Music is one of the most valuable tools at an advertiser's disposal. In 2006, the top 100 US advertisers splashed between $150 million and $2 billion just on sound-enabled media, such TV ads and the Internet, according to the Association of National Advertisers. In the UK, it is estimated that in 2008 the spend on acquiring copyright music for synchronization hit £60m ($98.8 million).
But brands have worked to understand how a particular target group, with shared values and aspirations, forms a loyalty to a specific brand. They have figured out how to manage and measure how we respond to color, texture, lighting, and other apparently visceral stimuli. So is sound simply the next frontier?
Sir John Hegarty, the man behind the Levi's jeans and Lynx deodorant ads, once claimed, "Music is 50% of an ad's success." Yet even today very few metrics are regularly applied within the planning and creative processes to measure the value of music and sound to a brand's marketing.
Consumers continue to struggle to connect tracks with most of the TV ads they are subjected to daily. On average, 30,000 commercials use music annually.
Yet at Cannes Lions 2008, an audience of international TV producers, creatives, and brand marketers discovered that, when challenged, they could accurately and spontaneously attribute the correct music to only some five products. Incidentally, one of those was Coca-Cola's "I'd like to teach the world to sing" ad—which aired in 1971.
Sound Can Be an Art and a Science, Too
It is hard to imagine a time when we couldn't put a value on what a brand stands for, but the science of branding is only a little more than 40 years old.
Then, great luminaries such as David A. Aaker, CEO of Prophet Branding Consultancy, and the late Stephen King, formerly head of planning at J. Walter Thompson, put structures and metrics in place that helped us understand what branding meant.
And yet, at the time, the idea that we could put a value on a name or visual was as questionable as today's implication that we can put a value on the sound of a brand.
Sarpel Ustunel, director of Globalview Advisors in London, which provides financial valuation and advisory services, says there is "no simple way to put a price on something that is difficult to put your arms around," but measuring those invisible assets is now a key part of any brand's overall assessment.
Indeed, research conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers in 2005 found "a significant proportion"—potentially more than 60%—of a company's value relates to intangibles.
So why is it that we are still shy about putting any metrics to music beyond likes and dislikes, or chart positions? An old saying among medical professionals says a man scared of a second opinion is scared of his own, but surely creative teams are made of stronger stuff than that?
According to Leicester University's Adrian North and David Hargreaves, consumers are "24% more likely to buy a product with music that they recall, like, and fits the brand compared with 8% where the opposite applies."
That research was conducted in the 1990s, and although it was appreciated by many in the branding industry, today choosing and measuring music is still impulsive and last-minute.
The possibility that every brand has a unique sound "DNA"—music genes that reflect a brand's core values and distinguish it from any other—must merit investigation and consideration.
Smart brands such as Apple are discovering that when sound branding is understood and developed, it provides an additional dimension that can be applied across all platforms.
That added dimension enables the consumer to recognize a specific brand just from its sound. It is crucial, then, if we are to use the real power of music, that the way we choose it advances significantly from the current method of simply picking a track that supports a visual idea or execution.
Getting to the Heart of the Matter
Projects are often executed by separate agencies, across different territories, with disparate ideas of what music they need and how they need it to work.
The fallout from that is music's role and its potential contribution to the brand equity are often compromised. The overall coherency of the brand's sound gets confused and, although effective in that moment of reaching target consumers, may be failing to connect with them on a deeper, more meaningful level.
Brands already invest a huge amount of resources on market research, but current investigation involving music still just seems to flirt with lifestyle or what the consumer likes or remembers.
Of greater value would be understanding the way consumers hear and process music, how that influences their emotional response, and what impact that has on the music "stickiness" to the product.
A step forward would be for brands to become more knowledgeable about how customers actually hear the brand versus how they, as brands, want to sound or think they sound.
Establishing a resonance with consumers who can recognize a brand from what they hear takes time, but it seems that relationship-building practice also is not always factored into the process.
Research has found that when agencies decide to change the "sound of a brand" on a creative whim, it can have a dramatic impact, leaving consumers bewildered and confused.
It would seem, however, that there are several incidents where those agencies' competitors have appreciated the innate value of sound branding and have been known to "pick up" a discarded sound branding.
To avoid that kind of throwaway, brands have to introduce better methods of evaluating how music is connecting with their customers and the level of resonance within their competitors' market.
To manage and measure the value of music, we must first define the "sound of the brand" and what it stands for.
Everyone in the music decision-making process should have a detailed understanding of what is needed for every situation that requires sound beyond the usual calls for "something uplifting and anthemic" or worse: "whatever music will make us look cool—quickly."
In recent years, consumer purchase decisions have gravitated toward a product's emotional attributes vs. its functional benefits. It's as if in an increasing high-tech world, we crave personalization. Music is a powerful medium that can bring the emotional qualities of products and services to life, and with the advent of multimedia platforms, it is brilliantly adaptable to extend a product's or service's reach and engage with the consumer on a multitude of levels.
The beat of the music can connect with the heartbeat of the consumer.
Building Sound Assets—The Way Forward
To achieve the level of sophistication that a brand expects in other aspects of its marketing, a shift in current thinking from music being regarded as a soft service function to a cornerstone of business strategy is vital.
Part of that journey is simply discovering and learning what, where, when, how, and why sound works for a specific brand. "What does my brand sound like?" is the key question that every brand intending to use music in any area of marketing should ask and be able to answer.
The next step toward managing and protecting the sound of your brand is the creation of a music strategy that should be integrated not at the last minute but right up there with the planners.
And if brands are to understand music's role and impact, they will need systems that allow for comparison of costs against market rates, potential savings, process optimization, and best-practices.
They will need to understand how money is allocated and invested in finding and acquiring music properties beyond who is in charge of the overall process and the sometimes-prohibitive demands of procurement departments.
A music strategy should embrace all the ways sound emotionally engages or could tactically reach a consumer and the feasibility of the execution. All that will require new marketing metrics that align the integrity of the music use with the congruency of the brand values.
In that way, every time a brand uses music in any area of its marketing, it will be creating a sound asset. Brands will be creating exciting intellectual properties that move beyond the packaging, the bottle, and the logo, and employ sound that works to support and enhance brand differentiation and consumer loyalty.
Then music will be not regarded as an expensive indulgence but will make it easier for planning, production, and marketing teams to justify their budget requirements.
Those who handle and are responsible for music should welcome the opportunity to have their abilities, strengths, and practices evaluated; it is the only way that brands will get a true music score.
In the words of Stephen King, "We can't plan with guesses and assertions but with truths as best as we can discover it."
The time has come to let music play a real role in a brand's equity. Don't be afraid to reconcile the brand's bottom line with music top lines.