Tuning Into Brands

“Mathematics is he universal language of the mind, music is the language of the heart.”  – Robert Schumann

A worm in your ear

Last week I spent some time shopping in Jakarta, to understand the competitive environment and category messaging for a brand I am working on. As I wandered through a (relatively modern) supermarket in Jakarta, I noticed my irritation at the shop’s jingle which kept repeating, repeating and repeating as I walked through the aisles. The jingle was short, felt quite childish, but irritatingly catchy (it’s still ringing through my head now – I can’t seem to forget it as much as I would like to).

The jingle was a classic example of an ‘earworm’ (from the German expression ‘ohrwurm’), which was simple, repeated and impossible to forget. Although the tune was short and sweet, it was unforgettable (in the words of Nat King Cole), and highly effective. We all know that our reason leads to conclusions, but it is our emotions that lead to action, or to quote Leo Tolstoy, “music is the shorthand to emotion.” Robert Schumann understood (and demonstrates as well as any composer) the power of music to connect with our emotions and spark strong and visceral reactions in us, driven by the direct connection that a song can have with our most basic emotions. Think of being in a large crowd at a rugby match (‘swing low sweet chariot’ for English rugby fans), stomping feet at big gatherings or many of the important rituals and occasions that mark our lives (births, weddings, deaths).

The power of music

Music is intimately connected with our most basic functions, and hearing is the first sense to develop in he womb (we all first sense the steady rhythm of our mother’s heartbeat). In fact, many of the physical changes that music can provoke, are related to how the physical impression of the sound differs from the rhythm of our own hearts.

Although music is, to quote the National Academy of Sciences, “a pattern of sounds that varies in time and which are driven by cultural, emotional, social and intellectual reasons” it is much more than this too. The components of music are rhythm, melody, harmony, dynamics and sometimes text, but the emotions that it creates are much greater than the sum of its parts.

Music is critical to the way we define ourselves and the tribe(s) we belong to. If you think of the majority of (youth) movements that have driven cultural change over the last century, most of these subcultures were primarily motivated by musical developments (think of mods, punk rockers, hippies, metal heads, grunge, etc). Our sense of personal identity is dominated by our musical taste, and this is always one of the first questions to ask of anyone who you would like to understand and befriend (or even marry).

Musical chairs

For this reason, social media interactions are often focused around musical tastes and sharing (which is why was so successful until it lost its touch, and why Facebook and Apple place such a premium on the sharing of musical taste, but I have to say since you can Buy cheap Instagram followers , Instagram has gained a lot of popularity). Music tells others who you are (and importantly who you are not).

Many successful brands have built their business on music or on a musical ‘signature’. Have you ever heard of Walter Werzowa? I doubt it. But I am pretty sure that you would remember the Intel ‘jingle’ if I played it! One of the most successful brands of our time, Coca-Cola, has built its value on a strong association with music, most famously back in the 1970s (most people can recognise “I’d like to buy the world a Coke” 40 years on) and even today with Soccer World Cup songs and the recent “Open happiness” campaigns. Similarly Starbucks is strongly associated with music, both in the ambience of its cafes and in having launched Grammy award winning CDs and links with musicians such as Ray Charles, Paul McCartney and Joni Mitchell (one of my favourites).

If you want to touch someone’s heart, play them a song. Songs live forever in our hearts and minds, connect with our deepest emotions, provoke an instant and emotional reaction, and remind us of happy experiences. As Leo Tolstoy rightly said (paraphrased), music is the shortcut to the heart of your customer.


Sounds Like Branding by Jakob Lusensky (2010)

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