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.


Who Doesn’t Love Mozart?

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Classical music.

Some despise and refuse to learn more about it. Some like it but don’t know enough to understand it. Some just don’t get it although they’ve tried.

I was scared of it. It always sounded beautiful to my ears, but without the proper training, I couldn’t appreciate it to its fullest potential. My vocal classes bring me closer to classical music and provide me with some basic tools to analyze it. If you’re like me and can’t yet grasp the brilliance of classical music, rest assured that it’s pretty brilliant.

The current situation of classical music encourages the use of it in TV commercials, not only for aesthetic values but also as a means to maintain its influence in media and in society. As the live listening experience plays a big role in appreciation of classical music, concert halls and music festivals have been extending their creative effort to reach the mass audience from very “non-classical” ways:

I am mildly annoyed by the 1st ad because of the lack of variety in their dance moves and because I don’t think the advertiser picked the best classical piece for twerking. However, I cannot deny the influence that the K-Pop group has on a large number of young people, which will help spread awareness of classical music.

Due to the limited access to music in the past, ones who were privileged enough to go to concert halls were usually royal and/or rich. Thus, classical music gives an impression of nobleness and elegance, which is why it is featured in commercials of cars, phones, and other technological innovation ads.

Some of these ads don’t even mention the features of the products, but focus on creating a sleek and innovative atmosphere to suggest a well-off life brought by the use of the products. Moreover, just as classical music takes outstanding cleverness and genius to compose, these products require extreme skills and dexterity to produce. Therefore, putting classical music side by side with technological innovations indicates a matching duo that’s well accepted by the audience

In an attempt to break free from this precedent, Lexus created a backlash when their commercial referred to classical music as old and out-fashioned to contrast to Lexus’ freshness and youth:

Fans were outraged at the ridicule of one of the greatest forms of art, especially when it was Mozart, “who wrote some of the most perfect, refined, classy, timeless, and exciting music ever written.” Lexus then had to revise their commercial as an apology to music lovers and also a proper praise to the glorious classical music.

Classical music also makes great soundtrack for scenes that are larger-than-life, hard to believe, or sometimes even supernatural. Ads with this type of music usually feature gigantic and surreal scenery, spectacular displays, or brilliant man-made creations, like the one in the Japanese phone ad above, or this one:

In case you missed it, that was one very big ad. In this case, classical music playing in the background not only describes a magnificence scene but also creates a comical effect by dramatizing the actions in the videos. Overall, classical music is very serious in nature; therefore, video producers sometimes use it in scenes featuring silly and funny acts to create a dramatic and hilarious contrast.

That were probably the most videos I’ve ever included in a post. Have more examples? Share with me in the comment section below!

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?

A Day as a Wikipedian

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“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

– Aristotle

Most of us are familiar with Wikipedia, the “multilingual, web-based, free-content encyclopedia project supported by the Wikimedia Foundation and based on a model of openly editable content,” according to itself. Everyone with an internet connection can sign up to be a Wikipedia contributor; therefore, not all information found on Wikipedia is reliable and correct. This is the reason why most teachers and professors advise students not to use Wikipedia for researching purposes. However, we can’t deny that Wikipedia has its strengths and, used wisely, can be a great resource and social platform. Today I will talk about my experience being a Wikipedia contributor, or a Wikipedian, as I call it.

What makes Wikipedia special and innovative is that it is an open-source, free-for-all platform where people get to practice writing about topics of their interests. It fulfills the needs of non-scholars looking to share their knowledge with the world without having to go through formal procedures.

For example, from the research I’ve done on music in advertising, I am confident enough to share what I’ve learned with people in my community, not only in the country but around the world. Wikipedia allows me to create or edit articles quickly and globally at no cost. There are plenty of resources on the topic of music in advertising; however, very little of them are shared on Wikipedia. The main community covering this topic has been established, but don’t seem to put too much effort into enriching Wikipedia database. I picked this article, which provides a brief for my blog topic because it is still fairly raw in both content and style, which is easier for a beginner Wikipedian like me to contribute. I first started off with the grammar and styling errors, then moved on the content and added a reliable source collected from my blogroll to back up some of the article’s arguments. The coding system of Wikipedia is fairly simple, mostly because there are plenty of precedents on the site or in the article itself.

Screenshot 2015-04-03 01.13.19

Current issues of the article

Screenshot 2015-04-03 01.53.18

Wikipedia editing screen

The second great thing about Wikipedia is that no one is alone. With a community of 24 million contributors, one can almost find someone with similar interests to co-write and co-edit articles. On the one hand, Wikipedia’s co-editing feature helps the contributors expand their social network and deepen their understanding of the subject. On the other hand, having multiple authors work on the same article also benefits Wikipedia itself as it gathers and synthesizes the opinion of different people, probably coming from different backgrounds, to form a neutral, non-biased voice.

