So we’ve been talking about music in advertising for a while, why not take a break and look at advertising in music?

In his article, Tom Barnes raised an issue of artists willing to include product placement in their lyrics or music videos for monetary deals and how it will gradually devalue music.


Where Has This Been All My Life?

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Sir John Hegarty

Sir John Hegarty

iV/iV2based in Tennessee, USA and Frankfurt, Germany, is an advertising agency specialized in audio branding. In its blog, iV/iV2 features Great Minds On Music, a series of interviews with leading advertising professionals, notably Sir John Hegarty. The series is conducted by iV2‘s President and award winning songwriter Uli Reese, who is experienced in creating music for global brands like Coca Cola, Sony, Reebok, etc. Other than its blog, iV/iV2 also gathers the latest news on audio/sound branding on and Twitter. These are great resources for those who are interested in the topic of music in advertising, like me!




Seriously, Linh, why did it take you so long to find this?

Repost: Thai “Sadvertising”

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This is a copy of my Storify post.

As visual technology and cinematography evolve, people’s expectation for films, commercials, video games, and the like also becomes higher. The modern viewer doesn’t only look for pure information and appropriateness but also care more and more about aesthetic values. Therefore, advertising needs to do more than just educating consumers about the products; it needs to deliver stories and provoke emotions that hit people so hard they will remember the brand. That’s how “sadvertising” was born, or as Rae Ann Fera of Fast Company pointed out in her article, “We can’t just be straightforward; we have to reach people emotionally. Now everyone’s crying.”

While Rae Ann Fera provided a very insightful summary of the “sadvertising” trend, she only mentioned the music effect twice, which I don’t think does music justice. Although music is not the main and unique feature of “sadvertising”, it adds a lot to intensify the emotions and trigger the tears. Talking about tears, I want to bring back this gem from 2011:

If you’re not crying right now, then I have failed miserably. Nonetheless, this is how most normal people react to the ad.

There are several analyses of this ad online, but I like this one because it mentions a distinction in culture that made the ad a big hit in East Asia. Nevertheless, let’s focus on the soundtrack of the ad.

This orchestra piece is the instrumental version of Ee Jook Il Nom Eh Sarang, OST of a Korean drama called A Love To Kill. It started out slow with uneven rhythm, creating a sad and serious feel to the commercial. The pitch range is fairly wide, and it reaches its peak when the ad reveals whether the daughter survives or not, which increases viewers’ sentiment. Similarly, the dynamics a.k.a volume rises to a crescendo towards the end of the video, which shows emotional flashbacks of the father and the daughter. All these musical elements play a big role in affecting the viewers’ mood and enhancing their watching experience, as demonstrated by Nina Hoeberichts in her bachelor thesis.

Her thesis also discussed different types of music and when advertisers use them. In this case, the instrumental version of the song is more appropriate than the lyrical one because the lyric is about man-woman love and, more importantly, because the audience needs to focus on the visual and verbal content of the commercial.

I also tried listening to the soundtrack by itself:

It’s a very nice piano piece, but standing alone, it cannot make me cry. Now THAT is the beauty of advertising: a great story and beautiful background music work together to create a masterpiece.

Identity – Engagement – Currency

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In this blog post, communication planning specialist Vyshnan Ranjan explained the three main ways in which music affects brands: Identity – Engagement – Currency. Ranjan is currently a member of Carat UK, the world’s first media independent in 1968 and now Europe’s largest media network. He touched on a very important point that I’ve discussed in my previous posts, which is the use of pop music in branding:

“Many brands make the mistake of trying to look modern and cool by whimsically choosing a big pop hit and crudely overlaying it on their ad. This doesn’t show depth of thought and neither does it represent their brand fairly. Currency through music requires a deeper understanding of where your brand fits into the bigger cultural picture in society. It is what music appropriately combines your brand and your message with your target audience’s culture.”

– Vyshnan Ranjan

Visual & Sound

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This post is my collaboration with my friend, Leora. Check out her blog on Art and Popular Culture. Also, pardon us for blogging about Christmas in the middle of Spring.

