Communication Design,  Marketing Communication,  Marketing Design

What I have learned from Music

Music has been one of the loves of my life and as a Marketer, I feel passionate about wearing the Communicator Hat with a musical background. So, what can we learn from Music in Marketing Communication?

I will consider one of my favorite examples of marketing campaigns where music is the key source of communicative information: Nolan’s cheddar cheese commercial created by John Nolan films. This illustrates the power of music in advertisement.

Element-focused Description.

The Nolan’s Cheddar cheese campaign is an audiovisual video with a strong audio impact. The designers and producers matched the brand with existing music from three popular bands: The Carpenters, The Doors and Survivor.

Instead of having a narrator explain the benefits of the cheddar cheese, the Nolan’s commercial created a tragicomedic story of a mouse with the use of three songs from the bands described before. The visuals and music do the talking about the goal of the mouse: eat the cheese.

The commercial starts with the mouse coming out of his hole in the wall while “Top of the World” by the Carpenters is playing in the background. The slow tempo of this pop and goofy track, makes the viewer feel comfortable, playful and even pleased. It’s like the mouse is enjoying being a mouse. The low register and warm vocals of Karen Carpenter accompanies the mouse, when he was observing and smelling a piece of cheese on a trap. The whole music track displays uniformity in harmony, tempo, dynamics, and rhythm.

At that moment, the designer/producer played a disturbing mousetrap sound, which goes along with the mouse of the story climbing right on the trap. The trap shutting sound (SNAP) immediately elicited emotions of fear, horror, surprise and even sadness. Then, “The End” by The Doors starts playing. The slower tempo, soft and low dynamics and unvaried rhythm of this track, along with the melancholic and sentimental voice of Jim Morrison, were evoking grief as if the mouse finally died trying to eat the cheese.

Then out of nowhere, the very strong and powerful beats of “The Eye of the Tiger” started playing in the background while the mouse begins pushing up on the metal that is trapping him like he is bench pressing it. The fast tempo, rather loud dynamics, fast and lively rhythm of this rock song made the audience associate that moment with happiness, intensity, strong will and energy. After all, we are very familiar with this song that has been the theme from Rocky III movie, and therefore connected to the thrill of the fight, rising up to the spirit of our rival, and to survival. The choice of this music was to suggest the mouse’s will to survive and enjoy his cheese. I personally had mixed feelings when I listened to this musical background when analyzing the ad, because on one hand I found it funny and provocative, and on the other hand I found it inspirational and invigorating.

At the end of the ad, the mouse is sitting on a cutting board with a big block of Nolan’s Cheddar cheese which is a sharp cheddar that is “seriously strong”. The high register of the “The eye of the tiger” still playing in the background elicited a feeling of triumph for this happy ending. I would also add that this song was the reason why I extended the viewing time of the ad the first time I watched it. It conveyed toughness and endurance, which influenced my perception of the cheese product and the Nolan brand.
The ad has somehow defined boundaries between the songs alongside the story. Same as linework and areas of color, the rather abrupt transition of the dissimilar melodies during the commercial helped these elements to set them apart from each other, representing unique moments of the narrative.

Also, the principle of dynamic spacing can be someway applied to the choice of musical background for this ad. In this case, the theory suggests that variety in the elements increases inferences of activity and excitement, while lack of variety may promote a possibly boring nature (J.Krause). Hence, the variety of the songs and tones, tempos used for this ad helped to express energy, interest and commotion, and added a charisma to these elements.

There is always a parallel to the sense of visual hierarchy when you listen to the music in this ad. Each song plays in the background, without having any other sounds overlying that might fight for attention. Hence, I would say the creators used a clean and clear “audio hierarchy” to compel the audience to continue following the composition’s audio cues (songs) as what happens next. Besides, viewers can easily associate each song to each scene’s content.

Another benefit of having “the audio hierarchy” in this ad, is that there was an effective flow among the composition’s elements. The audience logically and easily followed the audio cues to go through the story of the mouse. While listening to the music background, I was able to make sense of the content presented to me.

Element-focused Evaluation

Taking into account that “audience moods and purchase intentions may be affected by background music” I consider that the use of very popular and well-liked songs in the cheddar cheese commercial was very effective to gain attention and interest, as well as to produce empathy.

Likewise, the intentional variations in the music structure of the background music, with diverse tempos, melodies and rhythms successfully resulted in different meanings; leading the audience to associate the commercial and the product it advertises with a variety of feelings. “Research studies in consumer behavior had shown that varying specific background music selections along dimensions of familiarity and liking could affect responses to “advertised” products.” In this case, viewers become emotionally invested in the story that is being told with the mouse. The tempo of the music allowed the audience to experience the shifting emotions of sadness, excitement, wonder, and ultimately joy that the commercial is trying to evoke.

Another emotional response that helps the viewer remember a commercial is the surprise of some unexpected event. The loud sound used for the snap when the trap shut down and choke the mouse, leaves the audience with disturbing and shocking reactions. Since music is emotional, “The end” song created the memory of the mouse dying in his quest for the cheese. Once this musical element makes a deep impression in the audience’s mind, it is very hard to forget it, as it created links in the viewers’ brain. Being provocative and unconventional proved to be effective.

The use of “The eye of the tiger” had greater affective stimulation and persuasion effect than the other two songs. The guitar accompaniment was upbeat and repetitive, leading to a better recall of the melody. Also, there was a dramatic style of the song when started playing at the ad, including feelings of excitement and intensity. Therefore, it made the mouse seem strong and determined while beating the odds. I found this musical moment as uplifting and inspirational, almost like a powerful force. This leads the audience to believe that the Nolan cheddar is a mighty cheese worth trying, which may trigger purchase attitude of the viewers.

Based on the message the advertiser wants to convey about the powerful strength of the Nolan cheese, I can affirm the “Eye of the tiger” was the track that best fitted the image and attributes of the product.
Lastly, the use of music in this ad was original and creative, but was it catchy enough to be memorable? The power of sounds and music must go beyond gaining attention, creating moods, to also enhance the communication message and foster brand recall.

Final thoughts

Even though the three songs chosen for the music background of the commercial are very popular in music history, these are tracks from the 70s and 80s that some generations may not relate to. If the company wants to appeal to a wider target audience, it should consider the choice of popular music tracks that better engage viewers from different generations.

I would also recommend to deeply analyze the aesthetics of the commercial, as we should promote not only to connect on an emotional level to the story or theme of an ad, but also to the brand of the product advertised. In my case, I was able to remember the funny and inspiring story of the mouse fighting for his life to each cheese while “Eye of the tiger” was playing in the back, but I failed to recall the brand or attributes of the product being promoted. Customers must remember the brand to purchase the product, not just the message of the ad. Hence, I would encourage conducting further studies on the effectiveness of sound in advertisements on purchasing power and brand attitudes.

Referenced Elements

I learnt concepts about aesthetics mostly in the book “Visual Design. Ninety-five things you need to know. Told in Helvetica and dingbats.” by Jim Krause.

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