Radiohead, one of the UK’s most coveted bands (and until recently a reluctant source for synchronisation) have allowed one of their tracks to be used in the National Coalition for the Homeless’s most recent commercial. The use of Radiohead’s “MK 1” on the NCH commercial titled “It Can Happen to Anyone”, is a subtle and effective marriage of band and brand. However, even an avid listener of Radiohead might find it challenging to identify the music. Drawing the connection is not what the NCH is after; instead it undoubtedly relies on the emotional elements of the track which make the sound fit to picture naturally – and most importantly, to brand.
But why use Radiohead? How does it work? What does it tell us about sonic branding?
Considering the tone of the video, which shows a young female rewinding from her meal out of the waste-basket, into the alley-way where she has presumably spent the night in a cardboard box (a depressing setting) – the erie minor falsetto drone of Radiohead appropriately compliments the images. As the ad aims at raising awareness on the “It Can Happen To Anyone” tag-line, it evokes an anxious sound-scape with its music; and doesn’t turn it into a Radiohead commercial -who’s popularity and sonic recognition could have been a distraction.
Without question, this is big news around for those in the sync licensing industry who have been turned down by Radiohead in the past. Many have attempted to be the first to license the UK alt-rock giants, but most if not all have failed to land the deal on a TV campaign until now. Is this the start of artists who have been protective of their image starting to open up doors? Don’t get your hopes too high, but for all that saw the recent John Lewis commercial from the holiday season featuring the Beatles’s “From Me To You,” knows of the power of sound -certainly for the rarely marketed rock super-groups such as…Radiohead. One has to wonder weather or not John Lewis’s 27% percent sales increase in the last quarter of 2008, amid the looming economic recessions, had anything to do with the ‘sound of the brand.’
For the NCH, the effectiveness of their commercial is made possible because of a wise creative ear on the grindstone. The use of the socially aware Radiohead with the National Coalition for the Homeless, is a strong example of a brand and sonic fit, where the music literally story-tells and hits you in the gut. Otherwise its just background noise, which is either forgotten or eliminated with the push of a button.