Brands have always used a multisensory approach to link logos or slogans with the taste, sound or feel of a product or service. Music has long played a key role in this process: 30 years ago, about 75 percent of ads used music in some way, according to a study in Musical Quarterly.
Today, the multisensory aspect is more important than ever. The rise of video and the unprecedented ease of access to multimedia entertainment online have put pressure on advertising agencies and marketers to feed an ever-expanding interest in sound, image, video and interaction.
With so many audiences eager for engaging experiences, music has emerged as the soul of many brands and campaigns. And music poses ever more nuanced questions for campaign creators: Should you connect a brand or campaign to a beloved hit, or should you expand into new realms by working with emerging musicians?
Here, we explore the pros and cons of licensing well-known music versus searching for the next big thing.
Top 40s: The Draw of Licensing Established Music and Artists
Licensing big-name music is big business, and no wonder: Research indicates that exposure to music we know can literally change the way we think about and make purchases. Familiar music also has a profound impact on memory, notes Psych Central’s Malini Mohana.
Incorporating well-known music into new ad campaigns can change audiences’ experiences of both the brand and the song in profound ways — for better or worse. In a guest post at Duets, Norton Mitchel Marketing VP David Mitchel notes several examples of brands that got a boost from famous songs, including a Swiffer ad set to Player’s “Baby Come Back” that made it clear that Swiffer owners can break up with their mop and broom for good.
Generally speaking, generic background music is better for helping customers retain information, says Julianne Schiffer, senior vice president of insight and analytics at Nielsen Entertainment. To evoke an emotional “punch” that helps drive sales, popular music often does the job.
For instance, Schiffer describes a 2014 HP ad aimed at teens and twentysomethings, the target demographic for music by popular artist Meghan Trainor. The ad, set to Trainor’s “Lips Are Movin’,” spurred a 26-percent increase in the sale of HP tablets because it resonated with the teens and young adults HP sought to engage.
The Cost of Licensing Top 40 Artists
When using popular music, the first question most companies and creatives have is about cost. The cost of licensing is often incorporated into a campaign’s budget — but the wrong license can end up costing more than a client ever imagined.
This is particularly true when a client already has an ASCAP, BMI or SESAC performance license and assumes that this license is sufficient to cover uses of the same music in a video or advertisement. For instance, radio stations — or advertisers who plan to place a spot on the radio — might assume they’re covered by the station’s licenses, says Dan O’Day.
But it’s a faulty assumption, David Oxenford writes at the Broadcast Law Blog, and it can land companies in hot water. To use that same hit in advertising, the company needs a synchronization license and/or a master license — and the added costs can be more than an advertiser wants to spend.
Hipster Cred: Spotlighting Music and Artists Before They Were Cool
What if everything about that breakout Top 10 hit is perfect … except the price tag?
“Be careful about the ‘right’ piece of music,” Matthew Sommer, COO of digital agency Brolik, tells Forbes. “Just because the editor was cutting the video to the Rolling Stones, doesn’t mean you’ll have a Rolling Stones-sized music licensing budget. There are plenty of the ‘right’ songs out there if you’re willing to spend the time to look.”
Today, it’s easier than ever for emerging musicians to get their work out there for public consumption without going through an established publisher or producer, according to Dee Lockett at Vulture. This means it’s also easier than ever for advertisers to find the “next big thing” who can help them build their brand.
To find emerging artists:
- Try unusual venues. Some of the biggest venues that launched careers are long gone, but smaller venues still exist, notes Vulture’s Jared T. Miller. Bonus: Many small venues specialize in particular musical styles, so if you’re looking for a particular feel, focus on the places that love it, too.
- Get a feel for the community. TasteKid recommends music based on your preferences — but it also tells you how popular that music is with other listeners, giving you a built-in sense of the audience that will recognize your ad’s musical choice.
Organizations that specialize in curating and licensing music can often make custom recommendations, as well, especially if you can describe or play an example of the style and mood you’re looking for.
Love a particular song, but want to avoid reproducing it directly? Choose an emerging band or artist with a similar style. Often, the resulting ad will reproduce the feel, but add a new and intriguing edge.
Working with an emerging band can also help advertisers avoid the risks that come from asking for a particular style or soundalike from a composer — including the risk of a copyright lawsuit, according to Trinity P3 founder and CEO Darren Woolley.
Even if you find the ideal emerging artist to turn your brand campaign into a masterpiece, bear in mind that copyright licensing may still be an issue. As Woolley notes, a cover or re-recording that still sounds like the original may raise copyright issues, particularly if the right combination of licenses hasn’t been obtained.
To avoid this, consider steering away from emerging artists’ covers in favor of their original work with a similar style.
Hits vs. Hopefuls: How to Choose
Can’t decide whether to raid the Top 40 or start looking for breakout bands? Here’s what to consider:
- Audience. Who are you trying to reach? What are they listening to? Choose music that speaks not only to their age range, but their primary interests, as well.
- Feel. Music can create or destroy the perfect mood in branding. Explore a wide range of artists that produce similar moods and feelings.
- Edge. Do you want to reinvent an existing product or underscore how a new offering reinvents a particular task? Reinventing a hit can reinforce the message. Similarly, if you’re seeking to position a product or service as truly new, creative or groundbreaking, new music can send the message.
- Cost. Emerging artists are often less costly than the biggest names, but can provide a similar vibe.
With a wealth of great music available, more than one right answer exists for nearly every campaign and brand. Connecting to audio industry professionals who listen deeply can help expand the available right answers so brands can choose the option they like most.
images by: Wesley Tingey, Melanie van Leeuwen, Oskar Wimmerman, Matthew Kane