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i blame the gorilla July 30, 2015

Posted by nicholas gill in advertising, thought leadership.
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The Independent ran an article highlighting the number of ads that featured music from the 80s. The Drum asked me to write a response to it. I blamed the gorilla.

You can say it’s all about fashion and trends and everything comes around again. And again. But I blame the gorilla.

It’s his fault. Sitting behind the drum kit waiting patiently until erupting with madness and glee and yes, ‘joy’, to thrash them to death alongside Phil Collins’ In The Air Tonight’.

It’s his fault. He answered the one line brief,’show me how I feel when I eat Cadbury’s chocolate’ by resorting to an iconic 80s music track and going batshit mental on the drums.

The 80s: big hair, big shoulder pads, big news, big everything. Especially big ‘choons’. And now the people who grew up in the 80s with their knowing ‘Frankie Says’ t-shirts and Phil Oakey side-flange partings implanted deep in their hearts have grown up.

They are now in the bullseye of the mainstream brands. Still watching vast swathes of telly and still swayed by big telly ads and wondering WTF emojis are. Still knowing someone could have picked them out and shook them up when they were working in a cocktail bar and turned them into someone new.

If you’re a 40-something to 50-something, you will have witnessed a fair bit of familiarity in advertising of late. A bit of Europe here, a surprise airing of Fleetwood Mac there. All dropped into drive familiarity and layer the emotional element to the advertising to get you to notice, to consider. To strike at the heart of your wallet via your retro fluorescent ear canal.

With this in mind, it’s no surprise that 80s music was the most popular choice among all brand advertising in 2014. Queen adding little riffs of fun to Tesco Christmas spots. Fleetwood Mac helping a Shetland Pony moonwalk for Three. What surprised everyone was Bonnie Tyler topping the charts. But it was epic. So it makes your brand epic. And you’re epic if you buy our brand. Epic.

Some are wonderful and actually make sense. Others just use the track like audio attention grabbing ‘Like a Virgin’ era Madonnas because Queen selling sofas to the tune of ‘Someobody to Love’ is just really selling out isn’t it? They were a band that famously refused Stallone rights to use ‘Another One Bites The Dust’ in Rocky III forcing them to find their own anthem in Survivor’s ‘Eye of the Tiger’. And they’re now happy for their back catalogue to be used to flog sofas. Bloody gorilla’s fault.

And then we have the re-imagining. The John Lewis ‘make ‘em cry to make ‘em buy’ approach. A soft, tinkly-tinkly re-imagined, slowed down version of a well-known classic that acts as an ear worm and makes its way silently into your heart. Alongside penguins, bears and gorillas.

Music is a hugely important part of advertising and any film based content. Music can make or break an ad. The rhythm, cadence and the power tell their own story but magic can happen when the story, the music and the lyrics work hand in hand. An edit suite is often a painful torture chamber in the creative process and equally a pleasuredome when things go right.

But is the rise of 80s music in ads also because modern music is incomprehensible to anyone over the age of 30? Where new music is dictated by the Radio 1 playlist which deems La Roux and Lily Allen over the hill and therefore primetime picking for middle-aged, middle-class department store advertising tales?

The brands mentioned above largely appeal to that demographic so going for familiarity over a new artist is a much safer bet. And in a corporate environment where the average chief marketing tenure is under two years, safety and immediate impact is the order of the day.

Unless you’re going to go big and buy yourself instant stardust with Ed Sheeran or Taylor Swift (how many times have you seen ‘Shake It Off’ in a creative WIP this last year?), then it’s time to break out the shuttlecocks in your shorts, re-live who shot J.R. and dust off your 12” of ABC. Because then success will be so easy for you but don’t forget it’s the gorilla who put you where you are now and he can put you back down too.

Nicholas Gill is planning director at Doner UK

This article also featured in the Global Doner D\Construct thought leadership series.

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