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Commercials Where Music Made All The Difference

We can all name an ad that’s left us scratching our heads, wondering what the message was. Conversely, some ads have left us laughing, crying, smiling, and practically throwing our money at the screen. Ads are a key facet of a business's marketing mix, as they are a chance to show personality; to make the viewer feel a certain way about their brand, product, or key themes. One pivotal means of influencing the viewer is in the music choice, and how this works alongside any other visual or aural cues that we’re offered during the ad. With that said, here are 8 ads, in which the music made all the difference.

1. Nike - ‘You Can’t Stop Us’ - 2020.

There isn’t a greater starting point for successful ads than Nike. Their ads ooze inspiration, pride and intensity, and this is reflected judiciously by the musicians in this 2020, mid-COVID advert named ‘You Can’t Stop Us’.

The viewer is eased in with a drone and some tranquil melodic patterns, accompanying a reassuring voice that softly tells us “we’re never alone”. This prefaces the main body of the advert, and a prompt introduction of the violins begins to gradually build the intensity, in parallel with the increasingly inspiring words of the narrator, affirming that “if we’re not taken seriously, we’ll prove that wrong”. The violins then drop out, as the ad’s mood becomes solemn, concerning injuries and worldwide setbacks, and the narrator discusses how “things won’t always go our way”. A piano can be heard, providing a mellow bed for this melancholy mood but, as is consistent with the ad’s message, this doesn't last long and is soon overcome with a second wind of determination. The fast melodies on the violin reappear and are soon accompanied with sustained, intense drone notes and bullish percussion that heightens the inspiration felt by the viewer. At the height of the intensity, the narrator delivers the main message that “we will always come back stronger”, before a final drop in pace brings the journey to a close, and words appear reassuring us that “you can’t stop sport”.

This attitude is mirrored even by the instrumentation. The authenticity of using orchestral, traditional instruments such as violins and pianos, fits with the integrity and the headstrong attitude of the ad. Overall, this commercial is a lesson in cohesion; the music rises and falls in complete unison with the themes that are visible and audible, and creates a complete, holistic journey for the viewer. Nike have always been excellent at this, which is why they boast such a prolific market share, despite the fact that their ads seldom mention any of their products.

2. Salesforce - The New Frontier (Super Bowl Commercial) - 2022

This is a Super Bowl 2022, social action commercial from Salesforce. Super Bowl commercial slots cost an average of $6.5 million, so you’ll seldom find one that isn’t high-budget, star-studded and impactful. These adjectives extend to the music, and this ad for Salesforce is no different; it’s incredibly clever in the way that it moves with the ad. We’re immediately offered a prestigious, household melody by the horns, replicating that of 2001: A Space Odyssey - a song and melody that offers connotations of space exploration and travel. However, as the direction of the commercial pivots and we’re brought visually back down to planet earth, the music moves with this, switching to some friendly drums, and a simple chord sequence. Then, the original S.O. horn melody joins again, creating a modern recontextualisation of the themes - extraordinary exploration of the unknown is now linked to the every-day happenings of a planet we’re all too familiar with. The visual cues also do exactly this, where we can see Matthew McConaughey floating in a spacesuit, past office buildings and confused colleagues. Just like the original Space Odyssey soundtrack, the music comes to an emotional, powerful crescendo, as Matthew delivers the focal line in his script - “it ain’t rocket science; it’s right here!”. Incorporating and reimagining a song that is almost synonymous with space travel is nothing short of brave, but Salesforce have done so tastefully, and created an ad that is cohesive, entertaining, and impactful.

3. Apple - iPhone 13 Pro - 2022

This ad is dedicated to showing off the new features of the iPhone, and while it certainly has an adventurous, extraterrestrial and futuristic tone, this could probably be deduced even with the sound off - a viewer can see explorers diving into caves, driving modern snow-mobiles, and operating futuristic machinery. However, what the music adds is an ominous feeling that wouldn’t be immediately apparent with the sound off. While previous commercials may have opted for traditional, analog instruments such as piano, drums and vocals, the instrumentation in this commercial is modern and digital. There are long, drawn-out moving textures played on modulating synthesizers, while arpeggiating synthesizers offer a modern take on what may previously have been played by an orchestra, creating a fast-paced rhythm to reflect urgency and heighten the tension. Even the intense bass and percussion instruments sound far from analog alternatives that may have previously held reign in this type of advert.

