People have a close relationship with music and it is often a simple solution to get to the heart of the consumer.

Biologically, almost everything about us has a rhythm. From our breathing to our hearts, the human body is built to a beat. After just 12 weeks in the womb, our mother's voice starts to give us a sense of self and a first, albeit hazy, understanding of the world around us. Hearing is one of our first sensory inputs.

Over the years, the relationship we have with sound and, specifically, music, generates social, historical and geographical signposts; ways to define who we are, where we are and how we feel. So powerful is this connection that we may, at any given moment, be lurched into an often bewildering state of emotion just by hearing a few notes. And yet, significantly, the same piece of music will evoke diverse personal responses in different people.

Throughout our lives, this relationship with music continues to empower, inspire and unite us. A recent study by Synovate of 8,000 adults across 13 countries, revealed that 72 per cent felt "passionate" about music. And a separate survey of leading brand managers by soundslikebranding.com found that 76 per cent use music actively in their marketing and 97 per cent think it can strengthen their brands. So is music becoming more important? According to 74 per cent of brand managers, it is, and 68 per cent claim it to be a crucial tool for consistent and unique brand-building. But in reality, just 30 per cent of brands spend more than 5 per cent of their marketing budget on music, and more than 60 per cent of marketers admit to having no idea how sound works for them.

Challenging an established brand's past processes and suggesting that marketers rethink their practices and assumptions is easier said than done. Because, if we are to suggest that people change the creative habits of a lifetime, it is only fair that they might ask whether the sound of a commercial truly warrants this kind of attention and, more significantly, if consumers will really notice.

In many ways, it is the seemingly small things that matter most. In 2008, US audiences sniggered their way through ads for contraceptive pills to the sound of We're Not Gonna Take It. The La's There She Goes, used by some of the UK's biggest brands, is actually a track about taking heroin. Many brands will profile an artist but how many check the lyrics?

And is the vibrant street party edited to music that has obviously been recorded indoors? Such "small things" have a habit of jarring a listener's sensibilities subconsciously. While we can make light of these examples, the resulting impression could be of a brand that doesn't really care about music.

OK, I hear you. It's all very well having a moan about dodgy music choices but it's not always easy with tight deadlines and an even tighter budget. Yet smart brands are already becoming sensitive to how all this impacts on and applies to their sound. They are joining the dots (or is that the notes?) to understand the minute sound nuances that make up a brand's personality, and they are projecting these through their briefing of music.

We live in a noisy world where making ourselves heard is becoming increasingly difficult. Unless brands are prepared to think carefully about what they are saying, where they are saying it and who they are saying it to, their voices will simply be lost in the crowd. Constant competition to keep pace with other brands often prevents us from taking the time required to establish a genuine resonance with our consumers. We all seem to intuitively "know the right music when we hear it", but the real challenge arises when we sense that the music isn't quite working and are unsure how to fix it - at least not in the timeframe allowed for in post-production. The urgent demand to get it right, and fast, means that music is often switched again and again in the editing suite, based on "gut-feeling" rather than real insight.

Since soundlounge started, more than 30 years ago, plenty has changed. Music listeners have moved from cassette to CD to MP3 and, perhaps most significantly, discovered a sense of real power via the digital revolution. Formerly disparate people now share opinion on products, brands and music on a level never before possible. And social media has proved an unforgiving platform.

Ultimately, consumers are getting smarter. In tomorrow's world, fancy logos, expensive film shoots and classy packaging may capture their imagination, but they could leave consumers feeling disconnected emotionally. It seems that while technology-driven campaigns continue to have an ongoing battle with obsolescence almost as soon as they leave the planners' desk, the music has a much longer shelf life.

So how can the music help? First, we have to separate musical content from tactical execution. Then, ensure that music choices not only reflect the brand's emotional qualities, but authentically demonstrate a deep and genuine understanding of the consumer's personal love affair with music. This takes time.

When brands do invest this kind of consideration, it can not only change an average TV ad into something sensational, but also lay the foundations for a lasting relationship - or customer loyalty. That's surely a love affair worth investing in.

- Ruth Simmons is the managing director at soundlounge.


  • In this noisy world, brands need to work harder to be heard above the crowd and competitors
  • Music is a powerful medium defining who we are, where we are and how we feel
  • While technology-driven campaigns are sexy, they struggle with built-in obsolescence. Music has a much longer love-life.