The role and impact of music in advertising


Earlier this spring, WARC reported the findings of a study from North Carolina State University on how the emotional themes of songs can help ads to resonate with consumers. In analyzing the words and themes of every No. 1 hit on Billboard’s Hot 100 from 1960-2009, this new research showed that the emotional message of lyrics can drive advertising impact and recall.

The study did for lyrics what psychologists have shown repeatedly about the power of melody in advertising – that there needs to be a clear fit between an ad’s soundtrack and the message or product it is intended to promote. Impactful use of music requires creatives, planners, and clients to work in partnership to choose the right track.

The academic literature shows that the right song or musical soundtrack in an ad can: increase attention, making an ad more likely to be noticed, viewed, and understood; enhance enjoyment and emotional response; aid memorability and recall; induce positive mood; forge positive associations between brands and well-loved tunes through the processes of classic conditioning; enhance key messages; influence intention and likelihood to buy; and, the Holy Grail of commercial communication, demonstrably increase sales.

For evolutionary reasons, the brain encodes emotional memories more deeply, and memories formed with a relevant, resonant musical component are stored as emotional memories. This means that ads with suitable music are more likely to be remembered and acted upon.

The use of music in advertising was developed in the 1920s and 1930s by FMCG advertisers including P&G, who pioneered linking brand names to distinctive musical and dramatic themes (from which came the phenomenon and term ‘soap opera’).

The first 30 years of post-war TV advertising on both sides of the Atlantic featured jingles, specially composed songs, and musical stings, as the cost of licensing original music in copyright was prohibitive. British consumers in the 1970s grew up on a diet of brand songs – many of them corny at this distance, from ‘A Finger of Fudge’ to ‘Do the Shake ‘n’ Vac,’ and ‘Only The Crumbliest Flakiest Chocolate’ to ‘I’m a Secret Lemonade Drinker’ – every one a mindworm.

Copyright-free classical music was also used increasingly, either as a momentous soundtrack (as in the case of Old Spice, and its iconic use of ‘O Fortuna’ from Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana) or as the base for a witty ditty (as in Frank Muir’s unforgettable ‘Everyone’s a Fruit & Nut Case’ and its endline “We make it up as we go along, you know?!”).

Coca-Cola pioneered the use of original music in TV and cinema advertising, with the 1971 emotional story of connectedness, ‘I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing,’ by the New Seekers.

By the late 1980s, when licensing costs started to fall, the use of contemporary music increased rapidly so that, today, an estimated 90% of international TV ads feature a musical soundtrack.

And, yet, in the 1980s and 1990s, bands and artistes whose music featured in advertising were often accused of selling out. When the Rolling Stones’ ‘Start Me Up’ fronted Microsoft advertising for the launch of Windows 95, many music critics opined as if popular culture was on the very verge of collapse. But, today, ads gain credibility by being associated with music, and bands no longer lose kudos by being associated with ads. Indeed, bands can often be broken – or their reputations significantly enhanced – by the exposure that their music featuring in TVCs can bring.

The career of Edwin Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes was given a helping hand by the appearance of their song ‘Home’ in the Peugeot 2008 ‘Crossover’ ad, which led to the song’s re-release and significant additional airplay, sales, and new fans. Ads have now become a serious source of revenue and exposure for musicians. This is increasingly instantaneous, with ads encouraging consumers to Shazam and download as they view.

“The right song or musical soundtrack to an ad can increase attention, enhance emotional response, influence intention to buy, and demonstrably increase sales.”

Indeed, one of the fundamental benefits of choosing the right music for brand advertising is the built-in talkability factor that track can bring to a commercial. Perhaps the best exponent of this in the UK is the department store chain, John Lewis. According to Marketing Director Andy Street, the brand’s annual showpiece festive ads have the declared intention of ‘owning Christmas,’ with each year’s commercial as eagerly anticipated by the marketing community as Santa is by children. And these ads have an increasingly complex, multichannel relationship with their musical soundtracks.

The 2013 execution ‘The Bear & The Hare’ featured Keane’s 2004 track ‘Somewhere Only We Know’ re-recorded for the ad by Lily Allen. The song didn’t only feature as the soundtrack to the original cartoon by adam&eveDDB. It was also released as a multi-format single, and download and CD sales took the song to No. 1 where it stayed for some weeks, providing countless opportunities for radio DJs and media columnists to talk about (and talk up) the campaign and the retailer.

And this wasn’t a one-off. Lily Allen’s No. 1 success repeated the feat of the 2012 campaign, from which Gabrielle Aplin’s cover of Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s ‘The Power of Love’ also topped the charts in support of ‘The Journey’ ad, featuring two snowmen.

adam&eveDDB are pioneers in both the practice of choosing the right music for ads and the theory. They’ve spent the past two years researching the impact of music in advertising in partnership with the psychology department at Goldsmith’s. Their experimental research – featuring ads with and without music – has shown suitable music to focus attention, facilitate brand and message recall, improve attitudes to brands, and influence purchase behavior.

With music from ads present at every touchpoint – TVCs, mobile, downloads, experiential – getting the music right has never been more important or mutually beneficial to brands and artistes. In just the same way as it did in movies before it, music has become an integral part of branded entertainment through advertising films shown on TV, in cinema, and – increasingly – online.


Jenny Naish is Senior Insight Analyst at Ebiquity





About Author

Senior Analyst

Having spent the last decade in a range of ad insight and editorial roles, Jenny’s experience and expertise has given her a solid grip of the industry, a deft hand at Insight generation and a keen eye for trends. She specialises in Beauty and Personal Care.

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