One of John Hegarty's many soundbites is that good advertising is all about renting space in people's minds. If you go along with this premise, then music is an obvious ally. Who doesn't have a song buzzing around in their heads for most of the day? Who doesn't - at one level or another - enjoy relaxing or dancing or driving or working to music?
Marketers have been aware of this for decades. Snappy radio jingles first caught the public imagination in the 50s. In the 80s, the seminal Levi's campaigns pioneered the compelling fusion of image and pop music. Cars, beers and virtually everyone else followed suit. The symbiosis of music and commercials has been deconstructed to death.
One can argue until the cows come home about who benefits more from the relationship, the featured artist or the advertiser. It certainly doesn't hurt either, despite the continued ambivalence that some artists have to the idea of their music being used as the soundtrack to something as un-rock and roll as a primetime, mainstream TV commercial.
Whatever the truth of the matter, brands and advertisers are now keen to exploit the lure of music even further. They are constantly looking for new ways to tap into its power and to benefit by association. The reason is simple, as Chris Hull, the sponsorship media manager for the Nationwide Building Society, explains. "Last year, 34 million people in the UK bought (music) CDs," he says. "You just have to realise the potential of that."
A recent global survey by the research company Roper ASW backs Hull's conviction. Music proved to be easily the most popular out of 23 different pastimes - beating sports, film and computer games. And it had a particularly strong showing in the UK.
This huge level of engagement is certainly one of the reasons that Nationwide has agreed a four-year sponsorship deal for the Mercury Music Prize (now re-dubbed the Nationwide Mercury Music Prize). "It's a great way of communicating with that audience," Hull says. "Plus, it's recognised as one of the most significant music awards in the country."
Less in-your-face than the Brits, Mercury is seen as the discerning muso's award, giving a leg-up to up-and-coming stars and recognising more left-field talent. Better known for its sponsorship of football, Nationwide's chief executive, Philip Williamson, says: "It was a natural step for us to get involved with the nation's other major passion, music."
For brands with a stronger musical heritage, it makes even more sense.
Virgin Mobile was the headline sponsor of the V2004 festival, which was held in August across two sites in Chelmsford and Staffordshire, and attracted around 200,000 music fans. "We're strongly associated with music," Joanne Baker, a Virgin Mobile spokesperson, confirms.
"It's part of our background." The company's target market is 16- to 24-year-olds ("and the young at heart"), and using music is an appropriate way of empathising with them. Although the annual festival is easily the biggest promotional push, Virgin Mobile also supports the chain of Barfly clubs and Carling Academies - smallish venues with a policy of fostering up-and-coming bands.
It could be argued that there is a genre of music out there to fit any brand but keeping a sponsorship relevant and credible is essential if it is to be successful with cynical and even openly anti-corporate festival-goers. Finding a gimmick that reflected the product seemed to be the favoured route for many of the sponsors at V2004.
Bacardi hosted its well-established B Bar, where the DJ Basil Isaacs mixed music while cocktail "mixologists" mixed rum-based refreshments. Wall's used more than 300 tons of sand to create an on-site beach, complete with palm trees, deck chairs and buckets and spades, where people could dance barefoot to the Satellite DJs. Wella organised teams of stylists to comb the festival for hair that needed rescuing with Shockwaves products. Kotex, the sanitary brand, brought its Powder Room to the Weston Park site, where women could escape from the mud to a haven of marble sinks, fresh flowers and clean toilets. Special features included make-up areas and a cunningly designed "gossip gate" allowing visitors to chat from one cubicle to another.
Most recently, Budweiser briefly usurped Red Stripe as the favourite beer at the Notting Hill carnival in August by sponsoring the Good Times Sound System. The veteran DJ Norman Jay spun his disks from the top of a red double-decker bus, dubbed the "Bud Bus", to Budweiser-fuelled revellers.
But subtlety can have a part to play in a sponsorship's success. "You can't be too obvious and just badge everything that moves," Dave Sibley, MTV Europe's general manager of international marketing partnerships, says. "You have to make sure there's a level of sophistication to your approach."