Just as Christmas is a big time of the year, Christmas commercials also need to be “bigger” than the others, as journalist Eamonn Forde put it, “Ads are not just for Christmas, but the ones that run at Christmas can be the most profitable.” No matter how stringent one may be throughout the year, Christmas is the one holiday that makes people feel generous and pour their money into things that have more emotional value than practical benefit. Taking advantage of this, department store chain John Lewis has been maximizing its emotional branding strategy around the festive season through its TV commercials since 2007. The general theme of these series is how to pick the right gifts for the ones you love, told through sweet, fairy-tale like stories with unexpected twists at the end. John Lewis’ commercial spot for Christmas 2014, not surprisingly, was another big hit. It even won PETA’s Compassionate Marketing Award for featuring the adorable kinship between a little boy and a penguin.

There are no words spoken in the ad to help the viewers understand the story, and yet the ad strongly gets its message across and successfully receives a resounding “awww!” from viewers. The ad builds the story layer by layer while playing a powerful song in the background, which enables people to slowly understand the story without needing a narrator. This is an example of an advertisement that effectively tells a story through both visualization and sound.

The ad is almost a mini film in which the first half sets up the characters and the second half depicts the loneliness that Monty the Penguin feels and how all the knots are untied at the end. Through personification of Monty and the development of the penguin and boy’s relationship, viewers are drawn into the story, just as they are in a movie theater.

Besides from the emotional storyline, the video uses visual techniques to draw the audience in emotionally. For instance, the color palette is neutral and uses similar colors. This technique creates a harmonious ambience which is visually pleasing to the human eyes and helps the audience relate more easily to the message. The soundtrack also adds to the cinematic appearance of the ad because it builds up at just the right moments in the plotline.

John Lewis Christmas TV ad

The ad brings back a melody that is long lost for many generations of music lovers – Real Love, composed by John Lennon and covered by Tom Odell. There is a whole story behind how the song was written not long before Lennon was assassinated and how his wife and fellow members of The Beatles managed to publish the song and pass on Lennon’s legacy. So what makes music, or in this case, Real Love, provoke so much buzz in the advertising as well as the music industry? Because it fits so well with the visual content of the ad.

Firstly, Real Love is an old song, and people naturally feel nostalgic towards the end of the year. They tend to reminisce their childhood with all the joy of Christmas and new toys, which also explains why John Lewis’ commercials usually feature children.

Secondly, there’s dynamic piano instrumental playing for most of the song, and then towards the end when the video reveals the unexpected twist about Monty, violin was added to bring the song to a crescendo and elevate listeners’ emotion. Other musical elements such as the beautiful melody, slow tempo, and Tom Odell’s lingering voice also set the tone and pace for the visual scenes of the ad.

Lastly, in ads where characters don’t talk, advertisers usually utilize lyrical music to communicate the message. In this case, it is almost as if the boy and Monty act out the words of Real Love. The lyrics say “all my little plans and schemes” and “playing with their little toys” as the boy builds his Lego house, colors pictures, and plays soccer, or when the song goes “waiting for love,” the boy and Monty catch sight of random couples on the streets.


The most interesting thing about this ad is that it does not outwardly push a product. John Lewis is a trusted department store in England and the ad maintains that brand image through a gripping story. It only mentions the brand name at the end when the words “John Lewis” appear on a white background. There is no indication as to who they are or what they do. The story of the ad creates good feelings amongst its viewers and that positive emotion is then carried on to their perception of the department store.

Focusing on the visual and musical qualities of an ad proves to be good marketing choices for John Lewis. This ad and others of its type have resulted in outstanding Christmas sales for John Lewis. In a time where we are inundated with advertisements trying to sell a product, its a breath of fresh air to watch an ad that doesn’t have to try so hard to sell. People relate to the ad simply because it is aesthetically pleasing, no matter how little information it provides. Perhaps other brands will follow suit and create ads that seek to entertain its viewers as well as improve brand image through real art.

