Founder and director of Rocket Science Music and VP, global sync at Locomotion Music Publishing, James Cooper, shares five ways in which music has been used by advertisers to create memorable stand-out moments
Music and picture has the ability to produce standout campaigns as well as iconic moments in popular culture. Science tells us that we process music using the same parts of our brain as we use for memory and emotions, so creative that harnesses this effectively is a win! I’ve worked in music licensing for over twenty years, so thought I’d look back at five great examples of how brands have broken boundaries, created trends and defined brands through their choice of music...
Levi's - 'Sta-Prest Jeans'
Director: Quentin Dupieux
BBH and Levi's pretty much created the template for using commercial music in ads, with the iconic use of ‘Heard It through the Grapevine’ in the '80s. That was a seismic moment and ever since brands have been happy to pay a premium to license well-know songs in order to stand out. It was therefore a fairly bold decision to write a campaign about a fuzzy yellow puppet bopping along to a quirky unknown electro track written for the ad - that being ‘Flat Beat’ by Mr Oizo. But boy did the music cut through and in doing so BBH and Levis proved that ‘standout’ doesn’t have to come from using a recognisable track. Mr Oizo went on to produce a full-length version due to the success of the campaign.
Guinness - 'Surfer'
Agency: AMV BBDO
Production: Academy Films
Director: Jonathan Glazer
Sound: Wave Studios
Apparently when AMV researched their iconic ‘Surfer’ campaign, it didn’t test so well with the audience. Luckily, the agency and brand bravely stuck with their gut instincts and the creative vision. They were even more brave when - after apparently listening to over 2,000 tracks - they chose an unknown track by Leftfield, 'Phat Planet'. The commercial went on to help define the ‘product truth’ for Guinness; that good things come to those who wait. The ad and its soundtrack dramatised that truth in a truly memorable way.
Barclaycard - 'Waterslide'
Agency: BBH London
Music supervisors and ad agencies are always on the lookout for 'hidden gems' or 'forgotten favourites' for their campaigns. You can tap into a certain familiarity whilst also remaining a little bit off piste by going down this route. BBH and Barclaycard demonstrated this perfectly in their 'Waterslide' campaign, licensing ‘Let Your Love Flow’ by The Bellamy Brothers, which was a #1 hit in the '70s. The result was a warm, feel-good spot with loads of charm, thanks in no small part to the music.
John Lewis - 'The Journey'
Sound: Leland Music
Storytelling is obviously key to both scriptwriting and songwriting. The story can be told through voiceover or dialogue, but music can also be a powerful narrative tool. John Lewis has enjoyed huge success of telling stories through the songs in their Christmas ads. In doing so they started a trend of covering well-known songs, reimagining them with contemporary artists and achieving the holy grail of something recognisable but also bespoke. This was beautifully executed in 2012’s ‘The Journey’ featuring ‘The Power of Love’. John Lewis also started a trend for Christmas ads not using Christmas songs, last year using a cover of ‘All The Small Things’ by Blink182, by way of example.
IKEA - 'Silence the Critics'
Director: Tom Kuntz
IKEA broke new ground with their first-ever Christmas ad back in 2019. They tapped into contemporary youth culture, teaming up with Grime artist D Double E, who produced an incredible track for the hugely enjoyable ‘Silence the Critics’ spot. The ad is humorous and cool in equal measures, whilst also championing the UK grime scene. In doing so, this truly helped to bring a pivotal UK sub-culture into the mainstream.