17 minutes reading time (3418 words)

In your ears

Nicole Yershon, Tara Austin. Photos by courtesy of Nicole Yershon, Tara Austin, Ogilvy


The relationship between music, marketing, and the consumer is fundamentally changing: the rulebook on what's possible, what can be offered, and what consumers want, is being rewritten all the time. With that in mind, we asked Tara Austin and Nicole Yershon, two leading thinkers at Ogilvy and part of the agency's "Lab Day Live" event, to consider how an agency's work with music is changing – and how music forms part of a client-agency relationship.

What lessons have you learned from how the record industry has had to adapt to digital in the past decade?

TA: When change happens, act fast. They say a week is a long time in politics, but today with the speed of digital communications that's absolutely true in business too. The greatest lesson that the music industry can teach any other is that you cannot ignore emerging consumer behaviour in the digital space and expect to protect your current ways of doing business; you have to adapt to survive, and you have to do it quickly.

Of those parts of the industry that have adapted, or more strictly speaking the new bits of the industry that have emerged, there are many lessons. People may tell you that everything is about engagement these days, but that's not strictly true, it's about selling just like it always was. David Ogilvy said that in our agency 'we sell, or else' – what's changed for the music industry is what's being sold. Now record labels have embraced merchandise like never before, because they've realised that they can no longer just sell the track to make a profit. In fact it's better to give the track away in order to build the fanbase that will come to your live shows, to whom you sell: a ticket, a drink, a T-shirt...

It's no surprise that live revenues have more than doubled in the last 5 years, as the nature of digital communications mean that we are continually bombarded with individual, virtual experiences – and naturally seek out the communal, interactive experiences, which have become more and more exclusive. Brands can learn a lot from that, and the value more generally of exclusivity. Artists and managers have realised that they can often make more money printing 200 exclusive vinyl records, or producing a box-set with 'added extras' at £500 a pop than selling the basic album for £10. Create fans who want to demonstrate they are fans, and you have an easy sale, because there's no better way to demonstrate how loyal you are, than to part with your money.


NY: This Semester of Learning at Ogilvy, which has focused on music, has thrown up the most unbelievable opportunities. For Amex, we have created a banner mashup that included Spotify, the Guardian, and Lovefilm – all in one single banner. Rather than taking people to different sites, it was all there. It's about being able to do those partnerships and knowing the right people.

Ford getting involved with Bands in Transit was about doing something which they have never done before. Moving away from the traditional solution of music for TV commercials is new territory for clients.


What do advertisers and agencies want to know about consumer listening habits, and for what purposes?

TA: Since the birth of the record player, listening to music has becme an increasingly individualistic pursuit – you press Play at home or in your car and enjoy that music, but you're the only person who ever knew that had happened. The only way to register a love of a particular piece of music was to go to a shop and buy a record. The Internet and innovations like personalised online radio have changed all that – now companies like Spotify and Lastfm can see exactly what people are listening to when. Data is also available on who is downloading what, illegally or legitimately, meaning that a lot more information exists about what people are listening to. Companies like Music Metrics are able to process that for you and split databases in a myriad of ways, depending on who you want to know about.

In communications, the more we know about our consumer, the better our campaigns can be targeted to engage them. This is not to say that data dictates everything – creativity will always rule the day and if it's better to synchronise a flamenco track to a TV ad aimed at 18-25-year-old men because that provides a new and interesting dimension, then our creative directors will be able to determine that – but if we can start the creative process understanding that the particular audience we're talking to listens predominantly to hip hop, then that's an interesting place to be. We know so much these days about what newspapers and magazines our consumers read and what TV programmes they watch – it helps us paint a picture of who they are and what they will enjoy in our advertising. If the information is out there, then why wouldn't we also want to know what they listen to?


NY: Advertisers and agencies need to know to be able to give consumers something relevant and interesting. It takes it away from the old push-down-the-throat mentality of commercials. Rather than do that, brands can now find out what consumers enjoy listening to.

Combining data with research groups means that you can more accurately determine the right music for a commercial. If you don't have an understanding of what you could be doing, the wrong track could go on, and offer a completely different outcome.

Last.FM know exactly what people like. Their trending lists mean that they know [upcoming talent] well in advance. They can see who will be amazing. With a brand that wants to engage, they can get that sort of data and work with artists early on, as was the case with Tinchy Stryder.

You can also get much better deals, based upon data which tells you what consumers are listening to. Last.FM's trending lists would work really well in testing music on research groups.


Given the increasing personalisation of advertising and media, should we now be looking at ranges of music to suit the individual tastes of consumers when it comes to developing creative, rather than consider a one-size-fits-all soundtrack to do the job?

TA: I believe that to do this would be a mistake, as the power of music in advertising does not come from the music alone - and particularly not from whether the audience 'likes' a piece of music. Though likeability can drive enjoyment of an ad, what is more important is whether the music delivers what you need it to in the particular circumstances and this must be dictated by the overall creative and the visuals used. Is the track you're using disruptive and unexpected, adding an element of surprise to the execution? Does it amplify the message through lyrics that promote the thought you want the ad to express?

