8 ways how YouTube’s most popular ads use music to their advantage

Even though our perception of the words “advertisement” typically manifests as a visual form, what we see is only half of the overall impact. The invisible, plays a significant role in creating an emotional launch pad that we call audio.

Last week YouTube revealed its Cannes to Cannes Top 10 Leaderboard, consisting of the platform’s most watched ads from April 2017 to April 2018. While featuring a relatively small group of entries, the list provides an assortment of different musical tactics to conveying each featured companies’ brand message. Here are 8 powerful examples of how music can influence the impact of an ad, coming to you straight from the absolute top of the advertising world.

#1 Controversy with the visual output as the hook

Majority of the leading ads from the past year feature acoustic instrumentation exclusively. The purpose behind selecting these genres is to create memorable moments using dramatic music, at which an ensemble of string instruments is brilliant at. Suspenseful violin and cello notes stir up senses of urgency and responsibility. At best, this style of music creates intriguing, controversial combinations with the visual output, making the ad definitely stick in your mind. This is the case with the Lego ad, where a playful toy animation meets grown-up, serious cinematic trailer soundscapes.

#2 Supporting the narrative with keys

A little over half of the ads music used the major key exclusively. When used solely, it is associated with joyful and upbeat feelings in order to support the confident and carefree moods. When used together with the minor key, the music brings out the flip side of our emotional coin, introducing us to sentimental emotions. Switching from the struggling mood of the minor key to major creates a powerful melodic and emotional catharsis, which in turn generates an effective hook to back the visual narrative. It’s hard to think of a better stylistic musical choice to support the story of this LG ad, in which an Indian girl overcomes obstacle after obstacle to fulfill her dream of becoming an astronaut.

#3 Appealing to different demographics through genres

Genres are beacons of identity. In popular culture history, certain music genres have become actual audio brands for different eras and generations. Recently, this phenomenon was demonstrated between Samsung’s and Apple’s new product launches. Whereas Apple is using electronic indie pop track to display the iPhone X’s modern technology, Samsung made a clear statement in their Galaxy ad by accompanying the brand message “growing up” with a classic soul musical style that is typically favored by more mature audiences. This shows how music can represent and create connections between different demographics, underlining the prospects of the strategic use of music and audio.

#4 Adding credibility to the brand message

Using visual means to inspire consumers to engage with the brand message, and the wanted moods, is only half the battle. Choosing a fitting music for the ad is as important to the narrative as the message itself. Music adds a layer of credibility to the overall output. For instance, would you do that much for love, if this Dior commercial didn’t convey the heart-rending melancholy of Sia’s ‘Chandelier’ and, consequently, human relationships?

#5 A theme song never goes wrong

Nintendo’s Super Mario Odyssey had the honour of being the only one out of the 10 leaderboard ads to feature branded theme music. The game’s theme song, ‘Jump Up, Super Star!’ along with Nintendo Switch’s clicking audio logo increase both products’ recognition, recall and consumer trust.

#6 Female voice for confidence, male for tenderness

A female voice featured more in a singing role, whereas male voice featured more as voice-overs. Interestingly, female vocals appear to be conveying more confident and dynamic tones (Dior, Apple and Samsung ads in the forefront), where as gentler tones are being covered by male vocals like in the John Lewis ad. In terms of voice-overs, male voice was slightly more popular compared to female. However, the growing equilibrium between the genders used in voice-overs is well apparent in the Amazon’s ad, where different celebrities take turns in filling in for Alexa while she had lost her voice.

#7 Letting synths rule

Instrument-wise, synth is the most common instrument in the leaderboard. A quick listening round of today’s pop music will confirm that its position as the king of the hill extends across the globe. More importantly, synths are capable of producing an array of sounds from low-frequency bass to sustained pads and short keyboard stabs, which make it a musical Swiss army knife for setting up an array of emotions. Hear the synths at their best in the Clash of Clans ad. 

Also, pay attention to the timing of the music. Would the synths have such a provoking impact if they were played constantly throughout the ad?

#8 Using licensed music

Lastly, 9 out of 10 ads in the leaderboard used licensed music. You don’t have to be a marketing genius to figure out the logic behind this. Selecting music that is a proven favorite, is a way of targeting the widest audience out there. For instance, Budweiser’s selection of the timeless classic ‘Stand By Me’ for their Superbowl ad, targets a larger demographic, especially with its modified version featuring young adult female lead vocals. Similarly, the lyrics and the melody help the ad hit its contextual bullseye, conveying the caring message. Nostalgia is also an extremely strong marketing tool, as it evokes memories and feelings from the past.

Why does paying attention to music matter?

Music in advertising is the knot that ties together the ads message with the brand identity and product characteristics. Moreover, it creates a framework for a set of emotions associated with the product or service at hand, which enable customers to connect with the brand more profoundly.

This brings us to the essence of audio branding. It is not only about finding and creating an audio identity and using them consistently across all touchpoints, but it is the strategic approach that sets audio branding apart from just licensing a great track wishing it will strengthen the brand’s identity. Used coherently and consistently, audio branding opens up a world of possibilities to any brand.

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