Gaston Legorburu is Chief Strategist at publicis.sapient. Throughout his career, Legorburu has spearheaded some of the most successful online campaigns in the history of the Internet. He has partnered with clients in industries ranging from financial services and travel and leisure to technology and food service. Since co-founding Planning Group International (PGI) in 1992, Legorburu has been a driving force in the evolution of the interactive marketing business. Under his leadership, PGI became the largest privately held interactive agency in the United States and was acquired by Sapient in 2006. Legorburu is also the co-author of “Storyscaping,” a book on how to create worlds where brands and consumers connect through immersive experiences.
Reese: In your opinion, how important is music in building a brand?
Legorburu: Describing the importance of music to brand building feels similar to how I describe a brand. Some people confuse a brand as being the same as a company or product, but a brand is a much bigger idea. Really, every one of us is a brand, a walking, talking, living, breathing personal brand. While a personal brand is influenced by our own preferred way of being perceived, it cannot be entirely controlled by us. Our brands are also determined by outside factors such as what others see and feel. Certain smells, tastes, looks, conversations, interactions and observations all organically influence other people’s perception of our brands. This is why brands continuously evolve - perceptions are fluid and none of us can contain the impressions others have. Music is like that too; it’s layered and complex with ongoing effects. How a piece of music is perceived is also determined by the listener’s senses and it does an outstanding job of transporting us back to a specific time and place. Just hearing a few bars of a song immediately delivers the memory of where we were in our life. We interpret so much more than the notes and melody - based on connections from our past. So, for brand building, I’d say music has a unique ability to dye the water; a powerful ability to make an emotional impact that drives connections between products and people. Music can deliver the right tone and manner for a project and in turn, create the kind of energy and focus that the creator is going for. Music does an incredible job of taking you someplace, but you first have to have a connection to that place. So that’s important to keep in mind too - the right music goes a long way, but the wrong music is equally as powerful in missing the boat or creating a negative impression and connection.
Reese: How important is music for you personally and for your work?
Legorburu: It’s interesting to tally how many people around us in the ad industry are also musicians; it seems like a lot of us use music as a positive, creative outlet. Several years back, before Sapient, every other Thursday I hosted my very own ‘band camp.’ People from my agency would come over, armed with their instruments and we would turn my living room into a stage for live jam sessions. At first, the neighbors didn’t enjoy this concept and they eventually called the police in to break it up. But, soon after a couple break up sessions went down, our free concert scene became the place where you’d find the cops hanging out and singing along instead of trying to shut us down. It was a relief and outlet for them too. When it comes to work, music is a crazy creative media. It enables the communication of very complex emotions - maybe even better than the written word. So, we leverage music to elevate the work, no doubt. A lot of times it is the difference between good and great.
Reese: Do you think the right choice of music can change consumer behavior?
Legorburu: Yes, definitely. Emotion drives behavior and music is an emotional tool, it’s probably the emotional tool. I often think about this concept when I compare music choices brands use in marketing. For instance, in Storyscaping- Stop Creating Ads, Start Creating Worlds we reference the Coke versus Pepsi example with regard to comparing the difference between a brand statement (Taste of a New Generation) and an Organizing Idea (Open Happiness). Now let’s explore the difference in music choice. One brand borrows equity by aligning with the most popular current singers and often sponsors pop culture concerts and popular music events. The other brand uses music to make emotional connections and thereby becomes part of pop culture as opposed to just being associated with it. I bow down to someone who creates it over the someone who rides the association. One objective in our Storyscaping approach is to connect brands and consumers through shared values and shared experiences and the main area where that opportunity for connection and behavior change exists is in the emotional space.
Reese: Do you believe a brand should be recognizable by sound only?
Legorburu: I don’t think so. It can, but it’s more of a nice to have. I see it as an auditory logo - so, it’s more of a tactic or an ingredient.
Reese: Should audio be treated with the same discipline as visual and verbal branding? Should brands have an audio style guide - just like they have a visual style guide?
Legorburu: Without a doubt - that tends to be the magic sauce.
Reese: Do you think there is a link between a brand’s level of discipline in their audio behavior and its economic success?
Legorburu: Yes, it’s evidence of craft. Brands that sweat the details are more likely to be successful than others that don’t. It’s like putting lipstick on a pig—when a brand has a shitty product and a poor message, but goes out and licenses a great piece of music to ride the borrowed equity—it doesn’t look so good. You’ve got to solve for the other things too, right? You can’t get away from the other details like having a real purpose and a great product and service that people appreciate.
