Music: Special Report

What would the ad and music industries change about each other to improve the way music is used in advertising?

"There's an element of science to choosing music," according to Fiona McBlane, the head of Huge Music. Dr Alex Gordon and Dr Chris Arning of the research consultancy Flamingo International would agree. The sonic semioticians study how meaning is derived from sound. Next week they will tell the Esomar Congress in London that most agencies approach music the wrong way. They "obsess" over finding a track consumers will rush to out to buy on seeing the commercial.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with that. The problem is that finding a song that will rocket to number one - the old interruption model of choosing music -so rarely works. Agencies, they say, need to consider consumers' response to music on a more basic, emotional level.

One way is simple musical encoding - combinations of sounds triggering reactions. Apparently, the music from the The Times' "join the debate" ad uses a Picardy third: a combination of major and minor chords designed to unsettle the listener.

The other is known as cultural encoding. "Music contains a code of response built into cultural history," Gordon says. "People remember I Heard it Through the Grapevine not only because they like it. It takes them to 60s America, a time of creativity, Motown and rebellion. Levi's borrowed the cultural coding of that era."

Agencies won't like applying science to something as personal and subjective as music. Especially when they have a shot at making a brand and a band famous. But, Arning warns, they must realise "it's a huge risk to rely on instinct alone".


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