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Behind the Music

November 2, 2010

I love this song, Fiya by the Tune-Yards, and I was lucky enough to be turned on to them in late 2009 by a tuned-in friend. When I heard it in this Blackberry commercial, however, I was a little heartbroken. This happens to me frequently with songs used in ads, and I hear similar complaints from my musically-hip compadres. But I started thinking – Why? Why do we hate to hear music we like in commercials?

Popular music is referred to as such because it is popular, right? So I am making an advertisement, and I am going to find the most popular song in the world to put as a background track. This way everyone who watches my ad will hear their favorite song, and therefore like my product better.

Isn’t this a tenet of advertising? Sometimes.

This would seem like logic. I.E. if everyone likes the color purple, put purple in your ads and people will like them more. Music must be chosen very carefully, keeping in mind first and foremost how it fits with your brand. Fit is the most important factor, since your song may be popular with the entirely wrong audience. Please see fig. 1:

song fit

fig. 1: purple is good

Let me illustrate with a few recent examples:

  1. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups/ Excuses by Morning Benders – Good Fit, song is relaxing, a little hard to get, fun
  2. NFL/ Home by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes – Reach, NFL is trying hard here to relate to its less-traditional fans
  3. Subaru/ If I Should Fall from Grace with God by The Pogues – Great Fit. Out of the ordinary, great song, captures hockey mom lifestyle.
  4. Blackberry Torch/ Fiya by Tune-Yards (above) – Poor Fit. Wanted to get this straight. The riff is catchy but the song placement is misguided. You just gotta listen, man.

So you picked a song that fits your brand – but now you have to be sure to run the campaign at the exact right moment. This is especially important with cutting-edge brands like Blackberry, Apple. If you can introduce viewers to new music that they like, aren’t you just as good as any cool friend? It is an extreme faux-pas among cool kids to be at all behind the times, or (God forbid) to have poor taste in music. See fig. 2:

lifecycle of a pop song

fig. 2


Playing a popular song in your advertisement can really excite listeners, but only if it is aired during the upswing in popularity when the early adopters are tired of it and the majority is just now hearing about it. Too late, and nobody will want to look the song up online because they already know what it’s called. Too early, and your audience might be confused, feel un-hip.

The issue I have, I realize, is more about coming to grips with my unique interests not being so unique after all. But I also feel like I deserve some credit, since I may have helped popularize this song. Even if it was just telling a few select people to ‘listen to this track.’ (I always get a sick pleasure when they politely tune it out.) Having to earn the pleasure of hearing it played over a cutesy Blackberry spot feels like a put down, even though it confirms how trendy I was a year ago. Does everyone feel this way? Does the vast majority watch this and say, ‘Hey, that’s catchy, I’m going to go buy a phone!’ Or do they just flip channels?

I think it is always safest to go with a customized jingle. Do not anger the early adopters, their brand opinion holds more weight than you can imagine.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. November 2, 2010 7:29 am

    It is ok for me to watch those Tv with our favourite music. I feel happy without other thoughts.
    I train to let go all negative feeling day by day.

  2. November 2, 2010 5:33 pm

    Interesting post! I still remember when one of my favorite songs, “Vertigo” by U2, was used in an IPod commercial years ago. At first I felt violated, but the commercial did such a good job with it. I agree, some songs fit well, others don’t. An interesting topic to discuss.

    • November 2, 2010 6:16 pm

      I almost put a disclaimer in here that Apple’s iPod ads, I find, have always used new music really well. They are really masters of the medium…

  3. November 4, 2010 7:57 pm

    I love this post! The music for the Torch made me pay attention to the Torch ads. I almost got one because of it.) I’ve really given this topic a lot of thought, and it’s cool to see someone else with the same thoughts. Cool charts, too!

    Make sure I stay on your mailing list. You are definitely in my priority mail: When I’m ill, usually always these days, I’m stuck watching TV. I just got an HTC phone, so I can read about what I’m thinking now while I’m in bed. You make loss of health much more bearable. Even if I don’t text you, I’m reading your stuff. Thanks.

  4. katah permalink
    November 7, 2010 2:53 pm

    ahahaha i like your graphs. i’m a laggard.

  5. wallewall permalink
    November 11, 2010 2:27 pm

    although prop 19 didn’t pass, do you think apple’s hq in cali helps it select the right music? …say as opposed to research in motion hq’d in waterloo, ontario?

  6. November 20, 2010 6:42 am

    Life cycle of a pop? Thats great!!!

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