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Algorithm & Blues: Whose Music is This Anyway?
- Monday, Nov. 19, 2018
In last month’s column (click here) we began a conversation about a “great marketing challenge of this moment: assigning a sound to a brand.” The reason it’s such a challenge, I suggested, is that an extremely high percentage of the population in most important demographic groups is now listening to music through streaming services (Spotify, Apple, Pandora…) as opposed to traditional FM radio. Thus, instead of a popular culture in which most humans are listening to the same top-40 songs, we can all create our own, personal playlists based entirely on our “likes,” or have those playlists made for us by the genius algorithm people/bots in the secret streaming compounds 2 miles below the surface of the Earth. Or wherever. I mean, here’s a top 10 song that many in my informal poll had never even heard of— “Taki Taki” by DJ Snake featuring Selena Gomez, Ozuma, Cardi B. What the…??
I’ve discussed many times in this space the role of music as an important emotional touchstone. A language we feel and understand in a very personal way. Plenty of research has already proven that point. So, back to the “challenge” for the marketer: How do I know what music will best support my message to the 24-36 year-old new parents? What sort of music does he or she even listen to? What will resonate with the potential buyers of my $85,000 European luxury car—they used to be in their 50’s or older…now many of them are “just kids” killing it in the tech world. Should I really assume that most of the folks we want to sell this beer to love indie rock? Our destroyed, ripped and distressed jeans are for the Gens Y & Z gang, so what’s gonna resonate with them? EDM? Reggaeton? Dub step? Grime? Pop R&B? Latin trap? K-pop? Everything?
Does the brand really want to think about this? Hell yes, I’d suggest. If it’s investing millions—or much more—in some form of broadcast advertising, it is communicating with its potential consumer in three languages simultaneously: moving images, spoken words, music. (Let’s not forget those 2 discreet neural pathways to the brain assigned strictly to music!) So who is making this decision about the “right” music for that spot? Maybe the creative director. Maybe the director, or the editor? Maybe the CMO (or CMO’s daughter or son)? All of the above have their favorite music, right? You’ve got yours. I’ve got mine. But who’s really sussing it out methodically for the brand?
Spotify would like to please each and every one of its 85 million paying subscribers by giving them a ‘Discover Weekly’ playlist of 25 songs they may never have heard before, but would probably like. So thoughtful! Many people regard this as one of those “How the hell do they do that?” things. Algorithms! Actually, a combination of methodologies involving a massive computer investigation of subscriber listening patterns, music articles & blogs + audio recognition technology that identifies similarities in songs via tempo, instrumentation, melody, etc. That’s a lot of analytics to give you your personalized playlist.
But do agencies and brands have ready access to this sort of deep filtering? I doubt it. Ok, maybe Apple does, with its monumental music resources + brilliant design and branding curation:
For many, however, the content creation landscape has changed so dramatically, so fast, that traditional delivery methods have flipped. Karl Westman, director of music at Ogilvy, notes that “Agency music folks have become human music sharing hubs, senders of files, documentarians of genre, tags and metadata. And new search platforms pop up every year, some so smart I wouldn't be surprised if they start talking back to the user! So in the ad agency world, there’s been a move from music production to music supervision, with licensing often the go-to mode of music procurement.”
Chris Clark, Leo Burnett Group’s director of music, makes a concerted effort to focus the creative and brand teams on music choices that support the concept. “I try to cultivate a subjective music taste that serves the concept more than any one person’s music preferences. This guides whether to find existing music or create something original, and which of the 1000’s of music industry resources and talent can enhance the creative idea. The decision maker is unfortunately almost never the curator/producer of music for advertising, so I apply my experience, passion, patience and partnership to try to convince creative and client teams to make the music choice I believe not only grows the idea but also carves out a brand identity within commercial and popular culture. The latter is always the tougher sell within the sell.”
I’ve written myself into a corner here, because there’s no simple answer to this “how to” challenge of pairing music + brand for an ever more elusive consumer. “I’ll know it when I hear it” is what we hear most often when the “deciders” tell us what they want. So I’ll just pick up the mic and say it: The Music Person—call her/him Producer, Supervisor, Director, Curator—that person should be given a lot of support, a lot of respect. A core voice in the creative process. Because music is a language unto itself, too important to get lost in bad translation. I still gotta give it up to McDonald’s—an entire generation—Gen Z—have literally spent most of their lives associating one tune with one brand.
And I’m still lovin’ it.