It doesn’t happen very often, but once in a while a client will suggest using a popular song for a new campaign. Then I give them “The Talk”; reasons why popular music is not a good long term audio branding strategy.

Cost

Licensing established music for commercial purposes can be very expensive. And yes, you have to pay regardless of how you use it. It doesn’t matter how much of the song you use or how you use it. If any part of a copyrighted song is used for commercial purposes, somebody has to be paid for it. This might lead some agencies to pursue less established music. It may be cheaper, but will it have the same impact? This tends to benefit the artist more than the brand. Is it worth the investment? In this case you’re better off with a stock track that fits the presentation. Stock music is very good these days and very accessible. However…

Ownership

Using stock music and established music is not brand building. A stock track is certainly the less objectionable option. It’s very easy to find tracks that fit the demands of your audio branding guidelines, but the stock track you use could be heard in hundreds of other ads, videos, podcasts, etc. Neither stock music nor established music can be owned the way custom brand music and anthems can. Established music also undermines your brand’s potential to make a unique impact. Brands can be very powerful. It’s very hard to make an impact with existing ideas. Using someone else’s music is not creating culture. That’s reflecting culture.

Representation

Pop musicians are not brand ambassadors. Sure, one song of theirs might fit your current message or the feel of the ad, but do your brand values align with that of the artist? What if that artist gets caught in legal troubles? Do you want to risk having your brand tied to scandal?

Distraction

This is a pretty simple one. You’re advertising to sell a product or service. All the efforts of the ad should be directed to that purpose. If someone hears their favourite song in an ad, where do you think their focus will be?

You Probably Just Want a Jingle

Back in the 70s and 80s, it seemed almost every commercial had a full-sing jingle. Today, full-sing jingles are out of fashion, but they’re far from ineffective. Many years ago Head and Shoulders approached The Police about using their hit song Don’t Stand So Close To Me. The band thought about it, and in the end they decided they didn’t want people to forever associate their song with dandruff. This was the right decision, both for preserving the band’s artistic integrity, but also for the advertiser.

In the end, this was a missed opportunity, not for the band, but the brand. If the goal was to highlight an aspect of the product musically, they could have satisfied all the above points with an original composition. By doing so according to audio branding guidelines, they could have produced something that reflects the brand’s sound aesthetic and values, while staying on brand and on topic, and at the same time offering something original, memorable, and impactful. Plus it would probably still be cheaper.

Above Image By Acroterion – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=59398923