Music plays a significant role in establishing identity. More often than not, the music we listen to says a lot about who we are, where we come from and occasionally, what we stand for. It is the essential soundtrack to our daily lives, reflecting both our moods and actions, to the point where we even dress and speak accordingly. The lyrical verses of Hip-hop and Rap, for example, have created a dialect (not to mention a universal culture) that is uniquely their own. The same goes for Indie Rock, Gospel, Heavy Metal or Happy Hardcore.
Capitalizing on its associative properties, brands have been exploiting music to create their own identities. Their aim is to capture a target audience with the use of iconic sounds. Undoubtedly, it is a highly effective way of triggering brand recognition, relaying values, and ultimately, winning consumer loyalty. That is to say, if music is used correctly.
At the 7th edition of CreativeMornings Utrecht (28 September 2012), musician and entrepreneur Joost Haartsen explored the evocative nature of music and its effectiveness in branding. A former member of the Dutch band IOS (IsOokSchitterend) and brand manager for BMG and Sony BMG Music Entertainment,, Haartsen is all too aware of music’s persuasive clout. His agency, 150dB develops audible concepts and campaigns that communicate brand values, and acts as a creative intermediary for the appropriate use of sound.
“Music is emotion,” says Haartsen. It has the ability to unlock memories from our childhood (or the recent past) and the feelings we associate with them. That being said, memories are very much a sensory affair. While a lingering scent can take us back to our first kiss, so too can a sentimental love song or a cheesy summer hit. Moreover, collective memories can also be accessed through sound, particularly when an anthem is symbolic of a tragic or joyous event. It is precisely for these reasons that music is often integrated into marketing campaigns. “Brands love music,” Haartsen claims, “because it allows them to relate to the consumer in an emotional way.” Whether it actually does is a separate matter entirely.
Although sound may be implemented as an adherent tool for communication, it too has the disadvantage of being overly distracting. Likewise, artists who endorse certain brands can have the same effect since they are brands themselves. Hence, the underlying message is completely ignored by the consumer, resulting in the loss of potential sales. This, according to Haartsen, can be attributed to the fact that music is frequently relegated to the tail end of the planning pipeline –sort of as a last resort or an afterthought– when the majority of the campaign budget has already been spent.
“Music must be seen in another way,” Haartsen argues. In order for sound to add value to a brand, it must be included in the early stages of conceptualization. Not only should the choice of music appeal to the target audience, it must deliver a clear, coherent message. “If you don’t know how to put the question,” he says, “how will you ever answer it?” Indeed, the uninformed have difficulties making choices. The same applies to brands bent on coining “hollow phrases to explain what they want to achieve.”
In the end, silence might just be the best option. Because we are so inundated with sound in our everyday lives, its excessive application in branding obtains only diminishing returns. Be that as it may, Haartsen insists that music must be embraced as an integral part of the creative process from the very beginning, thereby closing the gap between how it is used effectively, if it is even used at all. As with any brand campaign, the underlying message takes precedence over all. Music is only meant to enhance. As Haartsen puts it, “If you can’t follow the beat, don’t try to dance to it.” ✌
 Haartsen used “Urban” as an example, indicating that the term is widely open to interpretation. Hip-hop, Indie Rock and the “Dirty Dutch” bass lines of DJ Chuckie all fall in the same vague category. ✍
☞ For more information on Joost Haartsen, 150dB, CreativeMornings Utrecht and CreativeMornings™, visit the websites listed below: