Serpa studied visual and graphic arts in Germany, where he lived and worked for seven years. Back in Brazil, he worked for DPZ Rio, DPZ São Paulo and DM9. Throughout his career, Serpa has been noted as Brazil‘s most honored art director, having won gold, silver and bronze medals in the principal Brazilian and international advertising festivals. He is the most awarded art director in the 24-year history of the Annual Clube de Criação; the most honored Brazilian at the Art Directors Club of New York; winner of two Grand Prix at the New York Festival; winner of Gold and Silver at the Clio Awards. He is also the only Brazilian art director to receive Gold at the One Show. In 1998, he was the first Brazilian to preside over the jury at the London Festival.
Reese: How important is music in building a brand?
Serpa: I think it’s very important for many reasons and in many different ways. Music can help a brand on its journey towards becoming a bigger, warmer, more comfortable, more beautiful, and a more human brand. On this long journey, a brand needs music all the time.
Reese: Can the right strategic use of music change consumer behavior?
Serpa: It can, yes, because music is universal. Music has the power to change our mood, to improve our feelings, or to make us aware of something that we are feeling. Music can bring people to tears. Music can make people laugh. That’s the power of music. Advertisers, marketers, companies should use that potential.
Reese: Can you talk a little bit about your decision- making process? When do you bring music into a pitch? How do you brief a composer?
Serpa: There are two ways of doing it. One of them is that we start with the main idea. What do we want to achieve with our piece of communication? Which feelings do we want to trigger in people about our brand? Are we dealing with a rather emotional, or a rather humorous brand? At that first step, when we’re still talking about the script, the music is already there. In many cases we already have a tune in our minds that will work with the campaign. Music is part of the idea. The idea lives and dies with the music. The second approach focuses more on the storyline. We develop a story first and then we find tracks that amplify the emotions we want to get across in the story. There, the music is more part of the execution – we find song references and then we produce a soundtrack for the film.
Reese: How do you communicate what you want when you talk to a composer or a publishing company? A lot of people are frustrated when it comes to communicating music. Visually driven creatives seem to speak a different language than musicians. Have there been ways that have been successful for you?
Serpa: We use references as much as we can. It can range from pop music over film scores to classic music – depending on which emotions we want to get across. We show the music production company those references, together with the fi lm. We discuss which instruments work best. And then the music production company usually gives us options to pick from. I don’t think it’s very difficult to communicate what you want – as long as you know exactly what it is that you wantAnd I believe you can’t just listen to a soundtrack – you have to see it.
Reese: How do you pick the one piece that goes on air then, out of the options that you are offered? What’s your evaluation process?
Serpa: Gut feeling. Absolute gut feeling. I know what works, I just know. It’s my experience from working in this industry for years and years. We sit together in our team, and the best option always stands out. If nothing stands out, you have to keep looking.
Reese: Is it your gut feeling, or is there some consensus in the group, together with the client?
Serpa: It depends. If it’s my project, it’s my gut feeling. If it’s someone else’s project, I ask all the people what they want and then we discuss within the team which one is the best. Of course, there has to be a consensus. The strongest piece has to win. But it’s also always the strongest piece that stands out.
Reese: Most brands have a high discipline when it comes to their verbal and visual communication. Do you believe a brand should have the same discipline in their audio behavior as they have in their visual and verbal behavior?
Serpa: I think the reason why there is a lack of discipline around audio behavior of brands is peoples’ minds. If you listen to the same kind of music all the time, you get bored. You need diversity, you need new input, you need to stand out. When you look at what Intel does – the “Intel Inside” bit at the end of a TV commercial – I do believe in that. It raises brand awareness. But you can’t have too many formalities, because it will limit your creativity.
Reese: I usually use the example Apple for what I mean by “audio behavior.” Apple doesn’t have an audio logo, but they do have an audio style guide. They speak with one unique voice that is instantly recognizable. They have a very clearly defined set of adjectives, and the music they pick has to be congruent to those adjectives.
Serpa: I agree with that, absolutely. If you look at the ads for new Apple watch, they start with hands clapping. It’s something different. You have to find new ways of communicating all the time. The music has to be unique, and it also has to match the visual style of the brand. And Apple does that.
Reese: Apple is a high-end, complex product, but it is simple to use. What is in the style guide is that the music has to be authentic and very simple. It’s like a friend who speaks to you.
Serpa: That’s definitely interesting. I believe in that.
Reese: If you look at the Fortune 500 in regards to the brands’ discipline around audio behavior – the successful ones at the top have an audio identity. And the further you go down that list, the discipline around audio behavior gets less and less. In that way, economic success is linked to audio behavior.
Serpa: Don’t get me wrong – I do believe in the importance of a certain discipline around audio. I just don’t believe in brands sticking to one piece of music over years and years and years.
Reese: Is there a brand you admire in their use of music?
Serpa: Nike used to be very good at it. They used music in such a nice, beautiful way, maybe five years ago. I don’t see much of that anymore, however. Of course I like Apple, too – they’re very clear in their music choices, they know what they want. I love when the music piece makes me feel something strong about the brand. When the brand is not just trying to be trendy.
Reese: What’s the biggest challenge in finding the right music?
Serpa: The biggest challenge is to end up with something that is powerful, something that really stands out. I need the piece to make me feel something. You need to find something that moves people, and that isn’t always easy.
Reese: Are you seeing a shift in how music is being used in communication as compared to the past, say, 10 or 15 years?
Serpa: I think we do have more commercials being produced for the web now. That means we have a higher volume of work at a lower price, so the funds are more limited for each spot. That also means that the budget for the music isn’t quite as big as it used to be in the past. And there is also not as much time for it anymore.
Reese: I read you have won 149 Cannes Lions. You’re obviously extremely successful at what you do. You have the ability to pick the right concept out of a sea of possibilities. How do you do it? Is it just experience, or is there a rule of thumb, or guidelines, that you follow?
Serpa: There is no recipe. I trust my gut feeling. I rely on what moves me in the moment. And I have to say, when you get older, you’re not as easily impressed by new ideas anymore. Because you have already seen so many things, and everything is happening in real time, day by day, nonstop. It’s very difficult to find those emotions, those ideas, the pieces of work that wow you, that impress you, or even those that make you feel angry, or envious, and so on. I’m sitting here and I’m trying to decide what we might enter in Cannes. It works like that: In the moment that you see a piece that has potential, it just stands out to you. You pick it up, and you have it in your gut feeling that it can be great. It’s like digging in a mine, 400 meters deep under a mountain. You see something shiny, and you have to work hard to pull it out and get it out of the mountain. It’s about experience, skill, and hard work. That’s how it works if you want to find something great.
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