Helmut Huber, Chief Marketing Officer, Check24
Helmut Huber, CMO at Check24, is a true native when it comes to the German TV and radio advertising landscape. In the past seven years, he played a key role in turning a web-based comparison portal into a strong online brand that polarizes consumers with its characteristic TV ads. In the 101 Great Minds interview, Helmut and Uli discuss bass lines in audio branding and the role of entertainment in advertising.
Reese: Helmut, how important is music in branding?
Huber: It can be immensely important if it’s done right. Music in branding is often a quick choice based on the suggestion of someone in the media production team or on market research data. In my opinion, however, this does not pay enough respect to the two senses that are at the heart of marketing communication: seeing and hearing.
Reese: Most of the minds I interviewed agreed that in advertising, 90% of resources are invested in visuals and only 10% in audio. What do you say?
Huber: Absolutely. Today, where double-screening has become the norm, audio deserves at least 50% of the attention, if not more. It's easy for your eyes to get distracted, but it's very hard to shut your ears...
Reese: Check24 has a very unique approach to using music in advertising. Tell me a bit about your strategy behind it.
Huber: We don't have a strategic approach when it comes to the music we use. It's trial and error, really (laughs). I believe this is an important facet of digitalization. At Check24, we don't do market research but we track everything at all times.
Our musical decisions have always been based on two factors: target audience and emotion. For instance, the sole aim of the "Everybody dance now" campaign in 2014 was to create brand awareness. It's a loud, energetic feel-good track. The emotion we wanted to convey here was empowerment - the way you feel when you know you’ve just made a great deal that saved you a lot of money. We want people to associate this feeling with our brand.
Reese: So, basically you buy people’s attention through music?
Huber: Yes. If you ask me, there’s nothing wrong with buying attention through music. It took some time to create this awareness within the company that the overall goal here was not to create more points of contact but to get the attention of our target audience. Eight TV spots with great music are very likely to have a bigger effect than ten spots with mediocre music. That’s why I believe that music in advertising should be on the creative budget rather than the media budget.
Reese: You use only licensed music in your commercials. Is it worth the money?
Huber: Music rights are expensive. Nevertheless, the attention that a piece of music generates is a real return on investment. We buy the publishing rights of a track and have studio musicians record it. In our latest spots we use “Superfreak” - which, by the way, is often confused with “Can’t touch this” by M.C. Hammer. In our cover, I played the bass line myself.
Reese: You’re kidding!
Huber: No, I’m serious! (laughs) We think of music as a testimonial. Just as some brands pay large sums to have a famous actor in their commercial, we may spend a lot of money on licensing the music we want for a certain spot. Just like a testimonial, a song is a tool you use to speak to your target audience. Plus, it adds extra emotion to the commercial - and that is priceless.
Reese: What about sonic recognizability? What happens when your publishing licenses expire?
Huber: I don’t see an issue with that. I think it’s important to differentiate between a customer-centric approach and a brand-centric approach. We are a platform that compares products and services in order to present our consumers their best option. We don’t have a 7-year buying cycle like Mercedes Benz. We acquire new customers 24/7, therefore our focus lies on optimizing performance and generating visits to our website. Our goal is to become a brand of first-choice.
Reese: Should brands think long-term when it comes to their branding strategy?
Huber: I’m not sure about the term strategy in this context, but I do believe that brands should have a long-term vision. For instance, every brand needs to know the marketing channels they want to be associated with. Some just try to cover all of them but in my opinion that’s a mistake. If you overdo the branding, you risk covering up the brand experience of consumers. Check24 uses an audiovisual medium because that’s where we reach our target audience.
Reese: How do you know you reach your target audience on an emotional level as well?
Huber: Oh, I’ll answer this with a quick anecdote. A few years ago, we received a video of a flash mob at a wedding party. Bride and groom were dancing to the Snow Waltz when suddenly there was a loud scratch and “Everybody dance now” started to play. The wedding guests ran to the front and started dancing. Receiving the recording from this couple meant a lot to me. I mean, these people took the time to share one of the most personal moments of their lives with us. Just thinking of it now gives me goosebumps. That is the power of music in advertising.