The right music makes or breaks an ad. A carefully chosen song can enhance an ad's memorability, emotive power, and informativity. A 2015 study by Nielsen found that ads that incorporated music performed better across four key metrics: creativity, empathy, emotive power, and information power. While licensing popular songs can come with a hefty price tag, music, the study points out, can deliver significant returns for brands. To wit: An HP ad that included a popular Meghan Trainor song early in her rise to fame garnered a 26 percent increase in total dollar volume among her fans while the ad was airing, Nielsen reports.
The right music goes a long way toward building affinity between a brand and a customer. In an interview with Forbes, Eric Sheinkop, president and CEO at Music Dealers and co-author of Hit Brands: How Music Builds Value for the World's Smartest Brands, describes how that affinity is built: "Specifically, using music to establish an emotional connection with a brand increases brand recognition, creates excitement and buzz beyond the brand's core products or services, and can empower consumers, giving them valuable content to discover and share." According to Sheinkop, effective music placement in an ad garners brand advocacy, not just loyalty.
The music video for Meghan Trainor's song "Lips Are Movin'" was made in partnership with HP. The brand used the music video to create a more product-centric version (above) to promote its x360 tablet as part of its #bendtherules campaign. The video also highlights social media content creators who were involved with the music video shoot.
Most marketers know that music is a passion point for consumers, but they may not know how to leverage it strategically. So how can brands be sure they're choosing the right music? How will the new ways that fans listen to music affect its use in advertising? How can advertisers ensure that their choices will resonate and feel authentic?
Start with Data
"I think a lot of marketing decisions in music are made by gut feeling, but cultural relevance is critical," says Pedro Montemayor, digital marketing director at GTB, an integrated media agency, who is currently creating ad campaigns for Ford. "Taking into account the target audience and ensuring the music is culturally relevant by demographic, geography, buying preferences, etc., all play a role in these decisions."
Conveniently for marketers, who are pushed more and more to back their decisions with data, music streaming platforms such as Spotify and Pandora hold vast amounts of data about demographic music choices and are starting to take the guesswork out of selecting the right music for an ad. "Now there's so much data available, we've leaned into music as an anchor strategy versus an afterthought," Montemayor says. The influx of consumer data gives marketers a chance to build entire campaigns around a piece of music or an artist, rather than treating a catchy tune as a mere garnish on an ad.
While the kind of data collected varies depending on the platform, much more information is available to marketers about the age, gender, geography, and listening habits of fans of different artists. This makes it easier not only to target and deliver appropriate ads to the right audience, but to select the kind of music that the audience is already listening to in the places where they expect to hear it.
Carlos Diaz, co-founder and EVP of multicultural at Music Audience Exchange (MAX), agrees that music choice was previously based on taste rather than insight. "It was very much about reaching out to the management or label and people picking songs that they liked, and there wasn't much data behind those decisions," he says. Technology platforms like MAX help gather first- and third-party data aggregated from streaming, social, and live events to build psychographic profiles of consumers. "This gives us this holistic view of what an artist's fanbase really looks like," Diaz says. "Then we can say to brand X, 'Based on who you're trying to target, you're looking for artists who have a fanbase in the southeast, and here's a list of artists whose fanbase matches the consumer you want to speak to.'"
Once a brand picks the artist they want to work with, MAX works with labels and management to secure any necessary licensing for executing the campaign, including mechanical, syncing, and performance licenses. "Instead of trying to piecemeal a campaign, there's a platform that integrates all of these publishers and drives a consistent message toward a consistent brand KPI, so that they can really leverage the power of music," Diaz explains.
Listener data can also provide insight into what kind of music consumers want to hear depending on what they're doing. Pandora uses the data it collects to determine patterns of listening behavior for activities like doing chores, going to the gym, commuting, listening through headphones, or getting pumped up for the weekend. "With those behavioral standards, we're able to say, 'They're listening to music this way while they do this certain thing,'" says Alberto Santiago Deida, multicultural creative director at Pandora. Deida points out that the ability to refine targeting will make a difference as listener behavior changes with new technology. "As we move to the Bluetooth generation, the smart speaker generation, the headphone generation — people connected 24/7 to their mobile devices — we're going to see a behavior change in that audio space, the theater of the mind," he says.
Understand Your Audience
To stay relevant culturally, brands need to understand the cultures they wish to connect with. In an increasingly diverse country, that means having a solid grasp on what it means to be multicultural. For example, Latin music is the No. 1 genre on Pandora for time spent listening. "If listeners prefer to use English but still listen to Spanish-language music, then you start to put together this world we're living in," says Pandora's Deida. "It's super bilingual, super bicultural, and it helps the brand understand that they can hypertarget a specific audience." Understanding what these multicultural audiences get from the music they listen to helps marketers understand why that music can be so powerful in an advertising context.
Deida's colleague at Pandora, Nidia Serrano, director of sales marketing for multicultural audiences, describes how listening habits vary across different cultural audiences. "When it comes to an African‑American audience, they listen for different reasons, whether it's to connect with their past or to connect with today's trends," Serrano says, noting the same listener may be tuning into old-school R&B or gospel for one reason, and trap music for another. "It's still very distinct because music is representative of your own experience."
For those who identify as multicultural — as Pandora estimates 40 percent of its listeners do — music can serve as an important anchor to cultural heritage. "Even though we're in an age where streaming has made everything super democratic and everyone can listen to anyone's music, music is still very personal," Serrano says. "You will gravitate toward a sound that really connects you to who you are, whether as a person or as a community. Music is what we grasp to connect to the culture that we're trying to retain as we live our bicultural lives." Understanding that connection is vital to using music authentically when marketing to multicultural and bicultural audiences.
Pick the Right Partners
Even as they keep ROI in mind, marketers would also be wise to partner with musicians who can authentically represent and promote the brand. Without real conviction behind their endorsement, it may sound more like nails on a chalkboard to fans. "Our focus is always on authenticity, so we only look to work with artists who have a real connection and affinity for Ford and share our brand's values," says Montemayor of GTB. "We've been able to work with artists who have real connections to [Ford] and who are super relevant to our target segments for every vehicle and initiative we run, and people love the content — it's been an authentic fit in every sense."
Texana band Las Fenix partners with Ford for its #MúsicaFord campaign. The band, composed of five sisters, share how Ford makes touring life easier. Music Audience Exchange/YouTube
Part of the benefit of a platform like MAX, Diaz says, is that it allows marketers to connect with up-and-coming artists who are preparing to release new music and want to bring it to a wider audience. "What we do is we work with the artists when they're releasing new music and they'll say, 'Hey, I'll give you rights to my new music, to my likeness, I'll be a part of content creation, I'll integrate into events and experiences because you're putting me in a campaign when I'm releasing new music,'" Diaz explains. This helps build a more integrated, streamlined campaign in which the artist and her or his music are showcased in a way that values both the brand and the musician.
Diaz also echoes the sentiment that a real connection to the brand lends more authenticity. "You want to find artists that genuinely love the brand … and then based on that level of partnership you want to be able to help the artist grow their career," he says. "When it's genuine and it's honest you really will appeal to consumers because music is a key passion point of people. Brands that are able to do that will really garner a lot of great support from consumers."