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The Influencers

Sound Branding: The Sound of Change

INFLUENCER: soundlounge CEO Ruth Simmons says the right choice of music can truly help advertisers stay relevant

Sound Branding: The Sound of Change

In the '70s Stephen King, Head of Global Planning at JWT, went about radically changing the way agencies thought about developing an idea. Faced with new platforms and opportunities, he appreciated that if brands were to differentiate themselves across all executions, it would demand a deeper understanding of the meaning of a brand, how it worked and how it was perceived. It meant learning new ways of working by consistently applying a set of strategic visual rules. I am sure that there was a predictable push-back from creatives worrying that they were being corralled and restricted. Today it is a unilaterally adopted procedure we call branding that enables any teams around the world to craft visual narratives across multiple platforms, that are understood wherever their customers are in the world.

But whilst Millward Brown, the ad industry’s global research company continually publishes data that shows that sound is 41% of the total creative execution, for 40 years, creative teams have chosen music based on personal taste and subjective decision-making. This is often at the last minute in the editing suite, with no checks and balances on whether the music actually works.

For years, brands accepted this way of working, because it appeared they had no choice. But, with a closer eye on the ROI and new methods of research, they are finding out that these final music choices may not be achieving the effectiveness that they need, and more to the point, have proven to be expensive mistakes. In fact, it looks like only 92% of brands seem to be happy with their agencies on cost efficiency scores. 

Up until recently, audiences too accepted and watched these commercials with the only escape being the on/off switch on the TV! Today, audiences wield a different kind of control. They are watching and selecting personalised content on a multitude of platforms. They rarely watch live broadcast TV, have a fast-forward button that enables them to avoid all commercials, can now ‘Skip Ad’, after four seconds online and even install ad blockers. (some publications have pointed out that ad blockers are costing the industry billions in lost revenue annually).

Personalised content viewing is the fastest growing sector in broadcast. As this area continues to grow, truly effective advertising will demand different soundtracks for different audiences. The music will have to resonate on a personal level and to happen in less than four seconds.

The good news is that musicians have been doing this for the last 300 years. Great intros, memorable middle eights and ‘earworm’ chord progressions – they’re called hooks for a reason. Music for advertisers is now a mainstream subject. Agencies are beginning to appreciate that finding a track that supports their visual narrative is simply not enough with today’s consumer. Music is one of the few tools left that will connect and engage potential customers in less than 4 seconds, before they ever have the chance to see the visuals. Finding the right music that will do this in the shortest time, is now a ‘have to.’ 

Today, if advertisers are to stay relevant, just as in the '70s, they know that they have to rethink how they can engage very quickly with very specific and disparate target audiences. Music is becoming significantly more important. Both the rights owners and the agencies will need to adapt. Sound Branding is a start.

Genre: Music & Sound Design