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Eamonn Dixon: “Music Has the Power to Shape Culture, and Connect People Across Generations”


Goodby Silverstein & Partners’ creative director tells LBB’s Adam Bennett why he can’t escape Harry Styles, and how music’s magic lies in its power to connect

Eamonn Dixon: “Music Has the Power to Shape Culture, and Connect People Across Generations”

Without music, creativity would not be the same. Whether it’s a rhythm and cadence provided in the background, or the transcendent emotions music can push to the foreground, so much of our creative history is linked to music and its unique ability to communicate directly with our senses. 

It’s that link which this new interview series, supported by SoStereo and inspired by their What About the Music podcast, sets out to explore. Over the coming months, we’ll be speaking to high-profile industry figures about how music has influenced their relationship with their craft, and get their take on the process of marring melody to creativity. 

Today we hear from Eamonn Dixon, creative director at Goodby Silverstein & Partners. Particularly in recent years, Eamonn has enjoyed a direct link with music through his work - including working alongside Megan Thee Stallion to create a hit remix of an iconic song. Here, he reflects on his changing relationship with music, and why it remains such an enduring powerful creative tool for brands… 

LBB> Eamonn, let’s start at the beginning - growing up, when did you first realise you were ‘a creative’, and what kind of role did music play in your childhood?

Eamonn> To be honest, I didn’t come from a musical family - at least in terms of our own talents! I did grow up with two sisters and we constantly had the radio blaring as the soundtrack to virtually everything we did. In fact, we used to busk outside our house (which really just consisted of singing along to the radio). And my Mum was one of those people who had a habit of making up songs which she’d sing to herself, no matter what she was doing. So, while we had no identifiable musical talent, we certainly all enjoyed using music to express ourselves. 

That also lent itself to the world of advertising quite neatly. In the 80s and 90s, jingles in advertising were such a big thing and I used to find them so catchy. So that probably informed the way I thought about advertising from an early age. 

LBB> Did you ever have a moment, maybe in your teens or early twenties, where you ‘found yourself’ through music or anything like that? 

Eamonn> That’s a good question. We’ve got a strong festival circuit in Melborne and that’s where I spent a lot of time in my early twenties. It’s another case of music not necessarily being at the forefront and motivating everything I did, but being a key part of the background nonetheless. 

Later in life, especially in terms of my career, I’ve come to appreciate the value of music in a much stronger way in terms of how it connects people. It speaks to people on a totally different level to visuals which can be such a powerful creative tool. 

LBB> Let’s get into that - what happened to spark that greater appreciation for music’s ability to connect us? 

Eamonn> Well I’ll speak more about the last few years of my career because that’s probably where I’ve seen it have the biggest impact. This might sound clichéd, but it’s such an ‘aha’ moment when you have a song which people know and you’re able to give it a new meaning or reinvent it in some creative way. It can drive a bigger impact even than having an A-list actor or celebrity, because you’re tapping into something which people not only know, but instinctively associate with joy through singing along, dancing, or whatever it may be. 

So with something like the Superbowl, where you’re speaking to the masses, a song like MC Hammer’s ‘Can’t Touch This’ is a perfect fit. It brings this sense of nostalgia and fun which, fittingly, so many of our client Frito-Lay’s products also do. So when it came to launching a big Cheetos campaign, we were able to work with MC Hammer himself. 

Above: Goodby Silverstein & Partners’ ‘Can’t Touch This’ spot for Cheetos lent itself perfectly to the message and rhythm of MC Hammer’s enduring 90s classic. 

LBB> Yeah, that was absolutely the perfect vibe for that campaign. With that in mind, do you think that there’s some types of music - fun, uplifting - that lend themselves more easily to advertising than others? 

Eamonn> No, I wouldn’t say that. It all depends on the product, the audience, and your imagination - it’s a classic example but just look at the Cadbury Gorilla. One of the best ads of all time, and who saw that coming? It was an ingenious use of music that worked so well because of how it surprised everybody. 

Again, though, sticking with that example, there’s a way in which it’s similar to the MC Hammer Cheetos spot. It’s a song which maybe reminds people of a certain point in their lives when they were more youthful, and enjoying things without the pressures they face in the modern world. That’s perfect for a chocolate brand which is all about comfort and warmth. 

Above: Fallon London and Juan Cabral’s much-celebrated ‘Gorilla’ ad for Cadbury lent heavily on its choice of song.

And, of course, I don’t think we can talk about nostalgia and music without mentioning what’s happened this year with Kate Bush’s ‘Running Up That Hill’ and Stranger Things. It’s funny how, although it’s a nostalgic song for many of us, for the Gen Z audience that’s fallen in love with it it’s something else entirely. That’s not an example from advertising, but it shows the strange kind of power music can have to shape culture - and also to connect people across generations. 

Above: Kate Bush’s ‘Running Up That Hill’ has become an unlikely hit with Gen Z audiences. 

LBB> Absolutely. And has there been a moment recently where music has been really important to your work? 

Eamonn> I’d say our most recent campaign for Flamin’ Hot Cheetos is a great example. We wanted to acknowledge the way that Flamin’ Hot had almost turned into its own kind of subculture, because of the love people have for that flavour. To do that we worked with Megan Thee Stallion who, as it turned out, was genuinely a part of that Flamin’ Hot subculture herself! 

Above: Megan Thee Stallion and Charlie Puth starred in Goodby Silverstein & Partners’ ‘Push It’ ad for Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. 

To compliment the ad, we also worked with Megan to release her remix of ‘Push It’  commercially. Collaborating with her throughout that process and seeing how much she connected with the audience we wanted to speak to was really interesting and eye opening. I don’t think any other artist could have done that. So it’s a really good example of an artist connecting with an audience, and also embodying a brand. It was so easy for us to work with her, because she just knew the brand instinctively. It was an amazing experience. 

LBB> That’s a really powerful example. And if I had to ask you if there was anything that frustrated you about the way music works in the industry today, what would you say? 

Eamonn> That’s another tricky one. Of course, sometimes licencing certain tracks is super expensive - and it can be hard for clients to see the value at times. But I do find that, so long as you’re working with the right music partner, a solution will always be out there. The tricky thing is that it’s hard to get those connections and feelings of excitement we were talking about just now when you’re using stock music. 

Equally, when you’re using lesser-known songs it can be like finding a needle in a haystack. There are some great examples like Apple using Feist in their ads before she hit the big time. You’re obviously going to have more chance of doing that with real music as opposed to stock libraries, but again you have to find the right partners. I’ve been lucky throughout my career to have worked with some awesome people who totally get music. 

LBB> And, on a final note, what have you been listening to lately? 

Eamonn> That’s an interesting one, because I think it’s something that totally flips when you become a parent. You go from searching out new music which interests you, to having their music kind of inflicted upon you when you’re in the house! My two kids share a Harry Styles obsession, whose songs can be heard basically 24/7 in our home. I might listen to the occasional soundtrack through my headphones when I need some focus time, but more often than not it’s Harry who’s blaring in my ears.

On balance, I think I’m lucky - they could have had a lot worse taste!

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Genres: Music & Sound Design, Music performance

Categories: Short Films and Music Videos, Music video

SoStereo, Mon, 05 Sep 2022 07:12:00 GMT