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The Best and Worst Use of Music in Advertising

While brand perception gets all the attention, the real differentiator is understanding the customer perception of your ads and brand. In this article, we have dived deeper into some of the best ways to measure customer perception of your ads that can help you create impactful and relevant ads. Read more…

Music has been used extensively in advertising and has shared a close partnership since the advent of the word ‘advertising’ itself.  

The origin of music in advertising goes back to street cries, which go back further than the 13th century. Long before jingles, merchants, in an attempt to pique their customers’ curiosity and draw them to their shops or get their products noticed, would sing songs, or recite rhymes about their products. One of the earliest collections of French polyphony contains an example of an advertising street cry that roughly translates to ‘Fresh strawberries! Nice blackberries!’  

Gradually, the role of music evolved from street cries to jingles, candy coating sales pitches and entertaining full-length songs for audio garnishing.  

While we do not come across jingles in advertising as much these days, over the past few years, the use of popular music and needle drop music has increased. According to a study by D Allan of three thousand primetime commercials, 14% of the commercials used popular music, 81% used needle drop music (generic, multipurpose music) and only 5% used jingles. Even though popular music and jingles have empirical data that prove their effectiveness in producing meaningful relationships between the consumer and the brand, most brands and advertisers prefer to use needle drop music as it is cheaper to license and requires minimum effort in editing. 

Related: Here is a detailed guide to know more about how to choose the right music for your ads and things to keep in mind. 

The role of music is even further evolving where brands are creating a portfolio of sounds, music, and voiceovers that collectively contribute to the brand’s personality. The entire exercise is categorized under branding and is termed audio/sound branding.  

To describe audio branding more aptly, it is the process of brand development and management with the help of audible elements that are used across various frameworks of brand communication. Audio branding is a part of multi-sensory communication and holistic design that helps brands stand out among their competitors.  

While some brands are still understanding and embracing the role of music in advertising, others have cracked the code and are incorporating music in their advertising campaigns. After going through a few examples of the best use of music in advertising, we will also be looking at the worst of the lot and the lessons we can take away from their mistakes.  

Editor’s Note: To curate this list, we dug deep into the ads we have always hummed to, the ones people all over the internet like or dislike, and the ones recognized and criticized by industry leaders and well-known forums. It is partly objective as we also looked at their impact on the overall success of the campaigns and partly subjective as we shared some of our favorites that followed industry best practices. 

Examples of Best Use of Music in Ads 

You know it is the best of advertising when you are left humming the tune of the jingle, strings (5 secs or less), or soundtracks for the rest of the day. These ads, their visuals, and their music live rent-free in our heads until we come across another ad with music that matches the brilliance of the last one.  

Here are the examples of the best use of music in ads – the ads that we hum long after watching them and by the end of this article, you might, too. 

1. McDonald’s McDelivery – Hungry Eyes by Eric Carmen 

Released in July 2021 in the U.K., McDonald’s ‘There’s nothing quite like a McDelivery’ was quite a hit. The campaign was released in two parts – ‘Hungry Eyes’ and ‘My House, My Rules’ with an intent to communicate the unique experience of McDelivery and position McDelivery as an option to order McDonald’s alongside Uber Eats and Just Eat.  

The campaign revolves around the house-bound hungry people who are eagerly waiting for the arrival of their McDelivery. The video is complemented by the soundtrack Hungry Eyes by Eric Carmen which gives the video a complete 80s vibe that is quite aligned with their intent to evoke nostalgia and celebrate the unique and long standing relationship between the brand and its customers. The song is popular from when it was used in the mega-hit movie, Dirty Dancing.  

When the expressive nature of the eyes of people in the ad is paired with nostalgic music like Hungry Eyes, it leaves a lasting impression on the minds of the viewers.  

The second part of the campaign ‘My House, My Rules’ uncovers a more intimate relationship McDonald’s shares with its consumers where ‘I Think We Are Alone Now’ by Tiffany plays in the background. 

2.  Channel N°5, the Film – Team, Lorde Cover 

Chanel’s cinematic ad celebrating the history of No. 5 perfume revolves around the French actress, Marion Cotillard dancing on the moon with Jeremie Belingard as Lorde’s version of the song ‘Team’ plays in the background. In the ad, Marion and Jeremie guide and support each other like a team while indulging in an elegant seduction game.  

The choice of the song aptly communicates the message as Chanel’s iconic No. 5 perfume represents that true beauty is in equality and joy. The chosen music also does well with their target audience which primarily consists of women aiming to achieve equality and live their dreams! 

3. Nike Kyrie 3 — Improv 

Nike’s Kyrie 3 launch campaign titled ‘Improv’ features NBA player Kyrie Irving and percussionist Questlove where they conduct an improv exercise. While Questlove freestyles on his drum set, Kyrie dribbles the basketball by himself in tandem with the beats.  

The ad moves ahead with increasing tempo and frequency of Kyrie’s dribbles. At one point, Questlove stops for a microsecond only to vigorously start again. As his drum solo climaxes, Kyrie dunks the ball right in the hoop.  

While there is no song in the ad, it stands out on account of brilliant synergy between the characters, the actions performed, and the music.  

In most ads, music is used like a garnish but in this particular Nike ad, the musical element is binding the entire ad, making it more impactful and memorable. The ad agency brilliantly infused musical creativity in their ad concept of improvisation. 