The music feels ever-evolving. New instruments, chords and melodies are constantly being offered to us as we watch new themes, adventures and situations appear in front of us. Eventually, after a lot of tension and build-up, an iPhone hits the floor, immediately triggering the music to resolve to the original key of the song and build again. The viewer’s journey feels like one precarious mountain climb after the other, mirrored by the continuously audacious and valorous actions of the actors on screen. Often, the dramatic makes way for the informative, and the music falls and allows the narrator to deliver the information, before climbing again. Together with music and video, we are overtly offered the message: the iPhone 13 is a device of the future.

4. Apple - iPod and iTunes - 2008

It’s interesting to feature two commercials from the same brand in this blog, to show the versatility in advertising as it pertains to the ad’s purpose. This ad for the iPod is in direct contrast to the iPhone 13 commercial; while the latter gave off high-budget, digital and futuristic , the former plants our feet firmly in the present day of 2008, and creates a minimal but energetic and exciting viewing experience. The music - fast-paced hit song ‘Are You Gonna Be My Girl’ by ‘Jet’ - mirrors the sentiment that was apparent on-screen, with boisterous electric guitars and drums that are the very antithesis of the instrumentation from Apple’s 2022 ad. The idea is to create a feeling of being ‘lost in the music’, and the rockstar-esque groove of this song does this perfectly.

5. Dove - ‘Courage is Beautiful’ - 2020.

This Dove ad is a part of their campaign ‘Beauty is for Everyone’. At 30 seconds, it is relatively concise. That said, however, it doesn’t sacrifice emotional content in the same way that it does length. The relatable, moving subject is accompanied by just a piano, playing a ‘6-4-1-5’ chord progression - a simple but effective sequence used in classic popular songs such as ‘Let it Be’ (The Beatles), ‘Where is the Love’ (The Black Eyed Peas) and ‘Under the Bridge’ (The Red Hot Chilli Peppers). There arguably isn’t a chord sequence that is more synonymous with more emotional depth so, even with a bare instrumental and concise nature, this ad delivers a mood that is sufficiently powerful and coherent.

6. John Lewis - ‘The Man on the Moon’ - 2015.

John Lewis is the U.K. equivalent of Nordstrom, and it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to suggest that people in the U.K. sit eagerly rocking in their chairs for the John Lewis Christmas commercials, more than Christmas itself! They are packed with emotion, but this emotion wouldn’t be nearly as impactful as it is without impeccable choice in music.

The theme in this particular ad, is very wholesome and warm. This is reflected in even the smallest instrumentation choices, such as using a soft female vocal, and pairing this minimally with a piano, playing relatively simple and full chords. Gradually, as the story becomes slightly more frenzied and the protagonist begins her wholesome plan to communicate with the man, a small orchestra (playing sustained notes) and a lo-fi snare drum jump in, but as her plans are unsuccessful and the man grows lonelier, we’re brought back down to just piano and the soft vocal, which ultimately decrescendos to become silence, as we see the man sat on a bench quietly on the moon. As the man looks up, he receives a present - a telescope . The viewer is immediately washed with an overwhelmingly dense instrumental of violins, vocals, piano and cymbals, signaling that this is the crescendo of the storyline, and reflecting the warm emotions of love and appreciation that are displayed as the teary-eyed man sees another person for the first time. The storyline and intensity/density of music rise and fall in tandem, to create an overall, cohesive feeling.