Ruth Simmons, CEO at SoundLounge, has demonstrated that "brand fit" for audio is far more important to consumers than brand likeability; after all, you may not particularly like oompha-pa music, and prefer to listen to Adele, However, in the context of a shop that sells German bratwurst, you might actually prefer to hear the former as it provides a more cohesive brand experience.


NY: Last.FM, Spotify and related companies are starting to open up for niche audiences and genres. It's the "If you like this" algorithm from Amazon. It means you can then find things that you would not ordinarily have found.


TA: You can extend this conversation to 'creative fit' for advertising. A recent example of this could be the advertising for Barclaycard's new contactless payment card that shows a man using a rollercoaster to glide through New York. Initially this work used the Boston track 'More than a feeling', something that expressed a sense of joy and ease that perfectly befitted the circumstances shown in the ad. When Barclay's re-released this ad some months later with the added message that contactless payment was now available through mobile phone they decided to change the music used to Petula Clark's Downtown. This proved to be a big mistake as consumers quickly noticed something was amiss, leading them to be distracted from the new message about the mobile phone payment and even to criticse Barclays in online forums for the change – but the crucial thing to recognise here is that I for one would much prefer to listen to Downtown to More than a feeling, I simply prefer the song, but in the context of an ad which featured a man (not a woman) enjoying a rollercoaster ride through Manhattan a male voice singing More than a feeling just provides far greater fit with the visuals used and, despite my own musical preferences, I recognise this.


Sonic branding has been considered to be "in vogue" for some time now. Should brands now take much more of an active role in terms of developing a brand sound?

TA: Absolutely. Brand managers spend an inordinate amount of time discussing with their ad agencies the semantics of their endline or on which side of the screen a salt shaker (read car, sandwich, bottle of fabric conditioner) should be placed, with not enough of their time dedicated to what their ads – and indeed their brand - sounds like to consumers. 'Sonic branding' is undoubtedly important; although the term tends to sit in the world of TV alone and sonic tags, it can feel a little less all-encompassing when 'brand sound' incorporates a consumer's experience in-store, for example.

A great example of consistent brand sound for me, found in a TV campaign, was the old M&S 'This is not just...' work for their food range. From Fleetwood Mac's Albatross to Spandau Ballet's True, all the work that campaign produced had a consistent brand sound, which wasn't dictated along narrow lines of genre for example, but more broadly maintained familiarity and a luxurious pace for the audience that meant it was instantly recognisable as belonging to M&S.




NY: Sonic branding has been around for a very long time. For us, it's also about finding the right partnerships, so when a problem arises, a solution which may feature 'your brand needs to have sound with it', means that we need to know the right people to talk to – who is doing a good job out there. It's more about re-iterating something that is important for a brand.


How should agencies bring social media into the processes around planning and developing music for brands / campaigns?

NY: I like certain aspects of crowdsourcing: many people creating a one song, for example, and there could be sharing elements from that. It makes it more sticky, more tangible; you stay on a site longer, because you enjoy the experience, and it gives something back. People love to share, and they love to share music.


TA: What advertising sounds like will always be the preserve of the creative department and their vision. However, digital does present us with some opportunities for crowdsourcing which allow us to use social media or music-sharing platforms like Soundcloud or Sonicbids to develop music for campaigns. The most obvious benefit for this could be cost, in that a brand may be able to source a piece of new music, or even a sonic tag, from a new or unsigned act and avoid extensive licensing costs. Equally, if you were to simply allow consumers to vote for which piece of music you use for your next campaign, the brand may not have cost savings, but it would allow for greater consumer engagement, as well as a sense of ownership: something which is increasingly important for brands.


Tribes were once pretty easy to carve up and identify. Does an increasingly personal, internationalised, and diversified world make the development and identification of tribes (at least for marketing purposes) harder?

TA: It makes it more difficult, but also easier. There are more ways in which we can define people, with more metrics available, and more data accessible - particularly in terms of what people listen to. And yet, all of us are aware that these definitions are in some sense artificial; brands today must entice consumers to love their products, one individual at a time. Everyone has a voice, and brands always need to respect the power of the individual.


As the music industry is moving increasingly towards live entertainment, what opportunities lie there for brands?

TA: In the last few years, media companies have done well to recognise the growing importance of live music events in their consumer's calendars, and have done more to encourage brands to be in live music. I think that you will find very few car or mobile phone brands today that have not at least dabbled in the area of festivals and exclusive ticketing to music venues. Vauxhall have tied in with Katie Melua as their musical brand ambassador.

Clearly there are opportunities, but as brands like O2 would seem to demonstrate through their sponsorship of the Millennium Dome, that the bolder you are, the better – provided of course there is a legitimate reason for you to be there. Alcohol brands have always been in the live music, but if you're a car or phone brand you have to be more careful to make sure consumers understand your presence is not just gratuitous– and then of course there is ROI to remember.

