Sounds like a hit: How brands are cutting through the noise using original music marketing
As brands continue to go viral on TikTok owing to their clever use of original music, the role of sound in campaigns is becoming less of an afterthought and more strategically significant for standing out in a crowded digital landscape.
Let’s face it, we’re drowning in content these days. Cutting through the noise and standing out has become increasingly difficult. But some brands are seeing success by making original music a more prominent part of their campaigns in ways that are pricking ears, commanding attention and even going viral.
Cosmetic brand e.l.f. is a prime example. Back in 2019, the brand created a campaign called #eyeslipsface consisting of an original song and hashtag that was so catchy, it became the most viral campaign in TikTok US history, attracting five million user-generated videos and totalling seven billion views. Celebrities like Ellen, Lizzo, and Reese Witherspoon joined in organically. The original song hit number four on Spotify’s global chart, and earned media passed 1.5 billion impressions.
e.l.f.'s fresh, catchy, brand-forward song was able to go viral thanks to TikTok's capacity to boost the popularity of sounds, both new and old, and create associations between songs and trends on the platform.
"A short piece of sound now has the ability to go viral in the same way that visual memes used to, getting remixed and reimagined in thousands of new ways," says Ryan Dickinson, creative director at MassiveMusic Singapore. "When executed strategically and effectively, this becomes a powerful tool for brands to have their brand message spread organically but, for this to happen, music and sound must be integral components of the concept from its inception."
"Viral moments with branded, owned music will become even more instrumental for brands looking to differentiate themselves in competitive markets," says Michele Arnese, founder and global CEO at Amp Sound Branding.
Evolution of the ad jingle
Just like all types of advertising, the traditional ad jingle has changed since its humble inception approximately 100 years ago. Jingles were originally designed to be catchy and repetitive, aiming to firmly implant the brand name in the minds of consumers. But these days, modern audiences tend to perceive such jingles as irritating and overly sales-oriented.
"They [consumers] may view brands using jingles as trying too hard to sell them something, rather than genuinely wanting to build an emotional connection and convey their brand values, which is a much stronger lever of success on social platforms like TikTok," says Florent Adam, managing director, APAC at sonic branding agency Sixième Son.
Today’s version of a jingle is a two-to-three second sonic logo; a melodic signature a brand uses consistently to sign off on all of their messaging.
"We rarely see clients who want a traditional jingle with a song singing the product name like the good old McDonalds 'I'm lovin' it'. The classic jingle was primarily made for TV and radio, but today, consumers are shifting to other platforms," says Karsten Kjems, audio branding specialist and CEO of Sonic Minds.
"The jingle has evolved to become more of a signature sound, designed for various platforms and media so it can be used flexibly across brand touch points."
Brands seldom want a traditional jingle with a song singing the product name like the good old McDonalds 'I'm lovin' it' anymore.
In fact, these days, the audio logo is just one component of a comprehensive sonic ecosystem that is designed as a part of a brand’s overall sonic branding strategy.
"Typically, a sonic or audio logo is complemented by what we call a 'DNA track': A full-length track that reflects the values of the brand we work with," says Dickinson. "But it doesn’t stop there. We can create variations of that same DNA track, along with user interactive (UX/UI) sounds or any other audio assets the brand might need. The key is to be ownable and adaptable at the same time."
This means taking that traditional idea of a jingle, where the music tells the brand story in a song, and turining it into a versatile range of styles and lengths.
"It’s this consistency that allows a branded red thread to emerge across all of the sonic touchpoints where a consumer will hear them," adds Dickinson.
Create an original song or license a famous one?
While brands like e.l.f. have achieved huge viral success by creating their own original music, there's no denying the power of using established famous songs to prick ears and get you noticed. Who can forget the masterful use of the Phil Collins song 'In The Air Tonight' in the Cadbury gorilla advert? While the gorilla was used to great effect, it was ultimately the song that made the ad iconic and unforgettable.
