Posted by: soundlounge | January 9, 2009

Choosing Music -Is It Magic & Miracles, or Just a Wing & a Prayer?

It would seem that choosing the perfect music for a commercial is such a rare and special occasion, that we almost speak in reverent, hushed tones when we discuss its success. But with at least £40million being invested in copyright music a year in the UK alone for commercials (which works out at roughly 15,000 ideas that are executed), it would not be unreasonable to ask why so many ideas fall into anonymity, neutrality and are just plain uninspiring. Music & image partnerships such like Leftfield & Guinness, Dvorak & Hovis, or any of the of Waitrose tracks that genuinely and consistently reflect its quality and values, and should give us the foundations to learn.

Another exceptional partnership is the much-feted winner of this year’s Cannes Lions Grand Prix, ‘Gorilla’, created by Juan Cabral at Fallon. ‘Gorilla’ has become the most successful campaign in recent years, with over 10 million hits on YouTube and 93,000 references on Google. With so many devotees, what is it about this particular film that has us all so captivated and spellbound?

Craig Davies (Global Creative Director at JWT) and Chairman of the Cannes Lions Jury described Gorilla as: “a courageous piece of work that defies the conventions of confectionary advertising”. He continued, “ What Gorilla does is to challenge all those assumptions and subverts them all and says chocolate is about pleasure. It’s a great piece of entertainment…. Everyone is waiting for that moment – everyone wants to drum along.”

What is amazing is that in all the reviews and accolades, no one seems to be discussing the actual track itself, ‘In The Air Tonight’ by Phil Collins; the role it plays and why that song works better than any of the other contenders. (Did you know that there were at least 7 other tracks considered for this film – all with amazing drumming sequences? – see below). This track is featured throughout the commercial and whilst even the most visual of people in advertising attribute 50% of the experience of a commercial, to the sound, why are we all so apparently reluctant to analyse music in any debrief in order to understand just how it worked? It would seem that when it does work, we almost treat it like a religious experience, not be questioned but spoken about in hallowed voices. And when it doesn’t work – we all bow our heads.

Watching the Cadbury film with the tracks that got away, it is clear that ‘waiting for the drumming’ is only part of the magic, because while some tracks work, others simply don’t even get close. In the case of Gorilla, the ¬relationship between the music and imagery, combined with the actual moment when the two connect, is almost an exquisite synergy of elements – the moment we see, hear and connect is inspirational. Why with such an abundance of creative excellence around is finding and using music that works with the visuals shouldn’t be such a hard thing to replicate?

With their follow-up, ‘Trucks’, Cadbury/Fallon used the same creative formula and creative team. It would seem that they opted not to go the obvious route and invent something like a ‘trumpet playing gorilla’, but decided to create an ad that had a similar sense of the ‘unexpected’. However comments on this film vary from “Does anyone actually get this crap?” to “The good people in the industry are unimpressed and everyone in the industry knows that this ad fails”.

The consensus appears to be that the reason the Gorilla works is the delicate combination of what we see and what we hear and the emotional connection that makes; that moment when the experience ‘hits the spot’, which is after all the guilty pleasure of chocolate. It could also be that we have a protagonist to connect with – a personality that reaches out to us, whereas with ‘Trucks’, we only have a series of ‘faceless’ airport vehicles. To be fair, we do get a glimpse of a driver’s arm or hand but that feels like more of an editing oversight than a genuine reaching out to the viewer.

Both commercials use great tracks. Both use music that actually scored off the page ‘love- scores’ in a recent music industry survey, so the public loved and adored these tracks long before Fallon served them back to us covered in chocolate. The truth is we were already open to the visual ideas. The music in both commercials had already primed us to look up at the screen by acting as semantic and somatic markers – powerful, unconscious associations. It is clear that the music carries these visuals from the opening bars, but that doesn’t answer why the Trucks film does not win our hearts in the same way as Gorilla.

It may come down to a basic question – how and where do inspirational ideas manifest themselves? Are concepts like Gorilla, so visionary that the people behind the idea would almost have us mortals believe it is the result of divine intervention? It’s true that great creative minds do have the ability to distill complex ideas down to their essence and seem to understand innately how to express ideas in ways that rest of us can only aspire. But what makes an idea original?

The ‘Gorilla’ idea itself is one that appeared in a sketch from the Mighty Boosh. So is it possible that all inspiration comes from some form of plagiarism, where we ‘borrow’ elements from another existing idea and adapt them, which in itself is the essence of creativity – seeing things in a different way. But as much as we creative souls all want to be recognised for our art, the truth is that ultimately we work for the brand and our job is to create environments to sell products. So as an employee what it comes down to, is there any way we can do our jobs better with sound. Is there a way that we can dissect out these elements in order to understand how ‘genius’ can be replicated?

Looking back we can see that great music choices work like metaphors for the brand off the screen; metaphors that make us feel good about the brand, so that when we just hear that track in another context or environment, we feel great about that product all over again? These creative teams have created sound assets for their brands, music that goes on connecting long after we have reached for the remote control. So, what can a creative team to do to use music to increase the odds from 1 in 15,000? Are there any ground rules that we can apply?

We know that:
• There is more to just liking/loving a song for it to work with a visual – it’s a good place to start but it won’t provide the whole picture.
• Loving the music has to go beyond the inner sanctum of the editing suite. The consumers also have an emotional investment in music, which may affect their subsequent buying behavior.
• Music should support the visual whether directly or ironically. If it is only to act as sound wallpaper, large sums of money spent on big tracks, for the sake of a big track – ARE a wasted investment. 
• All music should take a film to a whole different level and add another emotional dimension, regardless of whether it is library, original composition or a copyright track.
• Unlike a feature film, commercials don’t enjoy the luxury of time – creatively we have a meager 30/40 seconds to make our point and connect. The advantage of a well-known track is that they will do this in seconds.
• Great tracks will prepare the viewer for ‘what they are about to receive‘ visually, but they can only do so much. Music will never substitute for a poor visual idea where its role is to fill the silence by simply using music to hit the synch points.

A large iPod collection is a good place to start to find ideas, but it would seem that there is the illusion of what feels like a good idea and what actually has all the right components is something completely different. We have to allow enough time to be creative enough to get past the “I need a piece of music that works with this visual” way of working and then we have to be brave enough to go for a second opinion outside the editing suite before we go on air, by asking the people who will actually buy the product.

Music and the visuals have to work seamlessly together; when one outshouts the other, it can be de-stablising to the whole experience. We literally feel out of synch. Sound and vision must have an almost symbiotic relationship with each other. It may seem an obvious conclusion, but perhaps it is only through the perfect convergence of all these elements, that we will begin to see commercials as successful as Gorilla on our screens more often.

…or of course, we can all continue to choose a track that seems to ‘work’ and hope and pray that something miraculous will happen!


Brian Kelly – Creative Director, soundlounge
Ruth Simmons – Managing Director, soundlounge


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