Moreover, the awareness and pride of being part of the Wikipedian community also encourages contributors to write more responsibly and collaborate for the good of all, as demonstrated by Aristotle quote at the beginning of this blog post. There have been 50 revisions of the article I edited, written by 27 contributors including me. Most of us tried to get rid of the grammar errors and improve the style of the original article. Some added categories within the articles, which helps link it to relevant topics. Technical issues such as broken links or citations were also taken care of. Vandalism was found and fixed the same day.

Revision log

Revision log of the article

Whenever there’s teamwork, there’s a question of whether the members cooperate well with each other. However, Wikipedia’s guidelines and the fact that everyone can see and revoke a revision at any time ensure that the latest version is likely to be the best one. Being able to contribute to Wikipedia not knowing how long that contribution will survive the criticism of other co-writers requires bravery and open-mindedness. The incentive of being a Wikipedian as discussed by scholar Stacey Kuznetsov is a sense of “accomplishment, collectivism, and benevolence.” In order to complete this goal, it is best that contributors phrase their opinions in a neutral voice and be patient when discussing with co-writers, especially when you write about issues that base heavily on personal taste like music in TV commercials. Last but not least, prepare to compromise and always practice goodwill.

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.

Does It Fit?

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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.

Research Studies: Music and Consumer Behavior

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“Music has long been an efficient and effective means for triggering moods and communicating nonverbally. It is therefore not surprising that music has become a major component of consumer marketing, both at the point of purchase and in advertising.”

Jerome Bruner (1915-), American Psychologist

Ever since it was introduced, music in advertising has always been a subject of interest for researchers in the field of marketing as well as cognitive, neural, and behavioral sciences. In 1990, Dr. Judy I. Alpert at St. Edwards University and Dr. Mark I. Alpert at The University of Texas at Austin did a research study on the influence of music in advertising in consumers’ mood and responses. They conducted an experiment on college students to see if the presence of music  in a fictitious greeting card commercial affected viewers’ attitude and purchasing intention. Their finding suggested that music did impact the subjects’ mood and affect their perceptions of the greeting cards; furthermore, different types of music caused variability in purchasing intentions.

As Bruner once argued that “music is an especially powerful stimulus for affecting moods,” commercial soundtrack first enters our cognitive system by influencing our mood. Most of the time, we (are forced to) watch commercials in between our programs, meaning we are more interested and attentive to the programs than to the commercials. This makes us “uninvolved, nondecision-making consumers rather than cognitive active problem solvers”, as confirmed in the Alperts’ research. Therefore, the ads’ background music affects us subconsciously. In other words, we do not think about or even notice the presence of the music but are still influenced by it. To help us understand the science behind our brain’s reaction to music, Fast Company writer Belle Beth Cooper put together a collection of scientific facts in a very understandable and relatable manner. Other than the “chemical reaction” behind this, here are stories of how music impacts people’s mood in real life, provided by New York psychotherapist, Nathan Feiles, who has had experiences helping his patients get over anxiety, depression, and phobias.

However, when it comes to consumers’ attitude toward the ad and the brand as well as their purchasing intention, there are several studies that challenge the Alperts’ findings in one or more aspects. For example, Dr. David Allan at Saint Joseph’s University’s paper pointed out that Brooker and Wheatley (1994) and Macklin (1988) both reported no effect of music placement on attitude toward the ad. He also gathered a summary of the most relevant and reliable studies on this subject, which shows contradictory results in how music affect consumers’ brand attitude, brand recall, and purchasing intention or not. To explain this inconsistent trend, Dr. Jon D. Morris and Dr. Mary Anne Boone at University of Florida provided very detailed analysis of how under the same study, results were significantly different for commercials of different types of products and services.

One conclusion that all studies have come to is that music does change how commercial viewers feel, but taking every single aspect of how music is used in advertising into consideration, more researches need to be done to accurately understand music’s influences in brand attitude, purchasing intention, and the like.

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.

Gorilla in the Air

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When this ad by Cadbury came out in Britain in 2007, it won several awards for best TV commercial and film. Fairly speaking, its success is attributed to the combination of great directing, acting, costumes, and animatronics that costs approximately £700,000. However, to me it is the soundtrack that steals the show. The haunting melody of Phil Collins’ In the Air Tonight and his signature drum fill were so epic that I remember playing the 90-second-long ad over and over again just to feel the passion “in the air.” This passion alone, without any explanation or plot, matches Cadbury’s slogan: “A glass and a half full of joy.” This was one of the first videos that got me thinking about the power of music in advertising, and it still hasn’t lost its magic on me after all these years. Has it on you?