Indie Music in Advertising, Yay or Nay?

Advertising, ATEC 2321

“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.

Hipster

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

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.

Does It Fit?

Advertising, ATEC 2321

To continue the conversation started in my previous post, let’s take a look at a more recent article on the influence of music in advertising: The Power of Music. This was written in October 2013 by Les Binet, Dr. Daniel Müllensiefen, and Paul Edwards. Dr. Daniel Müllensiefen teaches Psychology at the University of London, while Les Binet and Paul Edwards work for Adam & Eve DDB UK and Hall & Partners UK, two leading global branding agencies. The article explains how, proven by the authors’ research, music in commercials influences the viewers’ explicit and implicit perception of the brand. Their findings suggest that: 1) TV ads with music work 10-30% more efficiently in gaining attention and improving brand attitude/recall than those without music, and 2) the fit between the music and the brand is critical. We’re going to focus on their second argument.

Speaking of the powerful effect music has on us, Joel Beckerman, Founder and Lead Composer of Man Made Music, gives us very specific and fascinating insights from effective and ineffective sonic branding examples. He mentioned a notorious backfire in 2005 when Royal Caribbean International featured the song Lust for Life by Iggy Pop in its TV commercial. Let’s take a look at the ad:

Yes, it has a catchy melody and exhilarating rhythm that perfectly describe a family cruise trip. But did you hear the lyrics? No need to replay the ad. They didn’t keep all the lyrics anyway, but here’s what the 1977 punk rock hit is about:

Here comes Johnny Yen again
With the liquor and drugs
And a flesh machine
He’s gonna do another strip tease

Well, I’m just a modern guy
Of course, I’ve had it in the ear before
‘Cause of a lust for life
‘Cause of a lust for life

The song contains references about drug abuse and prostitution, which are indeed VERY appropriate for a family trip. VERY. Although some may argue that Royal Caribbean left out most of the song’s controversial message, and Arnold Worldwide, the agency creating the ad, explained that they were trying to reach out to more young people, nothing could really save Royal Caribbean from huge backlashes from the audience for being inconsiderate and distorting the idea of a fun, innocent family trip. Similarly, Lust for Life then landed on every list of the worst misused songs in advertising.

Advertising critic Seth Stevenson pointed out in an NPR podcast that the crowd were angry at Royal Caribbean rather than at Iggy Pop. In fact, the musician was probably confused when the cruise company wanted to use his song in their commercial but let them do it anyway just because, well, they paid for it. Royal Caribbean and Arnold Worldwide, however, had a higher responsibility for using the song appropriately and wisely to help promote their brand names. The audience was outraged because the advertiser delivered a message that was contrary to the brand image. This supports the argument we’ve been discussing: no matter how great the song is, the music has to fit the brand in order for the ad to be effective.