Composition-wise, the piano plays a couple of calculated little tricks, in order to replicate and heighten the ad’s emotive qualities. The first is through opting for an out-of-key A Major (A ‘major supertonic’) chord over the lyric “I can feel the warning signs running around my mind” - a jazz-derived trick designed to create a feeling of suspense and uncertainty (just as the lyric suggests), before ultimately resolving to that warm feeling that the listener craves. Later on, the viewer is treated to a final, suspenseful drop - as the two characters lock eyes and the singer affirms “I don’t feel down”, the piano lands on a C Minor (A Major IV chord) - another hugely-popular ‘chord borrowing’ jazzy trick used in songs such as Bohemian Rhapsody (Queen) and Blackbird (The Beatles). This chord is usually used at the end of an entire phrase, creating a mountain of tension and usually resolving to the key of the song which, in this case, is G Major. As this happens and signals that we’re ‘home’ again, text appears telling us to “Show someone they’re loved this Christmas”.

Just like Nike’s ad, this advert evokes a plethora of emotions. We feel happiness, sadness, determination and anxiety, all rolled into a 120-second rollercoaster, and while these emotions can be evoked purely from visual stimulation, the music undoubtedly multiplies this a staggering amount.

7. Mercedes Benz - The G-Class: Built to Last - 2021

So far, these ads have instilled determination and pride, and tapped into its audiences vulnerabilities through emotively-charged musical choices. However, commercials for cars require a more lateral focus. Those in the market for a Mercedes are looking for a superior car, and this is immediately conveyed through the use of classical music played on just a piano, with an accompanying dancer as a visual signal that Mercedes is traditional and sophisticated. A double-meaning is introduced however, in the sense that this is a little too tranquil of a theme for the G-Class. These cars are more powerful, and attract those who are after a little excitement and adventure. Therefore, some 20 seconds in, fast-paced drums (with an overt reluctance for any vocal or melodic content) almost knock the viewer out of their chair, and those who managed to stay sitting upright will see a G-Class for the first time in this advert, racing through a desert as though it’s a rally stage. The text is minimal, and instead Mercedes allows us to simply watch the product in action, and let the music give us an idea of just how venturesome the owner of this car could be.

The dichotomy created between the two themes expressed here - a brand of sophistication, but a car that is powerful and adventurous - helps us to further understand just how exciting of a product this is, and this idea is conveyed almost single-handedly in the music. Kicking things off with highly-melodic, tranquil music means that the viewer further appreciates the conversely energetic, boisterous reputation that the car is branded as.

8. Cancer Research - Everybody Can Play a Part - 2021

The topic of this commercial is the most sensitive compared to the above, so it’s imperative that the music is not overbearing, but still impactful. Instrumentation here is light; just a piano can be heard playing soft, open changes. This piano coherently and deliberately hides underneath the visual content and narration, whereby we’re warned of the chances of being diagnosed with cancer. As the ad’s mood picks up, and the narrator’s tone changes to one of hope, determination and community, the pianist reflects this by playing with more velocity and dynamics. The chords offer emotional connotations of hope and triumph, played with far more intention than at the beginning of the advert. This ad is tasteful and cohesive; the music rises and falls with the visual content in the same way that the previous commercials’ music does, just with dense and less overbearing instrumentation.

What Have We Learned?

So what’s the takeaway from these examples? Well, music is successful in a video when it moves coherently with the other elements. It might not necessarily set the tone, as that’s already been done by the video. What it might do, however, is stimulate another of our senses; take and emphasize the visual themes that are apparent and transfer them to our ears, or sometimes introduce micro-themes and create nuances in the ways that we perceive what we’ve seen. All of these commercials would have been far less impactful without tasteful, appropriate music, and this is why it’s vital to pick the right music. However, when there are 82 million songs on Spotify alone (MusicWave, 2022), it can be a huge job to sift through and find something appropriate. Try out Studio and let us do the time-consuming work for you.

Like this blog post? Learn more about Studio's music filters, why they matter and how to use them.,-Spotify%20is%20very&text=According%20to%20Spotify's%20data%2C%20they,new%20songs%20added%20every%20day.

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