We Get the Beat
C, F, C, G. To some readers, these may seem like four disconnected consonants in search of a few good vowels. But to those trained to read music, they are actually notes in a scale -- C major, to be precise -- which, when played with the right tempo, will produce a sound so recognizable it has come to represent one of the world's most powerful brands. Need a hint? Think of the "Intel Inside" chimes. Humming along now?
Leave it to a marketer of microprocessors to find a brand message so efficient and effective that it requires no copy, no artwork, no video, nor visuals of any kind to convey it to a consumer.
Thanks to Intel's strategy of paying PC vendors to incorporate the music into their own ads, it is estimated that Intel's little ditty is played once every five minutes somewhere around the world. That last point is key, because it shows that Intel understands, perhaps better than most marketers today, the power of music as media -- not simply as a jingle or a musical accompaniment, but as a true conveyance of a brand's message.
That power, says Joe Plummer, Madison Avenue's long-time consumer research guru, now chief research officer for the Advertising Research Foundation, transcends the limitations of most other media, especially language and geography.
"It is so powerful because it connects in our brains in a way that makes it truly universal. Music is the most primitive emotional connection we have. Even more than visible symbols," Plummer says, concluding, "It may be the only truly global way we have of communicating."
Once you accept that premise, says Plummer, it's easy to understand how music can be used as media. Not just as content for programming media, but as a way of relaying messages that transcends engagement and finds a way deep into the soul.
The First Mobile Media
Cultural anthropologists aren't sure when humans first began creating and sharing music, but they do know it is ancient, and possibly older even than our species. The first non-percussive instruments known to be made by man are carved bone flutes estimated to be 30,000 to 40,000 years old. But other forms of drumming, stamping, clapping, and singing likely stretch back to "the very roots of our species, even before homo sapiens as homo sapiens," historian Richard Attenborough noted in a recent "NOVA" TV special about the origins of music.
It is this primal nature of music, says the ARF's Plummer, which makes it such a powerful storytelling device. In fact, some of the earliest forms of recorded storytelling were music. Primitive cultures handed down tribal lore in the form of song, a method that continued into even relatively modern times through traveling minstrels, balladeers, and troubadours, who created the first form of mobile media. It was this technique that American folk singers like Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger used to spread unionizing messages in the days before electronic media spin.
Music has been such a powerful and pervasive medium for social and political change that it has survived well into the electronic age and appears to be thriving now in the digital age. What Guthrie's "Union Maid" was in the 1940s to the labor movement, Bob Dylan's "Blowin' In The Wind" was to the antiwar movement of the 1960s, and South Bronx rapper Afrika Bambaataa was to social inequality in the 1980s.
Rap music, ironically, has also emerged as a leading form of media for conveying branded mentions, something that probably happened organically as rap artists appropriated high-end brand references to connote status. That habit has now migrated to the commercial world of Madison Avenue, as marketers such as McDonald's developed systems for paying rappers to place brands in their songs.
Rapper 50 Cent, in fact, was the biggest brand name-dropping rapper in 2005, with 17 product mentions in seven songs, touting Bentley, Cristal, Lamborghini, Mercedes-Benz, and Nike, according to data compiled by market researcher Agenda Inc., which tracks brand mentions in the lyrics of Billboard magazine's Top 20 singles chart. Agenda's annual ranking, dubbed "American Brandstand," found that Mercedes was the single most sung brand during 2005, followed by Nike, Cadillac, Bentley, Rolls-Royce, Hennessy, Chevrolet, Louis Vuitton/Cristal, and the ak-47 assault rifle.
It's unclear how many rappers actually take payments for propagating branded mentions, but the relationship between music and commercial media has been growing as recording artists seek new revenue streams in an industry that itself has been transformed by changes in digital media. First came MP3s, then Napster, and ultimately Apple's iPod and iTunes media content distribution models, which have become bellwethers for other forms of media, especially TV.
The commercialization of pop music is far from a hip-hop phenomenon, and it's now rare that a major musical release doesn't have some connection to Madison Avenue. In fact, it's often difficult to tell which comes first: the song or the commercialization. McDonald's Corp.'s 2003 rollout of the "I'm Lovin' It" global advertising theme is a great example. The theme broke first as a McDonald's brand slogan and was quickly followed by the release of Justin Timberlake's rendition of the "I'm Lovin' It" song.