As it turns out, it's much more cost-effective for a brand to create its own original piece of music that they own, as opposed to licensing music from a famous artist.
"The reason is, that if the brand creates and owns music, the brand then has the ability to use it across its own advertising and campaign channels cart blanche, without restriction," says Chris Chalmers, Sydney-based music supervisor & founder of global music supervision and rights licensing agency, Charmed I'm Sure.
Chalmers says the cost of creating a new piece of music for TikTok/advertising (that does not feature any 'famous' artists as features or collabs) is usually in the region of AUD $10,000 to $50,000 (US$6,500 - $32,000) depending on the complexity of the music production. Meanwhile, to license a famous song, the default is usually around AUD$100 to 200,000 (US$64,000 to $128,000) per year.
"In these instances, the brand very much understands that whilst the fee might be high, attaching an enormous song from the 70s, 80s, 90s or today, to their campaign can help deliver a ton of credibility and affinity to the brand," adds Chalmers. "There's a reason brands are prepared to spend big on licensing famous existing songs, because it has worked for half a century."
But licensing famous songs for use in campaigns can have its drawbacks too. While riding on the success of established songs from artists like Dua Lipa or Ed Sheeran may seem appealing, research indicates that licensing synchronised tracks from famous artists can lead to the audience focusing more on the artist than the brands.
"This is especially problematic given that most of the audience do not pay full attention when an ad is running—and might then only 'hear' the artist (and not the brand), while their eyes and focus are elsewhere," says Adam. "Furthermore, artists are powerful brands themselves too—which could cause your brand to be further overshadowed by the artist. Brands might want to avoid this cannibalisation of attention between their brand, and the artist."
Vital role and impact of music
Following the viral success several brands have had in creating original music, there is growing awareness among both brands and agencies of the vital role and impact of music, whereby music is no longer an afterthought, but is given more prominence.
Consequently, brands are increasingly exploring various other avenues in music marketing, sound design, and audio experiences.
Retail is one of the areas where more brands are implementing sound strategies in physical stores and spaces to enhance the overall shopping experience.
"Since the arrival of e-commerce, the retail industry has been faced with the challenge of redefining the in-store customer experience," says Sixième Son's Florent Adam. "Smell, sight, taste, touch and hearing are exactly what makes the physical shopping experience. The sensory experience is the reason why some consumers will prefer a visit to the store rather than purchasing on the brand's digital platforms."
And on the side of e-commerce, Adam says that brands are also creating unique audio experiences that allow consumers to interact with and discover their products differently.
"Sound can further enhance the online purchase experience through providing another dimension beyond just visual. This is even more important for products that we would normally taste, smell or touch before deciding to make a purchase (e.g. Perfumes, beverages, food, etc)."
Artist partnerships are also proving to be an effective tool for brands and, with the constantly evolving media landscape, we are seeing new and different ways of how this is taking place.
Artist partnerships are also proving to be an effective tool for brands, like Starbucks’ recent partnership with BLACKPINK.
"Sometimes, it’s the more traditional approach where an artist will appear in a brand message, record a song for a campaign, or have a brand as a sponsor on a tour," says Dickinson. "Other times, it can be utilising an artist’s fan base for a product launch to create an initial buzz."
Starbucks’ recent partnership with BLACKPINK is a great example of this where the chain launched a new flavour in collaboration with the artists. They gained considerable traction on social media and sold out almost immediately.
But overall, and thanks in large part to the vitality of original music on platforms like TikTok, music and sound is gaining more strategic importance when it comes to shaping campaigns.
"Original music in ad campaigns is receiving more attention and is more and more considered a strategic lever of success for an ad campaign," says Adam. "Unlike in the past, music was often an afterthought in the production process, brands are now involving music composers like us at the outset of the creative process. This recognition underscores the strategic significance of music, placing it on equal footing with the campaign's narrative, visuals, and casting."