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Messaging and Music

By Joe Miller | June 11, 2015

Messaging and Music

It is well researched and well documented that a simple tune can amplify any message. So unless you’re a Keats, a Shakespeare, or a Maya Angelou, you should probably set your messages to music if you want them to be remembered.

We see messaging and music done well in a lot of marketing and advertising. We also see it done poorly. And messaging through music happens way more than we might think. A lot of it is very effective, especially when it hits the right emotional chords.

I just came from a lunchtime stroll through downtown. The sun was shining and as I walked I heard a band playing. I was naturally drawn to it — an old-timey British-style brass band playing on an outdoor stage. They looked dignified in their red uniforms and the music, though not my favorite, was really well done. It made me feel comfortable somehow. As I sat and listened it dawned on me that this was the Salvation Army Brass Band… on tour I suppose. Though it may or may not be an organization I support, I ended up dropping money in the red bucket because that band was there. Message received.

Of course we all know about music in movies (you can tell the budget of a film by the amount of original music in it). Without musical cues, how scary would the shower scene in “Psycho” be, or the shark in “Jaws”? In television, the theme songs are the mnemonic device, the cue to sit your butt down and watch.

There are marketers who buy up and repurpose existing popular tunes to push a product and those that invest in a more long-term strategy of creating and owning their assets. I sort of believe it’s lazy and a bit cynical to assume they can replace the associations people already have with famous songs. It costs some serious $ to do that. Even if these attempts at recycling pop culture and throwing it at a specific demographic work, it’s for a short-term sales bump, or a launch. It’s why creating well-crafted, original music for advertising is always more effective. Think Kit Kat, Coke, and many more. But the days of the great jingles are all but over, with a few exceptions. Think NFL, or ESPN. Every football fan, and plenty of non-fans, know the Monday Night Football theme — four powerful notes.

Everyone I know uses music in different ways — to energize, motivate, relax, wallow, forget, remember, escape, enjoyment — whatever their need may be. And they all have specific music for each need. Almost everyone I know uses ring tones to identify people important to them. Every restaurant, medical office, store, even public spaces, uses ambient music — to calm people down or to speed them up.

Music messages cue us when to cry, when to laugh, when to be afraid, when it’s time for a love scene, when it’s over. In many ancient cultures, music (including drums) was messaging — a society’s or tribe’s history, knowledge, and communication — and it carries on to this day. Go to any kind of house of worship.

Interesting that in so many school systems across the country the study of music — proven to improve attendance, test scores and overall student performance, and predate the sciences and language — is often the first to get cut. What’s the message there? That’s a topic for another blog.





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