Why Music Will Always Be the Answer Even When It Isn’t

By Al Mills, ECD at Impero

I find myself watching a video featuring Guns n Roses running around at a huge stadium gig, but with no music playing. Just the sound of them panting and grunting and the pitter patter of their little shoes on the stage. It’s so funny, I nearly snorted out my Katsu Curry: the power of music, proven by its absence. So often if you take away music, you’re left with something completely lacking, or in this case absurd.

With the risk of being screamingly obvious, music plays a crucial role in advertising. And when it’s not being used, that’s a brave decision. It’s a shortcut to evoke emotion and provide an array of associations for an audience to understand the product or service.

As an example, I’ll use a sort of ad, but not really an ad – the title sequence for everyone’s favourite show: Succession. Yes – it tells you a lot visually, but it’s the music that grabs you by the pants and gives you a metaphorical wedgie. It screams gravitas, absurdity, power and wealth. The composer, Nicholas Britell explains how he did it by creating music that felt the Roy Family would imagine for themselves. He then made it even more overblown with hip hop beats and dissonant notes that made it off-kilter like the family dynamics. It’s an absolute work of art.

That off-kilter technique is one that can have enormous power in advertising. CALM’s “Last Photo” used Bring me Sunshine, re-recorded by Beth McCarthy to heart-breaking affect. It’s counterintuitive and the perfect backdrop to the videos.

When it’s well-established, a choice of music can create more salience than the brand and logo itself. Back in the 1970s you had music which became synonymous with the brand, like Carmina Burana, for Old Spice – a soundtrack to surfers doing macho and refreshing things like… surfing. Now it’s We buy any car – with a reboot of Friday by the Riton x Nighcrawlers. It’s a load of old silly nonsense (again), but fun and effective, nevertheless.

Catchy tunes are gold dust, the jaunty little “dumb ways to die” is still being sung by kids all over the world fifteen years on, my nephew included. And for the same reason a jingle is still worth an enormous amount to a brand. If you can get your devious little earworm into someone’s brain, they might not thank you for it, but it will allow your brand to live rent free there for a little while. I can recall the intel melody more easily than my own name.

But the music doesn’t have to dominate, its role can be subtle and all-the-more powerful for it. Perhaps sometimes you won’t notice it at all, and yet it’s still there doing its job, making you feel something.

Which takes me back to that Guns n Roses gig with no music. Its absence is as powerful as its presence. So, the choice to use music or not use it, is crucial, but it’s a choice you must make, not one to just let happen. It should be one of your first questions. How should this film, or piece of content sound? What do I want viewers to feel, and can we make that feeling as deep rooted and rich as it can be?