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Music: Striking a universal chord in content marketing

“There was a time when people said that Singapore wouldn’t make it, but we did.”

For all Singaporeans reading this, unless you have been living under a rock (or are a newly minted Singaporean because God knows this low-tax country of ours loves billionaires), chances are, you know the lyrics to this song, and its title, “We are Singapore”.

We are Singapore was first introduced in 1987, to a very typical Singaporean reception – we hated it. We reduced the national song to a jingle made for kids. “Boring” and “uninspiring”, we chimed. For good measure, like a good Singaporean would, we even corrected its grammar.

Singaporeans. The OG in trolling, I say.

You know the song, but did you know it was written by a Canadian copywriter, Hugh Harrison, from McCann-Erickson?

The process was as pedestrian as you could imagine: the-then Ministry of Culture issued a pitch inviting a bunch of network agencies to come up with a campaign for the 25th anniversary of self-governance in 1984.

A suit penned the brief. Harrison took the brief. He burned his weekend writing the song. And voila! McCann-Erickson won the tender and Harrison won a place in every Singaporean’s heart with his song, even though we don’t know his name. Classical conditioning at its finest.

Music has been instrumental in advertising since the 1930s. Depending on how it is deployed, music stimulates curiosity, stirs emotions, and when we’re lucky, stays ingrained in people’s memories.

Levi’s “Mr Boombastic”, anyone? While one may argue it’s easy for We are Singapore to maintain brand recall since we’re reminded of it every National Day, Mr Boombastic was launched in 1995, 24 years ago.

We have interns younger than the commercial. That’s the ultimate dream for an ad person, isn’t it? To have a piece of work that can weather years and years of marketing trends and clutter, and not fall into the dregs of humanity. Music is a universal language for storytelling. The goal of storytelling should be to make stories as ubiquitous as music, as Malcolm Gladwell said.

As a format, music provides the perfect platform to help brands form an emotional connection with the audience in a unique way that a banner ad cannot. I stand to be corrected, but banner ads with music are just plain annoying.

A couple of years ago, my agency, GOODSTUPH, was tasked to launch the HP Sprocket pocket printer, keeping close to the global direction, “Reinvent Memories”. The product, while superior compared with her competitors, did not have first-mover advantage.

Against the norm of celebrating the product’s superiority, we decided to celebrate meaningful memories triggered by love instead. A love song became our social currency, fronted by one of Singapore’s leading musician siblings, Benjamin and Narelle Kheng, of The Sam Willows. More than a million unique views from a country with five million people aside, we took pride in our song being ripped by pirated music sites.

Is music reserved for selling brand manifestos and big lofty ideals only? How about something as utilitarian as public transport safety? Why not? Bring in gorgeous offbeat humour and Jack Jackson strumming, and you have yourself one of the world’s most awarded campaigns in the history of Cannes. Yes, I’m talking about “Dumb Ways to Die”.

Within 24 hours of its launch on 16 November 2012, the “Dumb Ways to Die” song reached the top 10 chart of iTunes. McCann Australia orchestrated one of the finest pieces of content marketing using the fundamentals of music, and we all sang in tune with its messaging.

To use music for content marketing and not fall flat, it boils down to relevancy and authenticity. You can have millions in your pocket to engage Pharrell, and end up with the biggest cringe-fest money can buy. Or serve as a permanent example in the local advertising history of why you should never allow your client’s senior management to rap.

The writer is Pat Law, founder of GOODSTUPH. The article first appeared in Marketing’s June-July print edition.