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Music In Advertising

BY Jonathan Strauss

Music has an ability to evoke emotions that are both elemental and primal. Subsequently, these emotions, on every level, compel an action from the listener. Advertising is looking to oblige consumers’ acknowledgement of a brand, ultimately leading to the purchase of a product. When a good campaign is combined with music, the result is brand awareness and a swell of demand for the product.

There is seldom an ad these days that doesn’t have a jingle or a clip from a top 40 song. There are far too many examples of music in advertising, so I will narrow the scope of my analysis to three car commercials with music: the Swedish car manufacturer Volvo’s XC90, South Korea’s Kia Soul, and Germany’s BMW X4 have excellent examples of music paired with the theme of their brand and the specific car being represented. However, does the music evoke the emotions brands want associated with their product? Does the commercial stick with you?

Let’s start things off with Volvo! Avicii is an extremely influential and popular artist within the electronic dance community. To increase market share of millennials—the most likely group to have heard Avicii’s music—and to evoke nostalgia from other generations, Nina Simone’s rendition of “Feeling Good” is played over a weary Avicii traveling home from his 320-day tour. The images of Avicii coming home bleed into a life flashing before your very eyes: children, family, friends, career, and a renewed energy for life. However, the power in this story comes from the music. A subtle and sentimental melding of Nina Simone’s classic and Avicii’s EDM mastery project the feelings onto you that the images themselves could not hope to conjure.

The promise of reflection and ultimately a renewed sense of life that runs across your screen is carried by the joyous and powerful message of “Feeling Good” which, let’s face it, is how we all want to feel. In 2015, after the ad featuring Avicii was released, the demand for the Volvo XC90 was stronger than ever according to Volvo’s released sales numbers. Subsequently, Volvo increased its ties to music talent in adapting and centering the idea of music as a communication tool. Björn Annwall, the Senior Vice President of Marketing Sales and Service at Volvo Car Group stated, “Music and the emotion it generates are central to how we communicate at Volvo Cars. We are a brand with a clear focus on the people, so music is a natural element in our stories.” Their “A New Beginning” campaign, named for the rejuvenating time Avicii spent at home, was a major success for Volvo. More importantly it is a powerful example of the melding of cinematography and music that is increasingly central to advertising campaigns. “A New Beginning” feels anecdotal and artistic, allowing for multiple connections to be made with the artist and subsequently, the car he uses to get where he is going.

Conversely, we have the Kia Soul. Made in South Korea, the Soul has had three hamsters represent it for going on a decade now. If you’ve missed it, the three hamsters were styled in a ’90s hip hop fashion: they’re colorful elastic pants-wearing, pudgy-looking hamsters. Compared to Volvo, Kia decided to shake up not only the design of their cars but also the way they were advertised.

The spot, “Totally Transformed”, despite continuing the three-hamster joke, took a drastically different tone of self-improvement and trendiness as underscored, highlighted, and thrown in your face using Lady Gaga’s “Applause”. If you feel winded by the jogging, weightlifting, trendy upgrade these three go through in 90 seconds, then the ad has accomplished its goal. “Applause” is poppy, trendy, and curiously intoxicating. The transformation that the Soul goes through is in metaphorical comparison to the hamsters, who are conjuring the image of “sleeker, sexier, and more sophisticated” according to Colin Jeffrey, who directed the spot. “Totally Transformed” imparts feelings of the hardship of change in the workout and the result—which is what most people wouldn’t mind: the applause.

Finally, BMW continuously pushes The Ultimate Driving Machine narrative from new angles. The futuristic, trail blazing, adventurous monologue would mean very little without a piece of music to inform the audience of the awe-inspiring journey this car could take you on. Set to “The Wave” by PlayDis, the roads through city skylines and lush country sides oscillate like the ocean as the X4 traverses all the paths its driver might take.
“The Wave” inspires a sense of adventure and excitement that no other vehicle has the capacity to. Like the 80s synthesized beats from the movie Tron, “The Wave” elicits that exciting new world feeling with bright lights that propel you forward. The future that the ad and its music concoct is nothing short of inspirational and triumphant. The feeling of adventure and the emotions that come with it are exciting and scary. The Wave tempers the negative and bolsters the positive emotions, leading to a promising, dare I say Ultimate Driving Experience that no other car can deliver. The 2016 sales for this model were stronger than the previous year and the following year. “The Wave” would seem to have had the desired effect!

The emotions queued, stirred, and focused by music are important to the advertising business. If you have felt nothing from the images accompanied by the music in anyone of these commercials, it is possible you might be a psychopath. However, if you did feel something, the advertisement has done its job and I’m betting it was the music that caught your attention first!