Gray Matters: the power of music in advertising

The Food of Love

“If music be the food of love, play on…” wrote Shakespeare in Twelfth Night. Duke Orsino’s unbridled quest for love has been taken seriously by New Zealand advertising creatives through the eighties, nineties and into the 21st century.

Back in 1988, when I first arrived in New Zealand, jingles veteran Murray Grindlay (think Tux, “fit as a fiddle, sharp as a knife”) was larking around in an old ute, showcasing the talents of American Blues singer Stevie Ray Vaughan in an ad for Europa petrol stations.

Seventeen years later, we had Tourism New Zealand utilising “the freedom within,” and the “freedom without” as they, like Crowded House’s Neil Finn, dreamed that a ‘100% Pure New Zealand’ was a dream that wasn’t over.

More recently, Trustpower featured little known New Zealand musicians Age Pryor, Laughton Kora, Chris O’Connor and Emma Eden with a song, “We’ve got the Time”, specially created for the power company.

Music is ubiquitous in our advertising, and in an article featured in The Drum this week, Emma Mulcahy writes about how music has come centre stage as an effective means of promoting brands. But as she points out, “it takes creativity to cut through the noise”.

All too often, music has been used to compensate for a deficiency in creativity rather than being used to enhance a great idea. Because the brain processes music in a way that elicits emotions and memory, it is an easy way out for lazy creative thinking.

A 2015 study from Nielsen looked at the effectiveness of more than 600 television advertisements, more than 500 of which included music. The research indicated that commercials with some form of music performed better across four key metrics – creativity, empathy, emotive power, and information power – than those that didn’t.

Interestingly though, while music can have a varied effect on different categories, the research confirmed “the best ads are the ones that have both information and emotive power”.

Powerful songs, like ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over,” invoke strong emotional responses, but as Nielsen reports, while it’s important that ads resonate with viewers, advertisers want their messages to drive sales. Used creatively a good song will boost emotive power and drive sales.

One of New Zealand’s most popular TV ads ever was The ‘Great Crunchie Robbery’ for Cadbury which, like Tux, benefited from the musical songwriting talents of the great Murray Grindlay, who has been “fit as a fiddle and sharp as a knife,” writing songs and composing music for advertising and movies since 1972.

Your listening pleasure

In an online survey of World Federation of Advertisers members, reported by Forbes, more than 100 individuals responded from 70 companies across 15 categories, including consumer packaged goods, automotive, food, alcohol, tech and finance. One conclusion from the survey was, the common preconception that we are seeing the end of traditional advertising formats like TV and radio ads, is in fact, not coming to fruition.

“Given the statement ‘Looking ahead five years, I can imagine a world without traditional advertising formats,’ only 8 percent of the respondents ‘strongly’ agreed while 62 percent of them either ‘strongly’ disagreed or ‘somewhat’ disagreed.”

Radio in particular, appears to be here to stay. Internet-connected radio already allows an exchange of useful information relating to the listener, to be accessed by the broadcaster and is therefore available for use in fine-tuning the advertising messaging. Who knows what this will mean in five or ten years’ time? There are already apps that allow one to talk back to the advertising.

For example, if you are driving in your car somewhere, the car knows where it is, based on Google location identifiers, and from previous travel information, it knows where it has been and where it is likely going. If the car knows there is a Starbucks two miles ahead, the radio might say, ‘there’s a Starbucks just ahead would you like me to place an order for coffee?’ You can then say, ‘yes please’ and the coffee will be waiting for you.

Burger King in the US has already utilised geo-conquesting to run a campaign offering the one cent whopper to audiences that had their app open when they visited a McDonald’s location.

Being in its infancy, listeners have still to adopt the many opportunities afforded by the new technology. Currently, only about two percent listen to podcasts on demand, but their user experience will change. Currently, it is easier to ask for one’s favourite radio station by name. Radio listening, whether via smart speakers or in the car has a different utility to streaming on a smartphone, where much more on-demand listening is happening.

There’s a big difference in the consumption of audio on various devices. There are early adopters and usage will change in the long term. Regardless of what platform is used, live radio is still the most popular form of audio consumed. Just because things are possible, doesn’t mean people will change in the short term.

As James Cridland, managing director, Podnews, told StopPress: “Radio is a habitual medium. We consume radio in much the same way as we always have. It is a multi-tasking medium, allowing us to do other things while listening.”

Social pariahs

“Multiple reports tracking social media usage during the past year show growth across the social landscape is slowing,” says an article in Marketing Land. Facebook’s usage is falling (from 67 to 61 percent during the last two years) and the number of people logging into social networks on a daily basis is decelerating.

One advertising perceptions study recently asked advertisers and agencies how their own personal use of social media platforms has been trending, and more than a third said their own use of social media “is ebbing”.

Trust seems to be playing a significant part in the decisions to place or not place advertising on social media sites. Forbes ran a great article on consumer trust in social media and how brands should change their strategies.

According to Forbes, 48 percent of people blame a brand if their ads happen to appear near hate speech, violent, or inappropriate content. Another 47 percent believe that content found on the same page as an advertisement reflects the advertiser’s values and views.

There are also some negative attitudes towards marketers tracking their in-store purchases for the purposes of targeted marketing and 49 percent are not willing to give up data privacy in order to have personalised shopping experiences.

In March, Chris Keall wrote in NZ Herald: “Just 2 percent of New Zealanders trust social media sites …. that makes social media companies easily the least-trusted providers.”

What it means is advertisers need to stay on top of content that is shared on the pages they advertise on – not as easy as it sounds, with Facebook and Google making decisions on the advertisers’ behalf.

Men are from Mars

Last week I wrote about the UK ban on adverts featuring harmful gender stereotypes. This week, evidence of gender-offensiveness was evident in the US, where the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media at Mount Saint Mary’s University discovered, “three out of every five advertisements by Mars feature men, and men are also nearly twice as likely to be shown working than women. Similarly, more male (26 percent) than female (11 percent) characters are depicted with an occupation. Out of the characters shown as leaders, 22 percent are male, and 17 percent are female.”

Mars Wrigley chief category officer Berta De Pablos responded to the findings with an apology. “We believe the best advertisements are about more than just great creative. The best ads take on the responsibility to accurately reflect society,” she said.


“Both sides in the ‘generation war’ seek to dissolve the creativity and optimism of youth in an acid bath of existential bitterness.” – Jennie Bristow writing for Spiked.

About Author

Graham Medcalf is a freelance writer and owner of Red Advertising.

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