Strike a Chord

by Rick Petry on Feb 16, 2016 1:09:11 PM DRTV

shutterstock_544673651-470x187-584711-edited.jpgYou’ve dialed in your commercial script and honed your message. You’ve crafted the ideal positioning to support product differentiation, harnessed the perfect talent, and created graphics to support your brand’s unique look and feel. What’s left? Music.

Too often, music is the unsung hero of advertising, relegated to being only an afterthought. And that’s a shame, because music is a powerful tool of persuasion that can engage audiences on a visceral level unlike anything else.

Music’s role is significant because—as every marketing professional knows—effective advertising is a combination of rational and emotional attributes. The rational part of the equation is the simple part: It is an argument that makes the case for a particular product or service; you can call it the pitch. The emotional part is more challenging to direct, and that’s where music comes in. Here are just some of the reasons why music can play such a dynamic role in advertising:

  • Music cues the scene. Taking a lighthearted approach to creative? Going for poignancy? Nothing tips the audience off to your intent like music. For example, a tale of struggle and triumph in a weight-loss testimonial can begin on a somber note, and end with a stirring bridge. Music has the power to create an involuntary physical reaction such as opening the tear ducts. What else can do that?
  • Music creates empathy. Sympathy is the capacity to feel sorry for another, whereas empathy is far more powerful because it is the ability to relate to another. Empathy is a forceful advertising lever because it enables the viewer or prospect to identify with the story told in the most compelling way. The right soundtrack can add dimension by punctuating and deepening those feelings.
  • Music creates differentiation. Whether it’s a jingle, a mnemonic device, or a popular hit song, music can help set an ad and/or a brand apart. For years, Intel has used the five-note “Bong” sound at the end of its advertisements to create brand indelibility. You probably know it well. Such a signature note acts as an audible cue that gives a brand its own distinctive ring, much like a logo or a tagline.
  • Music is associative. Popular songs impart memories and sensations that are often positive or nostalgic. The advertiser is able to draft off of the collective consciousness an audience has with a particular song that imparts good feelings. Sometimes, the song is used to humorous or ironic effect, such as the current GEICO ad featuring one-hit wonder Europe and its signature tune, The Final Countdown. Sometimes, music provokes sentiment, such as the use of Sarah McLachlan’s Angel in a campaign against animal cruelty for the ASPCA.
  • Music fosters memorability. The right music is “sticky.” Continuing education advertiser Education Connection, for example, has used original jingles to great effect as part of its ongoing television campaign. (Full disclosure: The author served as lyricist for Education Connection’s most recent jingle, in collaboration with composer Pat Rickey of Downpat Music.) Once these compositions get stuck in your head, it is—for better or worse—very difficult to get rid of them. If you have children, you already know this, because you’ve heard them sing a popular jingle from the back seat of your car.
  • Music works subliminally. While much of advertising is overt and in-your-face, music can work persuasive magic beneath the surface. Given how cynical today’s consumers often are, music can exert force in a way that disarms audiences without them necessarily being actively aware of it. It can open up otherwise closed minds to a marketing message because it works on such an emotive level.

If you think of your ad as a story, music is a natural through-line that not only accompanies the story, but also helps hold it together—no different from the way in which movie soundtracks stir emotion. A commercial soundtrack acts as an auditory guide that conducts the audience through a series of feelings, building to a climax or call-to-action. And while there are scores of music sites willing to help an advertiser find and use music cheaply and cheerfully, original music—like an original script—is ideal, because it can be crafted to match the trajectory of the dramatic arc on display.

“Viewers buy when they feel good, and carefully crafted, original music scored to your infomercial or spot creates an emotional, feel-good response inside the bones of that viewer,” Rickey says. “That sensation can inspire them to pull the purchasing trigger.”

Furthermore, original compositions don’t have to be cost-prohibitive; original music often represents a tiny fraction of a campaign’s total budget. Put music at the top of your list of must-dos alongside creative, production, media, and logistics, and you might just be humming all the way to the bank.

Rick Petry is a freelance writer who specializes in direct marketing and is a past chairman of ERA. He can be reached at (503) 740-9065, online at, and on Twitter @thepetrydish.

The above blog post was adapted from the “Dish With Rick Petry” column published in the Jan.-Feb. issue of ER magazine.

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