4 things music in an advertisement should never do

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A funny thing happens at global TV events like the Super Bowl or the Olympics: Everyday viewers magically become ad critics. Their interest transcends the passing glance, because they analyze, dissect and comment on what works and what does not. Promotional chair critics join the chair quarterbacks for a judging party as Madison Avenue takes note… comments that will certainly be factored into the next event’s nominee crop.

As a musician and founder of ALIBI, an internationally produced music library, I find that I am also an armchair publicist critic, although it doesn’t take a major TV event to bring out the critic in me. I always look at the role that music plays in advertising and promotion, because that’s part of what I do. And whether or not consumers watch the ads vigilantly (like Super Bowl Sunday) or experience the ads in a more subtle way, I think music has the power to make or break the effectiveness of a message. Mark.

For those responsible for creating the spots we see each year, the key to landing on the right side of that ladder is to avoid some important pitfalls, which I have identified as the four things that music in an advertisement does. should never do:

Master the place.

Music in an advertisement should enhance, not exceed, creativity and the message. What’s the point of stretching the budget of an overplayed megahit if consumers can’t remember the brand it’s been associated with? Think of music as one of the supporting characters in a cast that all have to work together … part of a bigger picture.

For spots without a lot of dialogue, consider full mixes with vocals, lyrics, or lead instruments. Commercials with heavy dialogue work best with rhythm tracks or drum / bass mixes. For subtle or light tones, look for sparse blends.

Play it too cautiously (aka, safe boring).

The flip side of mastery is disappointing. It’s a balancing act, so the key is to find a memorable piece that supports the brand and inspires action in the right way. The music should sound effortless in the way it moves the action of an advertisement, not a struggle that leaves you perplexed.

If a 30-second spot is usually a problem within the first 10 seconds, leaving the solution for the other 20, look for music with a steady pulse, workout, and (most often) a lift. Find tracks with multiple options for energy and build, and avoid edgy, quirky, non-rhythmic stuff. You want to be able to generate emotional gains while still being able to cut to film easily.

Conflict with the brand’s core values.

This “song of the moment” can be appealing, but does it send the right message? Sometimes the best intentions of a great idea go missing when the music and brand value don’t match. Arm yourself by fully verifying the music, its meaning, and its story to make sure it is appropriate for your brand. In today’s meme culture, a few questionable sayings could be the difference between being successful and navigating a PR nightmare.

End up in a battle for rights.

Only use music that you have the right license for and work with an expert to help you navigate this process. If you plan to use custom sounds (songs that sound like popular songs), consider working with a musicologist to make sure you’re not infringing on any copyright and make sure you get permission from the main editor. True story, but John Fogerty was actually sued in 1988 for sounding too much like John Fogerty… an earlier recording of a song owned by another company. Although he ultimately won the case, such an expensive puzzle is the last thing an advertiser needs.

Better yet, try searching a legitimate music library for the same vibe or feeling rather than going for an outright imitation. You may still be able to get a custom trail for your particular location. In the case of ALIBI, we are often able to match clients with the original composer of a track for personalized music without rights issues.

As for a few music must-haves, always be inspired, always have fun, and always let it shine in your finished places. They may well end up at the top of the critics’ choice.


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