and their voice, so that they can seek to translate these into the more abstract, emotional language of music.

One example of this kind of thinking that I particularly like can be seen in the six-second composition that Brian Eno created as the start-up sound for Windows 95: though incredibly brief, the futuristic, yet relaxed and welcoming-sounding tune is a perfect reflection of Microsoft’s aim in the 1990s to give computing an accessible and domestic image. Even by commissioning Brian Eno — someone who is well-known for being at the forefront of musical technology (from his use of synthesisers in the 1970s, to his development of generative ‘infinite music’ apps today) — Microsoft were associating themselves with a spirit of technological and creative innovation.

Music can generate compelling content

But the use of music in content marketing can go far beyond just syncing sound with visuals, there are a wealth of brands who have used their platforms as a means of collaborating with musical artists to create some truly compelling and unique work.

Take American Express, for example, with their Unstaged series of videos. These concert films were based around creating intriguing collaborations between artists and directors, with some of the unlikely pairings including Arcade Fire with Terry Gilliam, The Killers with Werner Herzog, and Duran Duran with David Lynch.

Possibly the most ambitious example, however, is the Red Bull Music Academy. Between 1998 and 2019, Red Bull used their platform to (amongst many other things) create an extensive library of video lectures, produce documentaries and radio shows, and foster the talent of up-and-coming musicians — often with an eye more towards the experimental and left-field.

As a branded resource and service, the success of the RBMA can be seen in how recent news of its planned closure later this year was met with such an outpouring of sadness from musicians, record labels, and commentators — with musician and educator Mat Dryhurst writing in The Guardian, for example, that it had been “the gold-standard example of how to use corporate funds to support art on the margins…”

Though music can seem like something of an afterthought when it comes to marketing, it is a key component that can quietly (or not so quietly) enrich and enhance the effect of every other component of a piece of content.

Whether sourced from a library or custom-produced, music can give life to your brand and its content.

Author: James Cresswell

James Cresswell gravatar avitar
James is our copywriter and social media manager here at Ember Television. He joined us after studying an MA programme in Film and Television: Research and Production at the University of Birmingham.
What role does music have to play in marketing?



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