Mood music to fit the product

By DITA DE BONI

It was David Ogilvy who once said: "Advertisers who believe in the selling power of jingles have never had to sell anything."

One of New Zealand's foremost advertising music maestros, James Hall, says the old-style jingles of the past -- such as "finest cheddar, made better!" -- have "all but disappeared from television advertising and become, to a large extent, a radio retail device."

In their place, he says, are songs that complement the mood of a product, enhance the viewing experience and, by extension, connect a "feel-good feeling" with brand awareness in the consumer's mind.

If the pudding of television advertising's proof is recall, Mr Hall can claim to be one of the industry's most valuable assets.

A compilation of his advertising "soundtracks" has just been released following huge public demand. It includes instantly recognisable tunes such as TV3's millennium marker I'll Meet You There and the frisky Sony dance groove Mad About the Boy -- just two of the tunes on the 14-track album.

One ad track devised by Mr Hall for Holden in Australia -- Heart & Soul -- caused so many calls from the public inquiring where to get a copy that the car manufacturer employed a receptionist to deal with the requests.

While there is no doubt some tunes are hitting the right chord with consumers, are they adequately serving brand awareness?

Some say no, claiming the current trend towards overlaying popular or popular-sounding songs on esoteric images does little to enforce branding.

One industry commentator, who did not want to be named, points to the Saatchi ad featuring the Pied Piper theme song as a case in point.

"It's a great ad, and a very catchy song, but how many people can actually remember what's being advertised?"

But Mr Hall is adamant that music can supply the added dimension to brand awareness -- the emotional, intangible aspect -- and bolster a campaign with ads the public actually enjoy watching.

"The public is sophisticated and wants entertainment," he says. "Jingles where the name of the product is mentioned 800 times during 30 seconds are no longer the vogue in television.

"Advertisers now agree that detail is much better covered in print. Most of the tunes don't even mention the product's name.

"What music is best at is adding the emotion to pictures. It's not rocket science, but ads have a profound effect on pictures. You can make images sad even if they are happy just by overlaying a sad-sounding track."

There are only three major players in the advertising soundtrack market in New Zealand, and Mr Hall's production company, Soundtrax, has the lion's share of the market.

The amiable musician has the kind of career pedigree that he says few musos can claim nowadays -- around 20 years working on hit Kiwi pop shows, hit Kiwi pop albums and in the UK recording industry.

Claiming to know little of the ad world, Mr Hall says his most potent selling point is that he is attuned to "the emotional side of music."

He says his contribution to the current Air New Zealand ad -- a young girl's re-recording of the airline's theme song, Pokarekare Ana -- empowered the images it accompanies.

"I had the song to work with, and realised I just couldn't do anything too radical with it. Airlines have quite a specific brief to work to in terms of their brand," he says.

Mr Hall decided the juxtaposition of a young girl's rendition -- taped down a phone line from Wellington -- would provide the perfect antithesis to the huge power of the images.

He beefed up Rose Hanify's voice with the New Zealand Operatic Society Male Choir to give depth to the images, which become increasingly grandiose as the ad progresses.

"The ad gives [the viewer] warm feelings, gives the ad an innocence and that is helped by the purity of voice. Rose sang it beautifully."

While airlines are notoriously brand protective, other companies are looking to their creative directors and musicians to provide direction and ambience for a product.

"Sometimes they say, `Just do something'," laughs Mr Hall. "It's not like I sit there staring at a cup of coffee to get ideas for a coffee advertisement or anything, but basically I work from the mood they've decided to convey."

Mr Hall's contribution to a recent Robert Harris coffee campaign won the Gold Clio for original music at the 1998 Clios in New York.

"The greatest brief is trust. Often people like to rationalise things, and sometimes they come and say to me, `Write a hit record to go with this.' I say to them, `If I could write a hit record, I wouldn't be here doing this'," he says.

"More and more I find nostalgia is the big thing, and often people ask me to write certain things without even realising it is nostalgic."

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