Carter Murray took the helm of FCB in September 2013. The former President and CEO of Y&R Advertising North America and CMO at Publicis Worldwide in Paris has spent much of his career helping a diverse roster of marquee clients develop and manage brands across marketing disciplines and regions. Nigel Jones is a pioneer in communications planning. As the co-founder of Jones Mason Barton Antenen, Jones married marketing science with creativity to become Campaign Magazine Direct Agency of the Year in 2004. Before joining FCB in 2014, he was Chairman and CEO at Publicis Group UK.
Reese (to Jones): When you think about music in advertising, how important is it to you? Particularly knowing that the economics of music make more sense than film – in terms of return on investment. Because it’s cheaper to make and it’s remembered longer.
Jones: Well, let’s go back a bit. My interest in music started when I was about seven or eight, when I began to realize how it affected me – and people around me. Since then I’ve been obsessed with experiencing new emotions through music. Now I buy about 100 CDs a month, if not more. And I have a website called abarrelofnails.com, which is the best two hours or three hours of music from every year since recording began – so back to around 1910. It’s exactly what you’re talking about: music that affects people in certain ways.
Reese: I need to find time to go through that…
Jones: I explain why I find each piece important, or try to explain how it provokes certain emotions. What’s interesting is that people tend to appreciate certain pieces more after they’ve read why they work. The classic example is Carole King’s “You Make Me Feel (Like A Natural Woman)”. People say, “I knew that song, and I sort of liked it. But now I love it.”
Murray: People from around the world email him randomly saying things like, “I now understand why my wife loves me.” Which means it must be a fairly profound review… But it’s very interesting, the interpretation of music and its role in our lives.
Reese: I don’t think anybody could claim to hate music. They just have different tastes. Conversations about music tend to be friendly. On the other hand, there are people who say flat out that they hate advertising.
Jones: That’s because advertising is commercial – it’s about selling stuff. And while there’s a commercial side to music, the main aim of musicians is to provoke emotions.
Reese: But do you think brands use that ability efficiently enough? We know that some of the world’s most valuable brands – like Apple, Coca-Cola and McDonald’s – have an audio branding strategy. They understand the power of music to implant memories, to affect emotions. So when you approach a brand, how is audio a part of your conversation with the client?
Jones: I think there are two kinds of brand in the world: those who understand exactly what you’re talking about, and those to whom it’s totally irrelevant and have never thought about it. And most of the brands I deal with on a daily basis fall into the second category: They’ve never thought of audio-visual triggers, the soundtrack of their brand or a musical mnemonic associated with it. It’s only the most sophisticated brands who’ve thought about that, and sometimes only by accident. What you’ve said is exactly right, but you’d be amazed how few brands really recognize that.
Murray: I think there are two key categories in how brands use music. The first is combining storytelling with music, or the inspiration within music, in a very powerful way to communicate the message. And the second is to have a signature which is almost like a visual trademark. It triggers the emotions built up by the other communications. One of my main responsibilities is looking after Nestlé, and a lot of their business is in emerging markets. If you go to Central West Africa, radio is the dominant medium there. So music is even more powerfully important. The way you approach it is fundamentally different to the way you approach it in England, where all the different media are much more available to you. In Africa you’re creating a conversation through music.
Jones: It’s interesting that the mnemonic approach is not more widely used. I bet if you did an audit of brands, less than 10% would have a recognizable audio signature. But I think brands are beginning to investigate that more.
Murray: With media fragmenting and our need to influence conversations, people are going back to the origin of all communication, which is the five senses. So a lot of brands are saying “yes, we do need an audio signature, simply to increase the impact of our brand”.
Jones: Maybe brands should have a signature smell, too…
Reese: Definitely! Smell is the strongest trigger of emotion. Then comes audio. And then the visuals… Let me ask you, could audio enhance the value of a brand?
Jones: It’s very common to put a song on the soundtrack of an ad and it then becomes a hit, which is of course great for the brand, even if it has a fairly short-term effect. There are fewer examples of successful audio signatures.
Reese: I think the way a brand “picks” songs is a form of audio branding. Apple always uses a particular type of song.
Jones: I remember an ad for Walker’s crisps (in the UK) that used a Peters and Lee song called “Welcome Home”. On paper it was totally wrong for the brand… if you’d researched it the results would have come back telling you that the song was a totally uncool piece of music. But when you put it in the context of that ad, with the visuals, people changed their view of the song.
Reese: So it’s not just about trying to achieve credibility transfer by putting Coldplay or The Beatles on your ad?
Jones: No, I think you can be much more left of field, choose much more interesting pieces if they work in the context of the ad.
Reese: Can you isolate the return on investment on a piece of music that you’ve acquired for an ad? I mean, can you tell if you sold more products because of certain piece of music?
Jones: No, we tend to assess ROI as a whole. Isolating the music element is very difficult and actually it’s not what people are interested in. They want to say: “This is what we spent – this is what we got back.” If you had a campaign of ten ads and you had different songs on each ad, you could probably assess the differential effect. Or you could do qualitative research among consumers to find out which elements of the ad worked for them. But what we’re usually looking at is total investment and total return.
Murray: Somebody like Intel might be able to assess the value of their audio signature, because it has a stronger identity than the visual trademark. Of course there’s a danger here in that you can get too obsessed with your audio signature, your logo and your visual identity. But these will never mean anything unless the right stories and the right emotions are associated with them. What’s important is what you stand for, the ideas and the values behind the brand.
Reese: One of the advantages of audio is that it can travel beyond the ad. You can take your audio identity into your stores, for example. Or onto your customer service line.
Murray: Yes, but if I walk into a retail store and I hear a certain piece of music associated with the brand, it doesn’t mean anything unless there’s an emotion and a story behind the musical signature… What might be interesting in the retail environment is to use music as an awareness trigger: You’re walking down the aisle of a supermarket and you hear an audio signature that tells you a certain product is present. There could be possibilities in that field.
Reese: Audio product placement is definitely already happening.
Murray: And the way we’re handling data now, if we knew what kind of music consumers liked, we might be able to use that as a way of moving a product up their consideration list – in an online retail environment, for example.
Jones: The trouble is that just feeding people back the things they like isn’t enough. It’s boring, actually. I don’t want to hear the same piece of music every time I go into a store. Modern consumers, particularly young ones, want to play games: which is why they like the concept of remixing and mashing up. You have to give them something new and let them play around with it.
Murray: In advertising, creative is a very difficult conversation. It’s very hard to analyze and then push through a sausage machine the concepts that will work. Sometimes things that test badly work terribly well. And music is exponentially more so. Music is so primal, and means so many different things to different people, that it’s almost impossible to come up with an algorithm. That’s the magic and the power of music. We need to treat it with the reverence it deserves.