Can you imagine what things would be like without classic movie soundtracks and TV commercial songs? Would anything at all have the same meaning without music? Why do we include it in all of life’s pivotal moments? We have wedding songs, birthday songs, graduation songs, and funeral hymns.
The thing about TV commercials, and all audio ads, for that matter, is that it is often the accompanying songs that get our attention. Are you working on your audio branding or looking for the right TV commercial songs to compliment your brand? In either case, we should explore the overall impact of music. What is the magic that music holds over us?
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This post has been updated in August 2021.
How Does Music Affect Us?
The psychological and motivational benefits of music, widely documented for nearly a century, assist businesses. Music, even just whispering in the background, drives behavior. Shoppers spend more, workers produce more, and consumer’s previous brand perceptions are changed in the presence of the right music.
Beyond audio branding, music, according to studies, has a significant impact on our daily lives, emotions, health, and mental wellness. While the efficacy of these studies has been called into question, the following effects are suspected, if not exactly proven:
- Improved cognitive performance and memory
- Reduced stress
- Pain management
- Better sleep
- Improved production and motivation
- Mood elevation
- Reduction of depression symptoms
- Improved endurance and performance
Music In the Ups and Downs
Even in the absence of scientific proof, at the very least, music can get us right in the feels. No? Ok, maybe you’ve never gone showerless for five days with Sinéad O’Connor on repeat. But, let’s be completely honest for a moment, shall we?
Regardless of who you are, if you haven’t, at least once in your life, driven alone in your car bellowing along to I will Survive, then you might have an issue processing emotion, and you should have that checked out. Unless (and this won’t even get you a hard pass), you were born after 1985, and your parents didn’t adequately educate you on the great American anthems of heartbreak recovery.
Billboard’s Year-End Number One Singles
Whether you appreciate Gloria Gaynor or Cake for that matter, indisputably, we are all equally affected by music. Billboard Magazine has been tracking the number-one singles for each year since 1946. We have a record of every year’s number one single for the last 73 years in the U.S. Some of it could be considered, well, embarrassing. Not to ruin the surprise, but we might be a bit self-indulgent and sad.
Out of the last 73 years, 50 of the Year-End Number One singles on Billboard’s Pop chart have been songs about love, heartbreak, infidelity, sex, or obsession. Undeniably, emotions, attachments, and memories, good and bad, are strong drivers in our musical choices.
So, the question then becomes, what is the emotional message of your brand, if any? And, how will you convey that message with tv commercial songs?
Sharing Brand Message Through TV Commercial Songs
Of course, there are plenty of songs that we love. However, a band or genre that’s a personal favorite may not be the right fit for your brand’s TV commercial songs. Rarely, if ever, will TV commercials be successful without direct targeting toward the brand’s primary audience. There are a few critical elements to matching the right music to your brand. The tv commercial songs that you choose should:
- Be mindful of your budget.
- Not confuse your personal taste with mass appeal.
- Convey the right emotional message.
- Propel the narrative arc of the project.
- Not overwhelm the message.
We all love our brands. It would be fantastic if there were no such things as licensing and royalties to contend with, but there are. The cost to license a well-known song for one year in the U.S. can range anywhere from $25, 0000 to $200,000, average. Those are hefty numbers. Yet not as high as they can get. In 1995, Bill Gates paid $3 million to use The Rolling Stone’s Start Me Up as the first Microsoft TV commercial song ever.
Even more impressive? In 2018, The Rolling Stone’s celebrated the 50th anniversary of Their Satanic Majesties Request, possibly their most underappreciated and unjustly underrated album (according to me and lots of people that I know). That same year, one track off of the celebratory album, She’s A Rainbow, made its way into not just one, but two national TV ad campaigns, for Acura and Dior. While the COO of ABKCO Music & Records, the current owners of the Stones’ 60s catalog, wouldn’t confirm the $4 million price tag rumored for each, she did admit that each license went for seven figures.
That is fine if you only need to sell 107 Acura RDX 2019 base models to cover the cost, but most of us aren’t even playing in that arena. Choosing realistic TV commercial songs for your brand will require a realistic budget.
Your Personal Taste v. Mass Appeal
Along with not needing a budget, it would be even better if our personal anthems would just gel with our message, audience, and business goals. For me, Pearl Jam’s Black blasting out of the speakers as soon as someone opens my private chef website doesn’t seem as if it should be an issue. As far as I’m concerned, it would be righteous. Obviously, I would also prefer not to work with anyone that doesn’t feel like they could run through a brick wall after hearing that song anyway. But, alas, despite Pearl Jam’s global popularity, the idea would have minimal appeal considering the product and my clientele. It is vital to distinguish between what we like and what is good marketing in TV commercial songs.
