Any Requests? Boys in the Brand

Music and Advertising

I had my first request this weekend. My good friend James asked me; “Mark, could you kindly blog about the intense proliferation of adverts that feature quirky song cover choices, played acoustically in a slow tempo, accompanied by a wispy female vocalist? I’m at my wits end sir!”

If you’ve lost your faith in love and music, then the end won’t be long

I have used my artistic licence to make James sound both more eloquent and less sweary than he actually is, but James is a fervent gig-goer with an excellent collection of vinyl, so when he talks on music I listen. For a bit.

So is it the case that there are just too many brands and agencies on this bandwagon? Have we reached the tipping point? There is no doubt that this is a prevalent trend in adverts, and it has been for a while. I think I can trace it back (well, at least the current wave) to this John Lewis 2008 Christmas advert. It is a cover of The Beatles, “From Me To You,” featuring the vocals of a schoolgirl, amongst the ensemble. And of course since then John Lewis have become synonymous with the acoustic, female vocal song cover.

I have compiled a small sample, an eclectic brand/song set list if you will, just to convey how ubiquitous it has become:

Charlene Soraia for Twinings: “Wherever You Will Go,” by The Calling
Elizabeth Mitchell for DFS: “Lovely Day,” by Bill Withers
Ellie Goulding for John Lewis: “Your Song,” by Elton John
Fredrika Stahl for Nissan: “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” by Jane Taylor
Jade Williams for Thomson Holidays: “Where is My Mind,” by The Pixies
Megan Wyler for Sainsbury’s: “Can’t Get You Out of my Head,” by Kylie
Whinnie Williams for Renault: “That’s Entertainment,” by The Jam

There is no doubting that the song choices are good. My friend is judging this from a musical integrity point of view; that this is an overused form, contrived and unoriginal. This is fair enough, but it is like judging advertising posters from a purely artistic viewpoint. Ultimately, wrong. Well, it is if you are in marketing.

Rhodri Marsden made the succinct point that this fey, wispy, London-sounding female vocal style is very popular, so it makes sense for advertising to reflect that. This was two years ago, but all his points remain salient. Back then he was mulling over whether we were coming to the end of this trend. We still haven’t. And that is because they work exceedingly well.

There are some signs of a possible backlash, but this is more the general idea of John Lewis getting, “too big for its boots.” And, crucially, there is a poll associated with the article that asks: Do you find John Lewis adverts over-hyped and irritating? A whopping 91% (some 1,345 people) said No. OK, the music choice is only a part of the whole advert, but an integral part nonetheless. Artists like Morrissey have had their integrity questioned for contributing to adverts, but this, to be frank, is music’s problem.

“If you’ve lost your faith in love and music, then the end won’t be long,” sing The Libertines. Music is part of a person’s essence, so it’s natural for advertisers to tap into this. You hear a song that is familiar, even means a lot to you personally, but is a new, unique rendition. These are great characteristics for a brand: Familiar and unique. Shazam, the song-recognition dudes, have devised a new sales platform for their app called Resonate. This will increase engagement via exclusive content being made available to mobile users who, “Shazam,” a TV advert, whilst giving companies more control over messaging and content.

The John Lewis ad is close to becoming a Christmas institution, it is hugely successful. I’m sure there are lots of people now looking forward to the next one.

Unfortunately for James, I think this style of advert is here for a while yet. But hey, with the fear of being too big for their boots worrying John Lewis’s minds, maybe they will do something different this year and surprise us, and a new trend will be born.

Postscript: I realise this could be the first blog you see that mentions Christmas, and if so I would like to apologise for that. I hated Glades Plug-Ins for years, for advertising Christmas pungency in the springtime, or something as equally hyperbolically ridiculous.

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