4. Apple’s First MacBook Air – New Soul by Yael Naim 

Apple has always been known for its brilliant and compelling ads. The way they go about their ads shows the confidence and clarity they have about how they want to market and position their products. In one such ad for the launch of their first-ever MacBook Air, Apple took an unknown song by an unknown artist to make a bold statement that went with the intent of their advertising campaign, ‘Trust us, we know you are going to love this.’  

The lyrics of the song, ‘New Soul,’ are perfectly coordinated with the visuals making the video more compelling for the viewer which can directly impact the brand and product recall and recognition. 

5. Volkswagen Beetle The Last Mile — Let it be by The Beatles 

After almost 70 years, Volkswagen said one of the hardest goodbyes to the most iconic car, the Beetle. The campaign features a 90-sec animated film that includes past and present fans of the car. The film  showcases the presence of the iconic car in the most important moments of a person’s life like a father teaching driving to his son, a soon-to-be-father driving his pregnant wife to the hospital, and many more; all the while the song ‘Let it be’ by The Beatles plays in the background giving the entire film a nostalgic and melancholic feel. 

6. Cadbury – In the Air Tonight by Phil Collins 

Launched in 2007, Cadbury’s Gorilla advertisement is one of their most iconic ones that has won several awards. Instead of highlighting the product, Cadbury displays the feeling of happiness by featuring Gorilla drumming to Phil Collins’ ‘In the Air Tonight.’ The Gorilla deeply feeling the song steals the entire show. The product is displayed in the last 3 seconds and was hinted at the beginning of the ad with Cadbury’s purple color background and smart use of their logo in the ‘a glass and a half full production’.  

The ad works on multiple levels as it is able to communicate what Cadbury as a brand represents which can be clearly interpreted from the expressions of the Gorilla.  

While music can uplift the value of an ad, it can also go truly and epically wrong. Brands have already made their mistakes with music, and we are here for the lessons. So, the following are some examples of the worst use of music in advertising. 

Examples of the Worst Use of Music in Ads 

1. Tampax Woodstock – The Time of the Season by the Zombies 

Released in 1999, this Tampax commercial intends to communicate the ease with which women and girls can enjoy festivals like Woodstock when they use Tampax. 

While the messaging is coming across well with the visuals, the music, The Time of the Season by the Zombies, paired with the video is questionable. It does justice in keeping up with the vibe of the music festival, but the brand’s messaging gets lost, and the absence of product placement alienates the viewer from the brand completely. 

2. Royal Caribbean – “Lust for Life” by Iggy Pop 

Royal Caribbean Cruise whose primary target audience is couples and families with children wrongly uses the ‘Lust for Life’ soundtrack by Iggy Pop. While the words used in lyrics might resonate with the brand’s messaging and positioning, the song is an ode to drug culture, partying, and drugging.  

The song is about a lot of things, but it definitely doesn’t scream family fun time and safety for children. Royal Caribbean dropped the ball on this ad with their wrong choice of music. 

3. Victoria’s Secret — Angels in Venice — Love Sick by Bob Dylan 

Source: The Cut

This particular ad for the launch of The New Angels Collection by Victoria’s Secret strays too far from their usual marketing as they explore an unusual pairing of an angel and Bob Dylan. Their ads tend to center around the angels strutting, showing off their perfect bodies, and seducing men and women alike to buy their products.  

While the cast is questionable, the choice of music is not particularly great. The lyrics nowhere do justice to the sexily mournful vibe of the ad. 

4. Apple’s iPhone 5s – Gigantic by The Pixies 

Apple released this iPhone 5s ad sometime around 2014 with the intent to display multiple functions and use cases of their phone for creating and playing music and other technical settings. While the video does justice to the product and its functionality, the viewer cannot help but question their choice of music for the ad.  

Gigantic by The Pixies is the song for the ad which is over two decades old and is about male genitalia.  

The song does get stuck in your head upon watching the ad only once which can be beneficial for Apple’s brand recall, but the question still remains, how far can you go with your choices for brand recall? 

5. Geico – “Midnight Rider” by the Allman Brothers 

In one of their commercials for motorbike insurance, Geico decided to feature a man covered in money cruising on his bike around the twists and turns of a mountain or valley.  

The visuals particularly are not too impressive as the money depicting the skin of the person flies around the roads and the choice of music is downright appalling as they decided to feature Midnight Rider by the Allman Brothers.  

The song itself is fine as it is a motorcycle song being played in an ad that primarily focuses on motorcycle insurance. But what comes across as distasteful is the choice of the location which is the spot where the two main band members from Allman Brothers died in a tragic motorcycle accident a year apart from each other. 

Related: An in-depth guide on choosing the right music for your ads 

Music Can Make or Break Your Ad 

It is true, the choice of music for your ad has the potential to make or break your ad. The role of music in advertisements is undeniably important as it has a direct impact on the ad’s recall as well as the brand’s positioning. Music amplifies the messaging and provides context to the viewer while ensuring the brand gets substantial recognition and top of the mind positioning in the viewers’ minds.  

So, the next time you are choosing music for your ad, make sure you are mindful of the song’s context, sub-context, and the emotions it is evoking.  

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Confused about what music to use for your next ad? Come and try our creative intelligence platform, Incivus, that evaluates the music of your ad and provides insights into the genre, mood, emotions, and instruments which can help you align the choice of music with your ad. 

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