From writing a slogan to choosing where to place your adverts, there are countless key decisions to be made when marketing your startup. However, not all businesses realise how important music is to their advertising, and undervaluing it could be a big mistake. As Eric Sheinkop, author of Return of the Hustle: The Art of Marketing With Music, states: “Brands that incorporate a good music strategy play a role in the consumer’s life beyond the product.” This is even more important when you consider how widespread music can be in marketing terms—the right melody is vital, whether you’re creating a television advert or online video, or merely need effective walk-on music for an event.
The good news is that you may only need to make this decision once. According to a study by Goldsmiths University, using the same tune across all your adverts means consumers are more likely to enjoy and remember your brand. And, arguably, sticking with a single piece of music could save you a lot of time and money in the long run. But does that mean that consistency is really your best bet for a top marketing strategy?
How to choose music for your brand adverts
Like every other element of your marketing plan, the music in your advertising should represent your brand as closely as possible. First and foremost, this means thinking about the mood you wish to convey—does your brand aim to inspire hope, create sympathy, or make your customers laugh? Establishing this will give you a better idea of the tone and tempo you’re looking for. You shouldn’t discriminate against particular genres either. Just because you’re personally not a fan of hip hop, doesn’t mean there isn’t a track that perfectly embodies what your brand stands for. The only rule is to keep it relatively neutral to prevent it sounding dated over time.
It’s also important to remember that the music itself should not be the sole focus of the advert—dialogue or visuals should take precedence. Therefore, make sure the track isn’t too distracting, as you don’t want to cloud the wider message of your commercial so much that the audience can’t understand it. A top tip is to pick a track with a steady pace, so you don’t startle listeners with any unexpected changes in mood, tempo, or instrumentation.
There are different routes you can take to find music appropriate for your brand in the long term, including:
Many businesses opt to sample tracks by famous artists in their adverts in order to get the association between the brand and the celebrity, though this can be a very complicated and expensive process. The music must be licensed in line with copyright law, legally granting a company permission to use the track.
Music licensing specialists MN2S point out that brands must first contact the owners of the composition and sound recording, noting that this process can be complicated by the involvement of publishing companies or artists and record labels. All sides must agree to the terms and, as these negotiations can often be tricky to manoeuvre, you should seek the help of experienced licensing experts before pursuing this path.
This music is usually owned and produced by music libraries, who license it to customers to use in their own media. As stock library Sound Ideas explain, this music is generally created especially for use in both audio and audio-visual media. As these libraries own all the copyrights of their content, they don’t need the composers’ permission to license any media. Furthermore, some libraries follow the royalty-free model, which means that instead of charging to license the music, the customer can purchase a collection of tracks, whether on CD or digitally, to be used as often as they wish. There are also non-exclusive libraries, licensing the same piece of music to multiple clients at once. This is one of the most cost-effective sound sources and perhaps the best option for startups who are still being careful with their budget.
If you have your heart set on totally original music, it could be in your best interest to hire a composer. They can write you a piece for a specific purpose, or an entire suite of music that gives you a selection of tunes to apply to different situations. For instance, the composition used for your video adverts could be repurposed and applied to your on-hold telephone music.
The science behind music and marketing
The Goldsmiths study, as previously mentioned, was published in the Journal of Neuroscience, Psychology, and Economics and used EEG readings to examine the brain responses of 16 volunteers to 27 radio and 27 television adverts. A third of these used the same “strategic” music, another third used varying “tactical” music, while those remaining featured no music at all. Those involved in the research were asked to rate each advertisement based on the overall presentation, how familiar the music was, and how much they believed the audio matched the advertised brand or product.
Lead author Joydeep Bhattacharya, Professor of Psychology at Goldsmiths, revealed that “using the same tune across multiple adverts, [boosted] the ratings people gave each advert”, while strategic music was considered to be a “better fit” for the brand. The volunteers’ EEG readings showed that consistent music was associated with more powerful high-frequency gamma and beta brain waves, particularly across the frontal regions. “Previous studies suggest that the boost of these brain waves is a signature of reward networks ‘lighting up’ and we believe it demonstrates an enhanced engagement which could make an advert more effective at influencing people’s behaviour,” Professor Bhattacharya added.
The study’s co-author, Richard Lewis, commented that, for many of the volunteers, if one brand in the study had used the same music for a long time it “would often instantly spring to mind” before any logos were shown on screen. Considering this subconscious link between repeated music and specific brands, the researchers recommended that businesses stick to a single backing track across consecutive campaigns in order to trigger the desired association.
The limits of consistency
When you look at the biggest brands of our time, it certainly makes sense to commit to one type of music. McDonald’s and Disney recently topped the first-ever audio brand index, examining which companies best use sound to engage with their customers. In these cases, the consistent use of the “I’m lovin’ it” jingle, and “When You Wish Upon a Star”, from the film Pinnochio, have become synonymous with the respective brands. Intel, Apple, and Coca-Cola all also ranked highly. However, global sound branding agency Amp—who are responsible for the index—noted that only 22 of the 100 brands included used sound effectively. This shows that solid advertising music is about far more than just consistency.
Even though the researchers at Goldsmiths stated that strategic music is preferable in advertising, they still acknowledged that success wasn’t quite that straightforward: “Of course the big challenge […] is to pick a tune that will stand the test of time.” Therefore, the value of consistency only applies if you’re sure you’ve picked the best music for your brand in the first place. If not, you’re stuck with music that your customers won’t engage with, which could ultimately be very damaging for your business.
This is why it’s important to monitor impact and ascertain whether your advertising is working or not. To really measure the success of your music, you could conduct a split test, whereby you create multiple versions of the same commercial and weigh them up against each other. For instance, you could send two variants—each with a different backing track—to small but equal proportions of your email mailing list. Whichever one attracts the most engagement is the one you should send to the rest of your customers.
Continue testing the music as you continue to develop further marketing campaigns, until you finally land on one you’re confident in and ready to commit to.