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James Cooper is Founder and Director of London-based Rocket Science Music. For more than 20 years he’s specialised in creative music licensing, or ‘synchronisation’. Here he shares his thoughts on the power music has to create memorable moments in advertising.

Music can provide shortcuts to memories, linking emotional connections in the viewer that have the ability to supercharge standout creative. The right choice of music can be a huge win for any brand.

So why is this important piece of the puzzle still overlooked or only thought about at the last minute? As director George Lucas famously said, “sound and music are 50 per cent of the entertainment in a movie”. Surely advertising is no different?

With that thought in mind, let’s take a look at some recent commercials and popular trends in UK advertising where brilliant music selections lie at the heart of the creative.

1. Covers, re-records and alternative versions 

By commissioning new cover versions of well-known songs for its Christmas ads, John Lewis created a trend that remains very much alive today. Take a well-known back catalogue song and have a contemporary artist cover it, so achieving the holy grail of something that is familiar but fresh and new, too. This approach also cleverly swerves the use of traditional Christmas songs, making seasonal ads more inclusive.

And it’s not just Christmas songs that get the cover treatment. Talk to most music supervisors in the UK and they will have been asked to get clearance for or create re-records for their clients. By reimagining a classic song, clients have creative control over the new recording and, therefore, something tailor-made for their campaign.

Remixes or alternative versions can also create a similar effect. Check out the amazing spot ‘Flip’ for B&Q, which licensed an incredible piano-based version of David Bowie’s classic ‘Sound and Vision’.

2. Telling stories with music

Just as composers accentuate the action or sentiment in a film scene, so too can synchronization placements. A careful choice of music can instantly place the viewer in a particular location, decade or even city – as was masterfully demonstrated by Nike in its epic ‘Nothing Beats a Londoner’ campaign.

Shot on the streets of the UK capital, the ad featured a star-studded cast of 258 Londoners – including athletes, comedians and, of course, musicians like Skepta whose track ‘Shutdown’ opens the spot.

According to the ad’s creators Wieden+Kennedy, the mission statement for the film was to create a London-centric campaign for Nike that would speak directly to the younger generation. The ad was executed to perfection with the multiple music tracks licensed helping to create an authentic campaign that represents the realities of life for the youth target market.

3. Tales of the unexpected: Christmas but not Christmas songs

As anyone working in advertising and marketing knows, Christmas can be on the agenda very early in the year! So it’s never too early to start planning ahead. Classic Christmas songs have been popular again in recent years, perhaps to offer some comfort and reassurance during these strange times we’re living in.

That said, some brands have opted to take a very different approach. For example, Ikea’s first-ever Christmas campaign, ‘Silence The Critics’, brought the musical genre grime front and centre to the masses, by working with grime artist D Double E to expertly soundtrack the campaign. The commercial was brilliantly executed and the music provided perfect standout. And not a sleigh bell in sight.

Sainsbury’s also went off piste by licensing a cover version of Wheatus’ ‘Teenage Dirtbag’ for its 2022 Christmas spot ‘Once Upon a Pud’. Not the first song that necessarily comes to mind when you think of the festive period but, again, the power of music meant that this leftfield music choice stood out among the other festive tunes in the ad break.

What do these campaigns show us? By harnessing the power of music, whether familiar or bold or unexpected, brands can stand out and make truly memorable campaigns that will be talked and written about for many years.

Further reading: James recently examined five examples of standout campaigns using great music (including Ikea) for LBB Online. Read his thoughts here.

© Six Black Pens 2024