February 12, 2010
When I was coming up at Leo Burnett one of the creative leaders there was a man by the name of Jack Smith. At the time I didn’t much care for his idea of what comprised great creative. Primarily, because he was so fixated on music. Be it jingle or sound design, Jack was focused on delivering the magic via audio. For some of us this approach seemed hackneyed or, at best, a secondary concern. Those that knew… knew jingles were loathsome. Music was something you did in post.
Jack used to say good music could deliver bad film, or something similar. I thought he was crazy. To me, relying on music to “make” a commercial meant you didn’t have much of a commercial to make. Shooting and cutting film (so-called vignettes) to accommodate a music track was advertising at its worst. Ironically, my employer was known for doing just that. With clients like Kellogg’s, McDonalds and other big name packaged goods, music driven vignettes were the preferred form at Leo Burnett. And nobody did ‘em better. To be sure, a lot of agencies tried: DDB, JWT, TLK to name a few… My point? It felt like I was a minority, turning my nose up and ears off.
That said, you can’t work at Burnett as long as I did and not learn the form. Before my tenure was over I’d written several jingles as well as scored popular music for a Heinz TV commercial. Remember John Astley’s minor hit, Jane’s getting Serious? Listen for it in the spot below. Yes, that’s Joey from Friends. Laugh all you want. That spot won me a Gold Lion at Cannes. Only recently have I come to realize how important the music was in “making” the commercial. I’ve also come to realize Jack was really on to something.
While I still find most jingles distasteful, it’s clear music & sound design is profoundly important to the integrity (and popularity) of a commercial piece of film. Let’s look again at Heinz Catsup. Years before my spot, they’d ran a campaign using songstress, Carly Simon’s breathless hit, Anticipation.
Undoubtedly, you remember the campaign. The song perfectly seized upon a great truth about the brand: it took damn long to pour but was worth the wait. Most of us can place the song with the brand. The marriage was almost iconic. But can any of you recall the commercial itself? Not for the life of me. Only the music endures.
Fact is music has more staying power than film. Think about it. Most people watch even the greatest movies only once…maybe twice. Meanwhile, we may own thousands of songs, listening to many of them daily. Jack knew this, which is why he was so passionate about using music in commercials. Whether it’s a screw in the brain or an awesome classic: music got hooks!
Sound design: Cliff Colnot