The Revolution of Music in Advertising

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What is it that encourages brands and (music) bands to collaborate more and more in the past decade? John Tejada of Adweek had an interview with Joshua Rabinowitz, director of music at Grey Group, and Jared Gutstadt, Jingle Punks CEO, to find out Why Today’s Ads Need Amazing Soundtracks.

Indie Music in Advertising, Yay or Nay?

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“It used to be pretty rare to hear an indie band on an ad. It’s not that rare anymore.”

Gabe McDonough – VP, Music Director at Leo Burnett Chicago

Steve Olenski gives us an overview of why big brands like Coca-Cola and McDonald’s prefer to use indie rather than mainstream pop music in their promotion campaigns. His article touches on the importance of music in communicating the brand story and how using indie music in commercials is affordable, authentic, and beneficial to both brands and artists.

Understandably, indie talent is a cost-effective solution for brands. According to AdWeek, “an indie track would probably run from four to five figures, whereas a well-established act would likely charge at least six figures for a brand to use a hit song for a national TV commercial.” More importantly, since indie music doesn’t conform to mainstream trends, it represents novelty and uniqueness, which attracts the “hipsters” (defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary as people who are unusually aware of and interested in new and unconventional patterns). This body of curious and open-minded millennials makes up a large market for brands to cultivate.


The relationship between brands and indie music is not one-way, because big corporations can help artists take off too. Signing with a record label is competitive, especially to artists who have distinctive tastes and styles and won’t easily give up their originality just to please the majority of pop music listeners. Thus, they seek opportunities to expose their music in the advertising field. In fact, big companies have been sending their people to SXSW music festivals to recruit talented artists and help them advance their career. In other words, advertisers are becoming the new record labels. This is also how Mark Foster of the indie pop band Foster the People worked his way up from a commercial jingle writer to a Grammy award receiver.


Foster the People at SXSW 2011

Apart from helping brands expand their target market, indie music also helps convey the commercial’s content better. Let’s say each video we watch leaves an impression on us, and each song does the same thing too. So what happens if we use a song we already know in a video? Then the impression will be mixed. That is why I usually look for soundtracks that are a little unusual and unfamiliar when editing my videos so my content is more likely to convey a clear and authentic impression. Brands want the same thing. They don’t want people’s bias towards the music contaminates their brand image, so they look for the less popular indie music. On the other hand, a brand can ruin a new song’s identity too, which is why some indie artists are still reluctant to shake hands with advertisers. Moreover, as they say “easy come, easy go,” songs that gain population too quickly through commercials, movies, and other mass-media production can be short-lived sometimes, as Dee Lockett hilariously demonstrates in her list of 16 indie songs ruined by commercials.

While I think music should be interpreted and appreciated in its own form, I can’t accuse advertisers of “killing” good music by exposing it to a larger audience. It is a trade-off that artists have to consider by themselves in order to send their music on their favored track.

It’s All About Differentiation

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A strong brand image needs to be distinctive and consistent; thus, companies with products in the same category always strive to differentiate themselves from one another. Within advertising, repeatedly using the same kind of music in TV commercials will create a familiar emotional response and increase brand recognition among the audience. Take a look at these latest commercials by two brewing companies, Budweiser and Heineken, to see how their soundtracks represent their brand personalities:

For the past years, Budweiser’s commercials often feature either a puppy, a horse, or both, with an average farm owner, and applaud the touching friendship between these animals and the man. The music, therefore, is usually a popular country song with slow rhythm and comforting melody, such as I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) in the video above, Let Her Go or Landslide.

Heineken’s commercials, on the other hand, are known for their upbeat, exciting, yet very classy soundtracks, which suit the ads’ creative and fascinating plots. The above Heineken ad features Viva La Pappa Col Pomodoro, an Italian song by singer Rita Pavone of the 1960s. The Golden Age and Love Letter are two other songs that were featured in recent Heineken’s commercials. This kind of music confirms Heineken’s target sketch: a charismatic, well-rounded gentleman.