Prasoon Joshi
Jul 4, 2016

Cannes 2016: Music reduced to jingles, but songs can build brands

Prasoon Joshi from McCann, a songwriter and Indian classical music fan, found judging the inaugural Music Lions more intricate than he thought.

Prasoon Joshi
Prasoon Joshi

In 2016, Cannes Lions introduced an entirely new category, the Music Lions. Having been through the Print, Film, Outdoor and the chairing experience of Titanium and Integrated Lions in previous years, as well as my own penchant for all things music, this fledgling caught my attention and I readily came on board.

Music is intriguing, be it a bird song, a human voice, an algorithmic composition or the cosmic sound of nothingness. It has played a huge role in making us the mass-connected civilisation we are today. Over the last few years technological advances in this field have led to fundamental change, not just in the form, but also in the ways that we express ourselves via music.

I recall, as a pre-teen living in a small town, it was not easy to find music stores, especially ones that stocked Indian classical music. It simply did not make business sense, as there was little demand for it. But I constantly sought it. If someone had a recording, I would plead and badger till I got to borrow it.

Then came the cassette and the hunt for someone who owned a two-slot music system that had a recorder and would copy it for me. With details carefully written down on the cover, the cassette became a small treasure. A certain memory, a kind of a narrative built around that thirst and search.

Today, all I need is a credit-card number and an internet connection to buy music. 

Today, music content is readily available, but the narrative is rare.

In fact, I wonder if we listen to music for the love of it or simply as a memory device. Often, some pieces of music—whether classical or folk—have to be made palatable for ‘popular’ listening. Words are oversimplified, and, in some cases, dumbed down to create a hook line.

Are we then dealing with minds that are conditioned culturally? At times, reaction to music seems almost premeditated. Do we just buy a block of emotions: ‘nostalgic’, ‘romantic’, ‘spurned in love’, ‘devotional’, ‘country’, ‘rebel’, ‘techno’, ‘party’? Preconceived emotions surge and numb us into enjoying a song that fits into a familiar mold.

The creative construct of a song—the complexity of composition, the depth of the lyrics or the intricacies of instrumentation—rarely gets any attention. The criteria for judging music seems to have been reduced to one, all-encompassing, quality: entertaining.

Is this perhaps, a reflection of our times: instant gratification over the weight of content?

With such myriad thoughts abuzz, I joined the music jury members in a small, tight room. I looked forward to the wireframes dissolving, and to hear pieces of work that moved the market and the mind.

It is an interesting new category for advertising. Being part of the music industry as a songwriter, I have judged pure music awards but the approach is different. Music there is the complete product.

In advertising, while we have seen brands using music since time immemorial to build connections, the jingles and signature tunes are support devices to sell products.

So, judging this category was more intricate than I thought. For example, the entries included albums of artists, who are brands in themselves. So you have a music icon using music to promote his/her brand versus a consumer brand using music to further equity among consumers.

With this conundrum, we took the call of having not one, but two, Grand Prixs. And I think that it was a fair one given the diversity of exceptional work at hand.

These are some of the entries that I particularly enjoyed:

  • 'Home for Christmas' for Edeka supermarket, which was built around an old man faking his death to get the family together for Christmas. It has a quintessential use of music woven into the narrative.
  • Another favorite was Beyoncé’s album. She has done era-defining work. Her music has a telling socio-political take.
  • The Usher entry in the 'Don’t look away' campaign is a great way to integrate the message, music and technology.  
  • The 'NFL Superbowl Babies' anthem was a tongue-in-cheek one.
  • Finally, Thailand’s 'Safe and Sound' is a socially responsible product by an insurance company, keeping in mind precarious situations on the road, which joggers get themselves into while listening to music on their headphones. It was a fantastic innovation. 

The Music category at Cannes Lions was waiting to happen. Despite being the first year, we saw such a variety and maturity of work. I am glad Spikes is following suit with a similar ode. To more music then.

Prasoon Joshi is chairman of McCann Worldgroup Asia Pacific and CEO & CCO of McCann India



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