The Emotional Message of Your Brand
Let’s take a look at one of America’s most iconic brands, and it’s TV commercial songs. What could be more American than “A Coke and a Smile”? On Thanksgiving evening, 1950, Coca cola’s first television commercial aired. “The Coca Cola company invites you to pause and refresh yourself with ice Cold Coca Cola while you enjoy the television premiere of Edgar Bergen and Charley McCarthy.” Between the smiling girl next door, the classic instrumental, and the two radio icons about to appear in their first televised program, Coca Cola was laying on the Americana pretty thick. And they have never wavered from their message of wholesome, peaceful, fun, and refreshing. From their original commercial in 1950, through the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and all the way to today, they have delivered continuity with the virtuous, somewhat cheesy emotion and TV commercial songs to match.
TV Commercial Songs Propelling the Narrative
Narration is an integral part of branding today. Our ever-increasing access to information is unlike it has been at any time in history. Consequently, it is becoming more and more important for a brand to express itself with a consistent story or series of stories.
Social media, web content, blogs, podcasts, streaming services, in addition to traditional TV and radio, bombard consumers with options. With all of this information available 24/7, distinguishing your brand is imperative. A well-structured and consistent narrative is an excellent way to separate your brand from the pack.
This TV commercial for University of Phoenix uses a cover of the New Radicals 1998 hit You Get What You Give, sung by Mackenzie Graham. The visual is of a young woman struggling to raise herself up while balancing the demands of full-time work and the rigidity of traditional college class schedules. The song propels the story with the increased tempo and the lines, “Wake up. You’ve got the dreamers disease. So polite, you’re busy still saying please. You feel your dreams are dyin’. Hold tight”. Then everything is wrapped up in a neat little package with the on-screen text, “Universities weren’t built for working adults. Until John Sperling built one.”
Consistently, the University has done an outstanding job of using music to propel the narrative with its TV commercial songs. This commercial, with an impactful re-styled lyric of If I Only Had a Brain, and even this 15-second spot with instrumental, drives home the consistent brand message.
TV Commercial Songs Overwhelming the Message
In 1995, Mercedes Benz began using Janis Joplin’s song, Mercedes Benz, in an international series of TV ads. While some consider the campaign a success, mainly the admen of Mercedes, closer examination shows that the song’s use was, to put it mildly, inappropriate. Joplin never intended the song to be an endorsement. Rather it’s full a condemnation of capitalism and all that it represents.
As a result, Dean Bakopoulos wrote for the Michigan Daily in 1996, “What’s most annoying about the use of Joplin’s song is the fact that she is dead, and the integrity of her art is all that she has left. Joplin didn’t really want to help sell a damn Mercedes.” For Janis’ most loyal and devoted fans, Mercedes Benz using the track as one of their TV commercial songs, went quite a bit beyond inappropriate.
The song, hardly a paean of capitalism and materialism, was the last recording that Joplin made before her death in October of 1970. At the beginning of the record, Joplin announces, “I’d like to do a song of great social and political import.” This part of the recording, conveniently omitted by the folks at Mercedes, seems in direct opposition to the marketing of luxury vehicles, bolstering the arguments of the many critics that penned essays on the topic.
At the time, it was much easier for Mercedes Benz to ignore the critics and focus on a temporary increase in sales. There was no Twitter-verse with which to contend. It begs the question; Would they have gotten away with this today?
Contrarily, when the Wrangler Jeans company came up against criticism for their use of a song, they did the right thing by the artist.
In 1966, as U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War was ramping up, John Fogarty, frontman for Creedence Clearwater Revival, was called up in the draft. Fueled by anger and frustration, Fogarty sat down and wrote the band’s anti-establishment anthem, Fortunate Son.
Thirty-four years later, Wrangler Jeans paid Fogarty’s former record company to use Fortunate Son in a TV ad. In the ad, smiling Wrangler-clad all-Americans are spurred by, “Some folks are born made to wave the flag, Ooh, they’re red, white and blue” and the instantly recognized melody.
Collective shudder. Indeed, the original fans of CCR, people that lived through and suffered the consequences of the Vietnam War, were horrified. Fogarty himself was not shy about expressing his disdain for the song in that context. By that time, they’d already paid for the licensing and production of the ad. To their credit, Wrangler decided to honor the artist’s feelings and remove the commercial from circulation.
TV commercial songs have to be chosen with several factors taken into consideration. Certainly, give the following questions some thought before making a decision:
- Can you afford to license the use of this song?
- Do you think the song appeals to a broader audience and delivers a good reflection of your brand?
- Can this song help move the story of your brand forward without detracting from it for any reason?
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