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“Brands Need to Think About Who They Are as a Sound”
Music & Sound
London, UK
MullenLowe creative directors Bronwyn Sweeney and Loren Cook on creating cultural moments, and the most persuasive sound in the world

From triggering recall to enhancing storytelling, music and sound play an important role in media and marketing, becoming an essential asset to brands. Both in the advertising and the branding worlds, music is the common denominator if you want to convey emotions.

To explore the future and power of music in advertising, MassiveMusic London spearheads ‘Sonic Iconic’, a new series on LBB, inviting boundary-pushing British creatives to explore the theme.

In this interview, Mullen Lowe creative directors Bronwyn Sweeney and Loren Cook explore attention spans, TikTok trends and the murder of great songs.

LBB> Outside of work, what music do you listen to, where do you listen to it and why? (IE are you someone with a super curated spotify playlist, an avid radio fan, musical podcasts, youtube trawler, vinyl collector - why do you listen there / to this medium?)

Bronwyn> My listening habits are all over the place. I adore music but over the pandemic I have become less exploratory and tend to go for the comfort of known artists. I started this thing five years ago where every month I make a playlist that features any new tracks I find (through the radio or TikTok, sigh) and any rediscovered gems I’ve suddenly remembered. I know everyone says their listening tastes are eclectic but mine is very mood-based so I can go from feeling melancholy to classic to cooking to French rap to cleaning to Disney tunes.  

Loren> Oh dear, oh dear. This is where I’m found out for being incredibly uncool. But I’m ok with that. Let’s just say, this year my Spotify Wrapped was described as sassy, confident and bold. Whatever that means. I love a diva. Anyone who can belt it out. My tastes span from Bowie to Lizzo, Abba to Westlife, Cher to Metallica, George Michael to Gaga, and all glorious artists in between. I’m very sensitive to music and it directly affects my mood, so I need the right sounds at the right time.

LBB> Sound is more important than ever right now, with so many new touchpoints available for a brand to live in. Do you think brands are being creative enough with sound?

Bronwyn> The effectiveness of any ad is all about context; where, when and how it’s consumed. Sometimes a big banging track is right. But I also think as more and more people are experiencing ads with headphones, the brands that cleverly and creatively use sound to their advantage will benefit. As our attention span dwindles, we need to think about the most essential elements and often the striking visual and memorable sound will be the most effective ingredients. If you think about it, the sound of a Coca-Cola can opening is one of the most persuasive sounds in the world. 

Loren> Sound is overlooked. It’s understandable why, we are often scrolling in silence and sound can feel like an invasion. But there are so many opportunities for sound to be incorporated into our work. A well placed song now has the ability to inspire a million TikTok stitches. It’s all about thinking differently about the role sound plays. Once upon a time, a big ad featuring a song would make its place in the charts, when Sail by Awolnation was used in BMW ad it reached global success.  

LBB> Tell us about a recent project in which music was instrumental to the campaign’s success.

Bronwyn> Not to plug my own work (she says before plugging her work), but Loren and I  worked on a spot for ArtFund before the pandemic that we knew would be played in cinemas. That was exciting for us because we knew that our audience would have access to better-quality sound and a much more sensorial experience watching something on a big screen in the dark. The film doesn’t feature music but sound was crucial to creating the ambience of being in a gallery and adding texture and emotion to art. 

Loren> Agreed. ArtFund showed what can be achieved using sound to create snippets of emotion. 

LBB> What is your approach to setting a music brief for a campaign?

Bronwyn> I think we start off by thinking about the story we’re trying to sell. Is it happy, thoughtful, serious? When setting a brief we also don’t want to go with the first thought so we try to ask ourselves how we can use music in an unexpected way. Sadly a lot of it comes down to what we can afford but we look at the emotion we want to evoke and dig out references. Often it’s a collaborative effort with our director but we’re not precious about where the inspiration comes from considering our influences are a bit dated (see question 1). 

Loren> Budget constraints are always at the forefront, sometimes fees for classic hits cost triple the production of an entire ad or piece of content. But the right track has the power to create a cultural moment, campaigns will always be stronger with the correct music. The Cadbury's gorilla wouldn’t have been so iconic if it was set to a library track. When creating a music brief it’s all about feeling: how do I want the viewer to feel when they see this? That’s always a great place to start. 

LBB> Music is scientifically proven to evoke emotion. Do you often think about or measure the effectiveness of music? How do you approach this? 

Bronwyn> Music is one of many ingredients to our work so we judge the success of the piece as a whole. Do people like it? Do people actually care to watch this? There’s no way to tell until it’s out in the world. We could have user testing in the early stages of production but we tend to stick with our gut and what we think is right and hope for the best.  

Loren> Music hasn’t been singled out as one thing to measure, I guess we look at the impact of an entire idea, and collate social commentary. It would be great to hook people up to sensors, let them watch a host of great work and see how the mind and body reacts. 

LBB> New social platforms like TikTok are inspiring musical trends all over the world. In advertising the need to quickly engage consumers has never been more important. What are your tips for using music to quickly grab people’s attention?  

Bronwyn> Of course a well-known song will grab people’s attention because it’s familiar, but I‘d say be open to using emerging artists and pairing your film with an unexpected track. TikTok has proven that younger audiences are open to all kinds of songs (even though it makes me cringe that younger generations don’t realise new songs feature samples of older bangers!) and you should never underestimate the power of dissonance. 

Loren> I’m a TikTok voyeur, I think it’s a tricky place for brands. To be successful on a platform like TikTok brands need to think about who they are as a sound and go from there, work with creators that fit their style, definitely don’t just jump on a trend because it’s cool. Every brand wants a viral TikTok song - the truth is, consumers don’t want brands coming in and commercialising organic trends. But, collaborating and lifting new creators up is a good place to start.

LBB> What would you like to happen with music for advertising in the next couple of years?

Bronwyn> I would love weepy, acoustic covers of pop songs to die. It’s tired and audiences see what you’re doing.  

Loren> Agree with Bron, please no more stripped back breathy murders of great songs.

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