Ask any Music Supervisor and they will tell you that most tracks are chosen on gut instinct by the creative teams, late in the creative process. Ask the Creative Director for some direction and the response is, “Keep the suggestions coming – I’ll know it when I hear it.”

Millward Brown is one of the most respected consumer research companies in the industry. Their report on behalf of Brandsense revealed that music is considered nearly 50% of the consumer’s experience.

Yet music is chosen on instinct and customer research is based on memorability and like or dislike. When music is this important to the consumer, it needs much better measurement.

Why do brands use music? It’s so easy to roll out clichés like, ‘Music is an emotional shortcut to capture the consumer’s heart and support the narrative’. The real question has to be, ‘A shortcut to where?’ Get it right and the consumer is listening. Get it marginally wrong and the viewer is gone way before the strap-line.

There are four stages of engagement when we hear music:

  • Physical awareness of sound – I hear music
  • Cognitive – What am I hearing? Where have I heard this before? What was I doing?
  • Emotional – I feel something
  • Reaction – What does it make me do? – Tap my foot? Laugh? Cry? (or buy?)

We are now dealing with a powerful consumer who has an attention span of eight seconds and gives four seconds to engage with an ad before they ‘Skip Ad’.  For a commercial to work, it HAS to happen in those few seconds. There’s no time for lengthy dialogue – it stops us getting to the emotional, which music fulfills.


But music doesn’t work in a vacuum. It comes with all sorts of signposts we have set up as markers in our brains. It is what enables us to connect so quickly. To create successful and effective commercials we have to understand how the consumer feels about taking a track that existed in another life for them when using it to sell a product.

Yet we remain oblivious to what impact music has on the message. In an area where a brand measures and benchmarks almost every other aspect of the brand’s performance, music is not monitored until some six months after the first broadcast.

We once worked with a brand who used a piece of commissioned music written to picture and it tested beautifully in pre-production. The audience loved it, and critically, understood the message. The music was switched at the last minute to another piece. The ad, with a full European media spend, was retested six months later. Disaster. It wasn’t working on any level.

Only the music had changed. The client asked if that could really be the cause. The agency responded by suggesting another track – something BIG that would absolutely tick “memorable” and “like”. They chose one of the world’s biggest stars and wanted the original master – almost $1million. The client still wanted to understand how one piece of music could work so well and be replaced by one that failed on so many levels.

We suggested that we test and compare against the campaign objectives:

  • The original commissioned track
  • The broadcast track
  • The BIG track in all its original glory with lyrics
  • An instrumental version of the original
  • A re-recorded instrumental version (We were all curious. Would the consumer notice the $450,000 difference?)

The results were not a surprise. The lyrics got in the way as well as the artist’s mega-fame. The instrumental versions worked better (and no, they couldn’t tell the difference). But it was very clear that whichever version, the audience was getting distracted by the provenance of the song.

The hard truth was that the original discarded track worked brilliantly. The harder truth is that in the editing suite the decision to choose a new track was a mistake because it was based purely on personal taste and intuition.

When academic research shows that if music fits the visual there is a 1200% increase in the consumer remembering your brand why are we still relying only on “memorable” and “like”? A number like that is a compelling reason to change the focus.

I will leave you with another question:

When do you want to find out that your music isn’t working? Six months and £7.5 million of a media spend later, or through research whilst creative decisions are being made?

– Ruth Simmons, CEO, soundlounge