Reese: Can you share your most memorable experience with music and how it influenced your work?
Legorburu: A big part of what I do is collect interesting people; I recruit and put together ‘creatives’ on our teams. I do deliberately look for a candidate’s use of music in their work as criteria for whether or not I want them on the team. I believe it makes all kinds of difference.
Reese: Is audio brand design part of your conversation when talking to a client about brand communication?
Legorburu: Good question. It certainly should be. Honestly, it’s not always part of the conversation because some clients are accustomed to having it and others are simply not. There are a handful of clients that really get the role of music and with them, it’s always a part of our pitch process. We show them not only visual treatments, but audio treatments and sound design and the whole show because they get it, they want it and realize it as an important thread.
Reese: Where do you see the greatest challenge in finding a brand’s voice?
Legorburu: During those times when the goal is to make a ‘once great’ brand relevant again—it’s very hard to get those clients to think about evolving their voice and brand to be more contemporary and more relevant. Sometimes those long established brands just keep flexing from muscle memory, even though their story may be losing relevance. Think about a brand like Harley Davidson - seems natural to hear Lynyrd Skynyrd or something like that, right? When helping a brand to evolve, we need to borrow from the past but still make connections in the present and into the future. So, why not find a contemporary version of Lynyrd Skynyrd? Maybe look in the Alternative Rock genre to find a rebellious, individual, freedom spirit to connect with in today’s world. It can be a pretty easy fix, but when a client has logged so many hours with their brand, they sometimes garner an attitude of ‘this is who we are, this is who we are always going to be.’ They know the brand and get the brand and they assume that the rest of the world does too - but they don’t. That’s a real challenge. A brand is less what you say about yourself, and more how others feel about you.
Reese: What’s your current decision-making process involving music?
Legorburu: Music selection is always an integral part of the creative process, not just budget based. It used to be project based and now it’s considered pretty early on in the creative process. We actually have a full time, internal team that is responsible to think about and create sound design.
Reese: How do you communicate music when briefing a composer/music company/music supervisor or publisher?
Legorburu: We provide the music house samples of stuff we like for the project, they research what they have that is similar and play it out and record it.
Reese: What’s your evaluation process? Do you test audio assets used in your brand communication?
Legorburu: It’s very client-dependent. Clients use a couple of methodologies. One type of client insists on testing everything. When they have a clear understanding of what the brand voice is, they use that filter for imagery, manner and tone, copy, for any sound assets. Many times their whole system is designed around testing assets. The other type of client asks the question, “is this in our brand voice?” and they curate everything that comes from that brand, as opposed to going out and testing it. Some, like our Chrysler/Fiat clients have an amazing instinct for music and just “get it.”
Reese: How do you determine how much you are willing to pay for music - licensed or scored?
Legorburu: It goes back to whether or not clients are familiar with music costs and if the expectations are set in the budget upfront. Sometimes a client will fall in love with music - then we determine the value to license the original track, versus finding something similar, which can become a big process.
Reese: Is there a certain brand that you admire in their use of audio in their brand communication?
Legorburu: The Gap - in the 90’s the way they used music was effective. And then they went away from that but have now recently gone back to doing it - which I think is great! Burger King - in the 80’s used to do this kind of food in music thing, it was their signature on a global platform and it worked. Then they abandoned it. Coke - I feel like Coke has always done it right.
Reese: Do you see a shift in how important music is becoming in brand communication?
Legoburu: Certainly, especially as our brand communications become more and more digital. Strong sound design or use of music is actually less prevalent in digital communications, most digital stuff has been click and drag - it included images but not a lot of sound. But now, consumers’ experiences on the web are becoming more like film, actually interactive films - so now the role of moving images and music presents a potential huge differentiator.
Reese: Where do you see the challenges and opportunities when working with music in a branded social network environment?
Legorburu: I take into consideration Frank Rose’s concept that it takes 30 years for any medium to mature. For instance, the first TV shows were really just televised radio shows. But over time, TV became it’s own medium. The web started out as an electronic form of a newspaper. It was text, images and hyperlinks. Then it evolved into being more like an interactive magazine and now the delta between an interactive magazine and what the web is becoming is all about video and audio and participation. I think that is the real opportunity - to create engaging, differentiated experiences through digital channels.
Reese: What does the audio branding of the future look like?
Legoburu: The use of a short form auditory marketing is probably going to become more prevalent because we are so mobile. Long form content is difficult to consume at the pace consumers are moving, so I imagine byte size expansions of audio branding will become more prevalent.
Picture source: http://advertising.newyorkfestivals.com/