Music can generously reward brands that look to the long term rather than to the latest chart hit

Our clients often think they know music. They don't. We're in the perfect position to see where the industry is going and how music in advertising can be used to maximum effect. If you want to make your relationship with music more meaningful, then take some advice from the people with the knowhow.

We're increasingly looking towards brand associations as a way of going above and beyond a straight sync, creatively and financially. Clients who appreciate the value and impact of a well-chosen track tend to be those open to finding ways to further exploit their relationship with it. These clients are also the ones thinking of music as more than a disposable commodity.

Sometimes these kinds of associations come about by chance. It could just be a case of the right artists, sound, brand, trend, contact, image, price and timing or any combination of the above. I'm not knocking this. Sometimes the music just works. It may not have been what anyone set out to find, but it was stumbled upon and worked wonders. But it's not a viable way of working. The same success, however, can be had with a little calculated hard work. The truly successful brand and music tie-ups approach music creatively; this is the direction the industry has to move in. It's not about licensing a much-hyped chart hit and moving on to the next commercial.

Investing in longevity and committing to an artist, genre, approach or production style that gives a brand its own unique sound is the future.

John Lewis executed this to perfection with its "bedroom covers" sound (using The Beatles' From Me To You and Guns N' Roses' Sweet Child O' Mine). It used charming covers of famous tracks exploiting the combination of something old and something new. It's the kind of approach that can run and run without getting boring. Just like we can all hear a Marks & Spencer food ad from a TV three rooms away, this John Lewis sound could easily become an institution.

It's nice to see less and less of those Apple-inspired "we want to find a cool new band to launch" briefs arriving in my inbox; it would seem we're moving in the right direction. Much as those opportunities offer a great platform for bands to get exposure (and, as a company, we're keen to support new writers and artists), it can get a bit tedious. There's often very little commitment to this approach; the artists are seen to be disposable. Shots of the latest iPhone or Rimmel product with their glossy production values might be instantly gratifying, but no-one remembers the music ... or the ad.

Brands need to look beyond short-lived "cool" if they want to have a meaningful relationship with music - and they are beginning to. McCain has had great long-running success with its versions of "food, glorious food". I recently had a conversation with a friend about these McCain ads; "chips, glorious chips" was so ingrained in her mind that she couldn't remember what the original lyrics were. It's a testament to how an intelligent use of music can have a real impact on consumers.

The simplest of lyric changes and the brand has made the music its own. Taking creative ownership of the music choices you make: that's the key.

The chart-topping sync option has its place, if brand marketers are aware that's what they are doing. If they are happy to have a short-term relationship with music, knowing how disposable it is, they should still be thinking about making it meaningful. There's a whole host of multiplatform branding and secondary exploitation opportunities waiting to be had, even if over a limited period of time.

If I were to say to you "holidays are coming" or "here come the girls", I'm confident you'd be able to name the brands before I could utter the words "sync gold". Throw in British Airways' use of Delibes' Flower Duet and you have three brands that have successfully invested in the long term. They've re-recorded, rearranged and reinvented their music to keep campaigns fresh while still taking advantage of familiarity over a number of years.

While these aren't new ideas, the way to move forward successfully is to recognise the value of this approach and to make a concerted effort to think more carefully about how music can be used to everyone's advantage. Don't just expect that golden sync to fall in your lap.

You also need to embrace an element of risk and bravery. Bold music usage gets remembered. Shirley Bassey covering Pink wasn't exactly a surefire hit. In the wrong hands, it could have collapsed in a pile of sequins and feathers, but the commitment to an outrageous creative idea paid dividends. Everyone remembers that Marks & Spencer was responsible for that stroke of genius. This kind of creative success can only be achieved when you have the involvement of consultants, labels and publishers who know what they're doing and are all working towards the same goal. In this respect, brands need to think as much about who they're working with as they do about the music they want.

The key to making this creative approach work for you is the ability to separate the music you like from the music that's right. Fall in love with a track because of a personal connection and you're setting yourself up for massive disappointment when it can't be cleared within your budget. This problem can be easily avoided: trust the professionals to take care of it.

Solidify those relationships and find publishers, consultants and labels that you trust. It's our job after all.

If you think we're all talk, why not try us out? Brief us with something interesting, challenge us to come up with a proposal for music usage that goes beyond providing a licensable track to fit your budget and brief. Let us tell you how you can further exploit your relationship with music and everyone will feel the benefit.

- Natasha Baldwin is the group director of synchs and creative services at Imagem Creative Services, the parent of Boosey & Hawkes.


  • Brands that invest in longevity are those that succeed with music
  • A little creativity goes a long way; think beyond a straight-up licence
  • Bold music usages are remembered; take a risk
  • Relationships with music suppliers are as important as the music supplied.