3 Things You Should Know About Music And Ads

There’s a long history of ads catapulting music to stardom. When Lily Allen scored a UK Number One last year with “Somewhere Only We Know” it was the 14th time a song has got there directly thanks to a commercial (the John Lewis Christmas ad). And it’s not just a kink of the British charts – think how Nick Drake became a name to drop in the USA on the back of a Volkswagen ad. Ads can help music – but how does music help ads?

Great track, great puppet, great No.1… but did it sell any trousers?

There are a bunch of ways you can use music in a commercial. You can use unknown or specially composed music as an emotive soundtrack. You can find a brilliant lesser-known song and make it famous in an ad. You can use a track that’s already famous to trigger existing emotional associations – or commission a cover or remix of one to mix in a bit of surprise. Or you can do without music at all – a lot of the new, longer, viral videos do this because the starkness of the soundtrack makes the action seem more real.

With the aid of the FeelMore50 list of emotional ads, and our database, we’ve started to draw up some hypotheses. So here are three things you should know about the effect music has on ads. Continue reading

Bey-havioural Economics

We were talking in the office the other day about ads as “cultural events” – commercials that have some level of fame before they are even released, like the John Lewis Christmas ads in the UK. These are commercials that people anticipate and are excited for, in the way people are excited for an upcoming film or album release. It’s very difficult indeed for an ad to get this kind of status, but the benefits are obvious.

However, it leaves you with another question. If ads these days are aspiring to be like album releases, what are album releases trying to be like? beyonce

Long live the Queen

Overnight last night, Beyoncé Knowles released her new album. Nobody knew it was coming, there was no pre-publicity – it just surfaced on iTunes as a full, lavish package (14 tracks, each with a full video). The Internet – or at least the part of the Internet that likes music – went into paroxysms of gleeful excitement (or in the case of men of a certain age and disposition, worry that their year-end lists might be out of date). Continue reading

Guilty Pleasures

This week on the BrainJuicer office stereo the theme has been “Guilty Pleasures”. As a music fan I can’t stand the idea of guilty pleasures – records which get lumbered with the title seem mostly to be catchy, funny and exciting, or at least far more so than the blokey, self-important, ‘guiltless’ alternatives.

But from the point of view of human behaviour, marketing, and innovation, the idea of “guilty pleasures” – and its enormous success – is fascinating. In a pop culture context, the phrase seemed to first crop up in the late 70s, as a column in Film Comment magazine. But it’s pop music where it’s really taken off, spawning club nights, compilations, and endless playlists. It’s a great example of a successful meme, a simple concept spreading irresistibly.

Guilty Pleasures are interesting because they put two of the most powerful forces in human decision making – instinctual response and social behaviour – against each other. On the one hand you have the initial reaction to a record – the “pleasure”, a desire to listen. It might be triggered by memory not quality, but it’s a powerful force. And on the other you have your perception of a social consensus what is or isn’t acceptable to like. The decision to listen to the song and the decision to share the song conflict, and we know that conflicting impulses tend to make decisions harder and people less happy.

From chart conqueror to guilty pleasure?

So if you find yourself in that dilemma, what do you do? One option is self-editing. The social music site last.fm tracks everything its users play, but allows them to delete plays from their public record. It maintains a monthly list of the most-deleted songs: Lady Gaga dominates, but perhaps surprisingly it’s the apparently more credible Adele who currently sits at the top.

But another option is to find something which resolves the contradiction. And this is what the “guilty pleasures” idea did, creating a category which allowed people to listen to songs they actually liked in a social space which pre-empted any serious criticism. In a sense “guilty pleasures” is a classic example of consumer innovation – an observation (“There are songs people like but wouldn’t admit to liking”) leads to an unmet need (“Wouldn’t it be great if I could listen to them in public”) leads to an innovation which meets that need.

And, in a classic next step, a need for some spreads and becomes a need for all. It’s not necessarily something to be celebrated – but it happens. Whatever the original insights behind hair conditioner or multi-blade razors, for instance, the products that resulted are now fixtures. The “guilty pleasure” likewise – everyone who listened to music now understands the category.

But not everyone agrees how to fill it.  Once the “guilty pleasure” concept was released, social norms started to accrete around it. Coldplay and Justin Bieber both have large, devoted fanbases and a vast number of people outside that fanbase who can’t stand them. But a Twitter search for “guilty pleasure” and Bieber turns up hundreds of responses, one for “guilty pleasure” and Coldplay only finds five. The feelings sparked might be similar but the phrase has become about cultural associations not just immediate feelings.

But then, the most interesting part of innovation isn’t the discovery, it’s seeing how people use it in the real world. “Guilty Pleasures” works like a real-life Pinterest board – what people leave out is as interesting as what people select, and if you’re paying attention the choices tell you a lot about people and how they feel about things.