More recently, Lenny Kravitz teamed with Absolut vodka to record an exclusive new song, "Breathe," which is available only as a free download, along with an accompanying video, from the site www.absolutkravitz.com.
As Plummer notes, Madison Avenue has always understood the power of music in its own content -- advertising -- but is only now recognizing how it can be used as a medium in itself for relaying advertising messages. Powerful advertising jingles can both engage a consumer's attention and help magnify a brand's message. Research released last year by InsightExpress showed this effect can be especially strong when ads include well recognized songs. Showing a clip of the GEICO Gecko singing the 1970s hit "Kung Fu Fighting" during a Media conference in New York, former InsightExpress President Lee Smith said such use of familiar tunes keeps viewers from zapping commercials. He also pointed out that such music can help consumers remember and identify brands within the first few seconds a commercial is played.
So it was probably inevitable that some of the music world's most countercultural content would ultimately find its way on to Madison Avenue. Purists cringed when Nike used The Beatles' "Revolution" in a 1987 spot. These days, Led Zeppelin songs sell Cadillacs, while the music of antiestablishment band The Clash sells Jaguars.
In an effort to harness the power of music as media, Madison Avenue is moving beyond the use of music in advertising and seeking to use it as a means of spreading brand messages. To do that, it's actually getting into the music distribution business. Late last year, the Detroit office of BBDO and jingle producer JSM Music teamed up in what they claimed was the first such collaboration to simultaneously release a retail record and a commercial music video.
Their creation, the rock/ hip-hop single "Unleashed" and its accompanying music video, was released last September, a month before the full-length album. The song is a mash-up of JSM recording artist Chris Classic's 2005 track "Live and Loose" with Nazareth's 1970s smash "Hair of the Dog." But the connection is even more explicit than that: The mash-up received its first exposure as the music for BBDO's national TV ad campaign for DaimlerChrysler's Dodge Charger. After receiving thousands of inquiries about the music from the national TV spot, JSM and BBDO opted to release both the single and a full-length CD and music video featuring artist Chris Classic.
Video Shills the Radio Stars
Madison Avenue has long felt comfortable with music videos, which in many ways have their roots in commercial storytelling. In fact, the media department of one major agency, DDB (then Doyle Dane Bernbach), even tried to get into that business soon after the launch of MTV, producing an award-winning video for the Alan Parsons Project before deciding to stick with conventional forms of media.
Media shops and media departments at creative agencies are once again turning to music as a media option. "I don't know how conscious we are in terms of, 'Lets use music as a medium,' but a lot of what we've been doing lately has manifested in music as a way of delivering a message," says Lisa Seward, media director at Fallon.
Seward says she first noticed this trend in 2004, when Fallon came up with an unusual media strategy for Virgin Mobile's holiday marketing campaign. The strategy, which was built around a fictitious holiday created by the agency -- the politically correct and all-inclusive Chrismahanukwanzakah -- first manifested not as a traditional media buy but as a song.
"The media strategy was born as a holiday, but it actually launched into public view as a song," Seward says. "We wrote a Chrismahanukwanzakah song and produced a video, and a lot of how it got out there was viral, people passing it on to other people."
Fallon and Virgin expanded the effort during the 2005 holiday season, including a variety of politically incorrect versions of the holiday carol sung by characters ranging from a gay elf to a Hindu Santa.
An even more powerful example of the fusion of music and media and something else -- electronic retailing -- is evident in Fallon's media strategy for retail client Nordstrom. The Nordstrom Silverscreen takes the form of a branded entertainment site where music video downloads, films, and other forms of entertainment are available. Consumers may also shop via the site. Silverscreen isn't so much a Web site as it is an application that can be downloaded onto PC desktops. Once there, it enables consumers to receive music videos, designer interviews, and other content.
The online venue launched with a video of The Go-Gos classic "Our Lips Are Sealed" as remixed by Fatboy Slim. The footage showed contemporary women wearing Nordstrom apparel, and seamlessly wove in the original Go-Gos video from 1981. Silverscreen has since added a remix of Culture Club's "I'll Tumble 4 Ya" and is poised to launch more.
"The big thing was that you could shop through a video. That was a very different use of music and media," says Fallon's Seward. "It was a new way for us to connect with people and to drive people to Nordstrom by using music."