It's not good enough to simply be there. I know of at least one large car brand that spent an inordinate amount of money sponsoring a large festival last year. They were there, but consumers are accustomed with brands 'being there' and so you really need to cut through, which they weren't able to do because the didn't have an engaging, interactive campaign specifically designed for the event. My advice to any brand would be to make sure you are working with people who really understand the live music space, and can help you navigate the potential pitfalls – as well as make the most of the opportunities available.


NY: Those opportunities are enormous. We have someone talking about this at Lab Day Live. There are now so many festivals, and a brand at a festival that's "doing it wrong" is hard to measure – what are they doing wrong, and what is it about what they are doing, that is wrong? How could it be better?

Car brands can really add value to festivals. The insight of knowing that people turn up at the station with tents and bags, and that they may have to walk a long way to get to their field in order to pitch.. A car brand can line their cars up outside the station and say "Just get in, and we'll take you to the site". The brand is being useful.

Pump out freebies doesn't work any more. It needs to be thought out a little more. Mobile chargers could be sponsored by Amex, or Vodafone – because it's incredibly difficult to charge your phone at a festival. Vodafone could allow people , to charge their phone up for free.


There's a utility value.

NY: There's a huge utility value moving forward.


Through the considerable success found by bands reforming from the 1990s, shouldn't brands "reform" earlier campaigns (BT bringing back Buzby, for example)? Hasn't the success of reforming bands made a wider cultural point – that we just love wallowing in nostalgia?

TA: It's true that we all love nostalgia, and maybe never more than in difficult economic times. But, I would say that you cannot abstract from this argument the simple fact that there aren't many truly big new bands today with the same mass appeal as some of the old rockers.

The Internet has changed the distribution of music as an artform, and although the music industry understands how to break artists, it doesn't appear to have yet discovered how to make big bands in this brave new world. 'New music' has become its own genre, with consumers wanting to hear about the latest hot new thing, with the media embracing this short attention span, providing little continuing interest in what were once the hot new bands - simply because they're not new anymore. The biggest difficulty facing artists today is building a loyal fanbase in what is a very unloyal world. Exactly the same issue faces brands.

With more products in the market place, you have to do more to win your top-of-mind status and, all importatly, to maintain it.


How hard is it for brands to be credible and authentic when it aims to become associated with fans / gig attendees / clubbers / festival-goers?

TA: I don't truly beileve it's possible to 'sell out' anymore – only to do things badly. If you manufacture deodorant and you sponsor a band by forcing them to use your brand banners at any of their gigs, something is going to feel wrong for the fans and probably the band too.

It's a case of finding a legitimate way of being in a particular space, and then giving fans something they appreciate in order to build brand favourability. They understand that bands need to make a living, so there's a much greater level of acceptance from fans that brands are legitimate in music – provided things are managed in a non-intrusive fashion, and the fans feel like they're getting something out of it.

Ford's Bands in Transit recognised that, throughout time, the Transit van has been a staple of hard-working new bands when touring up and down the country gigging. Talking about the Transit's unsung role in the lives of musicians was a legitimate way of talking to potential new Ford customers, bringing them new music acts playing directly from the back of a Transit. It was fun for fans, but, most importantly, it was also authentic for the brand.


What is your favourite use of music in a campaign?

NY: When I first heard it... I gave me goosebumps: the Guinness Surfer ad. When it was played loud in the cinema, with the pumping of the voiceover and music – I thought that it was phenomenal.

There are so many. Levi'sBritish AirwaysCadbury's Flake; The Toshiba Hello Tosh campaign; Courage Best's GertchaAriston... Anything that's going to make me look up. I don't like anything that uses a piece of music where just because Riahanna, for example, has a hit, her name will be stuck on the brand and she sings it within the ad.




TA: This is a tough call – as everyone knows hundreds of ads where the music is absolutely crucial to its success, but I must say I particularly admired the Fyfe Dangerfield cover of Billy Joel's Always a Woman for John Lewis' Summer 2010 campaign.




It's an excellent cover that synchronised so satisfyingly to picture that it was suitably evocative. It was a great brand ad that immediately had Mumsnet users in floods of tears, and to me that's the greatest test. As to the success of the track, I only wish they had been better able to see it coming. The airplay it received was phenomenal, but John Lewis could have done more to push out sale of the track on the TV ad, online and in-store. Despite everything, it still got to no.17 in the charts, a great credit to the song but also to the campaign - which had the sense to give it a full 60-second airing in the first instance.

The most beautiful bit is, every time anyone who bought that track listens to it in their home or in their car they won't only enjoy the song; somewhere at the back of their mind they'll feel more positively disposed towards John Lewis – now that's the power of music in advertising.


Tara Austin is a Planner, and Nicole Yershon is Director of Innovative Solutions, at Ogilvy.

Ogilvy's Lab Day Live, a day which explores the future of music and brands with talks, panels and bands, takes place on 9th September 2011.

For further information, visit the Lab Day Live website.




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