He cites a cross-platform campaign for the mobile phone company Motorola, devised by his team at MTV, as an example. Motorola became the sponsor of a live TV show called MTV Mash, which picked up on the trend for "mashing" - combining two existing songs to create a new track. These events, featuring emerging DJs and dance acts, were held across Europe, so Motorola had presence on the ground as well as on the air. In addition, the MTV team developed a collection of cutesy mutant characters called the Gimps, which could be downloaded to people's phones. "They weren't all released at once," Sibley explains. "But drip fed, so that that people would want to collect them as they came out." Online support for the project completed the picture. "The main thing was that it was cutting-edge stuff. The brief was really non-prescriptive," Sibley adds.
Motorola's involvement in music is no accident. Phone manufacturers and mobile networks are currently jostling for position as they gear up for widespread adoption of third-generation phones. These will be able to transfer data at speeds comparable with broadband. Many phones already have MP3 players embedded in them but with G3 it will become quick and easy to download music on the move. The lure of the lucrative downloads market is an unsurprisingly strong one. Orange appears particularly keen to get a foothold, aligning itself to music with a presence at Glastonbury, T in the Park and the Carling Weekend Reading and Leeds festivals. The Orange Music 247 tent features a juice bar, phone recharging units as well as the DJs Rob da Bank and Yoda.
Dave Bartram, the head of UK media and marketing at BMG Music Publishing, was involved in a recent multiplatform project with Sony Ericsson. As well as project managing the music for a TV ad featuring a track by Death in Vegas due out this month, Sony Ericsson will sponsor the band's latest tour, downloadable ringtones will be made available, and the new K700i phone will come with the commercial embedded in it.
Naturally, Bartram believes music's role in advertising will only grow.
"Hard sell doesn't work any more," he says. "Music is a more subtle way of conveying a whole range of emotions. Ad agencies have woken up to its power and are looking at different ways of harnessing it."
Mnemonics or "brand buttons" - the small, catchy musical phrases often used to sign off commercials and hook in people's minds - are gradually being replaced by more subtle signature songs. He points to the Pharrell Williams-written and produced "Ba da ba ba ba. I'm lovin' it" theme for McDonald's which is slipping into the vernacular and helping to revitalise a flagging brand.
A more strategic, scientific use of music is also becoming prevalent. Simon Binns is the joint managing director of Affinity Music, in which Bartle Bogle Hegarty has a stake. It takes what he calls a "media planning approach to music", analysing the public's musical habits and pinpointing the best content for a particular brand or sector. "We take the subjectivity out, if you like," he says. Affinity uses existing data, conducts research analysis and planning, looks into sample age and brand preferences. "The end result probably wouldn't be the music that ends up in a TV commercial," Binns says. "But it would be the kind of thing to engage customers in a retail environment, or while they're browsing a website."
Affinity's premise is that users of different brands have different attitudes and personalities, so will respond better to different musical genres.
For example, Audi drivers will tend to enjoy indie or middle-of-the-road rock (think David Gray) and classical, whereas BMW drivers prefer listening to soul, R&B and chart music. Armed with these findings, Affinity put together a CD for the launch of the Audi A3 last year. It featured artists such as Moloko, Moby and, at the time, a little-known band called Keane.
The CD featured information about the car, promo videos and links to the featured bands' websites. The whole thing was packaged as a hardback book.
One hundred and thirty thousand of the CDs, titled New Attitude, New Music, were mailed to existing and prospective clients. Cost per unit, including rights and production, came in at under £4, but it had a 10 per cent response rate and led directly to 300 sales.
This kind of partnership marketing is on the increase, according to Rob Hanlon, Warner Music UK's business development manager. Women's magazines such as Glamour and New Woman are putting together carefully targeted compilation CDs to extend their brands, while non-traditional retailers are finding that own-label CDs tailored to their customer base are working well. In conjunction with Warner and Universal, Marks & Spencer has been particularly successful in this area. "The sales figures are impressive," Hanlon says. "They're aimed at the housewife who doesn't have the time or inclination to go into HMV any more, but still enjoys music. When you think about music and advertising, you usually think about younger brands, beer and jeans and so on. But people are missing a trick with the older market."
And that's the thing about music. There is something for everyone. Look at Glastonbury, the UK's biggest music festival. It is unlikely that an event so proudly steeped in non-corporatism will throw open its arms to full-on commercialism any time soon. But should this change, brands could talk to people from almost any walk of life.