As defined in Wikipedia, “earworm” is a loose translation of the German “Ohrwurm,” a portion of a song or other music that repeats compulsively within one’s mind, put colloquially as “music being stuck in one’s head.”
Such an interesting word! Remember the Night Gallery episode when an earwig crept into the main character’s ear and slowly bored through his brain? He was in agony. At the end of the episode, the bug finally exited out the other side, to the man’s temporary relief – only until he found out it was a “female” and had laid eggs inside his brain. I loved that show.
Another term for the earworm phenomenon is “Musical Imagery Repetition.” Synonyms such as “humsickness,” “repetunitis,” “headsong,” “obsessive musical thought,” “music virus” and “tune wedgy” are also used to define it. Some 98 percent of individuals get earworms.
Both men and women experience them, but earworms are more likely to last longer for women and irritate them more than they irritate men.
Musical branding – the audio logo
As business owners we spend an inordinate amount of time and resources developing, protecting, enhancing and growing our companies’ brand awareness. A good brand increases sales, lifts margins and enhances business longevity. Solid brands built over time simply increase the value of your company.
Yet most businesses do not invest in the costs associated with the development of an exceptional audio logo. Of those that do, the majority engage the local radio station (average cost $750) to come up with a tune or jingle. But these are frequently ineffective.
Similar to a print logo, the “audio logo,” when heard, is viewed in our minds as a three-dimensional image. The tune or tone stimulates a myriad of senses, and we respond to the feelings it triggers.
In one brief, instantaneous moment, melodic sound has the ability to engage all of our senses. We are left with an impression that stimulates a response of emotions that will define your brand. A great example of this is demonstrated in a commercial featuring this jingle in 1984:
The best part of waking up is Folgers in your cup.
What is so telling about a great audio logo is that although the Folgers song appears above as words on a page, I would speculate that almost all of us hear the tune in our mind. In fact, one envisions a serene morning, with happy people getting ready to face a sunny day. As we sit down to do so, I can see that fresh, hot cup of coffee with steam emanating from the cup. I can almost taste it and…guess what?…I want it!
Let’s take a look at another iconic commercial that promotes an unglamorous product for indigestion, gas, hangovers and the like. It first appeared in 1979:
Plop, Plop, Fizz, Fizz, oh what a relief it is.
Again, you can hear the tune in your mind. The cadence is pleasant and it is funny because it makes light of an uneasy human condition we all have experienced. So the next time I am in the grocery store, in a fog because I’m not feeling well from the previous night’s activities, I will hear this tune in my head and go straight for the Alka-Seltzer.
Audio logos do not necessarily have to be associated with words. They can be tones in rhythmical patterns. A great example of this first appeared in the year 1929 and another was born in the computer age:
Ding, Ding, Ding (NBC News)
Bum, Bum, Bum, Bum…Bum (Intel)
Another contemporary example of a musical/tune cadence appeared first in 1998 and is one of the most recognizable brands today:
It’s a brilliant campaign for a company that is selling online, discount travel!
Audio logo development
Know your target customer! You don’t want a heavy metal composition when promoting services for an in-home health care account. A musical tune needs to appeal to your target demographic customer, so it makes sense to use a country music genre when selling cowboy boots and leave the heavy metal music for a chain of tattoo parlors.
Understanding your business, your customers and your corporate culture is imperative prior to creating any musical composition. Market research plays an integral role in the development of your brand. This is one of the reasons why the canned $750 radio station jingles are ineffective.
One can hit it out of the park the first time, on occasion, but I would recommend that several compositions be prepared and presented. Focus groups, either formal or informal, will help the decision makers when making the final selection.
Musical productions can be small, medium and/or large. The good news is the costs associated with larger productions that require a big band or orchestra, can be produced in-studio without having the entire Glen Miller Orchestra traveling in for the session.
Modern recording and mixing techniques really keep the cost down. Edit the rough into 10-, 20- and 30-second versions. Allow room for musical beds, or pre-recorded backing tracks that can accommodate the spoken word.
Implanting the earworm
Consistency and repetition are the keys. In every venue that you have the opportunity to incorporate the tune, use it! The obvious venues are:
• Television and radio commercials
• Ring tones and doorbell tones
• In-store music
• Email blasts
• Musical greeting cards
• Video productions
The YouTube phenomenon is here to stay. We are all one step away from breaking through, as evidenced by companies’ video productions that have gone viral. Check out “go compare” on YouTube. It is a fun series of musical commercials that arouses “love and hate” in its viewers and reportedly increased this insurance company’s sales over 40 percent in a relatively short period of time. I believe most people “love to hate it.”
Posting YouTube videos also can be invaluable in helping with your Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Every time a video “hit” occurs, the algorithms push your website up the ladder and help place your site on the forefront of the search engines.
You can’t afford not to
The obvious benefits of Musical Branding are enormous. The cost in relation to the results is negligible. Any company, whether in the retail, manufacturing or service industries, will benefit by this type of branding. Effective audio logos will play over and over in the consumer’s head. It is like buying one ad and getting all the residual ads for free.
And unlike the poor character in the Night Gallery episode I mentioned earlier, these earworms can be pleasant!
Not too long ago, before GPS was invented, I was driving to an appointment to meet a retailer at his main showroom. The addresses weren’t clearly marked on the buildings. It was supposed to be on the left of the business highway and sensing I drove too far, then turned around and still couldn’t find the building. Admitting defeat, I pulled into a gas station and asked for directions. Followed them to the tee and lo and behold, there was the showroom, a little up on the left hand side, clear as day.
I drove past it coming and going. It was a beautiful building painted a very classy tan and green located on a very busy road. The sign missed had the nicest green stencil style pineapple logo with very sophisticated lettering proudly announcing the name of the company.
This was the flagship store of a high-end retailer located in an affluent town. The owners were concerned that they were not achieving sales growth at this location. I was invited in and ultimately engaged to deploy a new advertising strategy that would increase foot traffic and stop the stagnation. They had tried everything and just could not turn it around.
We reviewed their budget, put together a plan, came up with a fabulous creative campaign, produced the ads and launched to the public. It was an instant success. Traffic was the best they had ever seen and this company has continually demonstrated increased sales and net profits year after year.
Now I have to tell you that in our agency we live by the adage “if it doesn’t sell, it isn’t creative,” so it is imperative that we put in place analytical tools that effectively measure the results of campaigns, as all retailers should. We know how much we spend on specific media and what the actual sales related to the buy is. The best performing, and least costly, expenditure in this campaign was the new signage that we put on the building and placed on the property!
Now wishing I could tell you that due to my advanced training and years of experience, I came to the conclusion that we had to change the color of the paint on the sign, and also increase the directional signage on the ground, but that wasn’t the case. The strategy was sparked because I simply couldn’t find the place and drove past it twice!
The most under utilized advertising asset that a retailer has is his/her building. It is the framework for a billboard and if it is not optimized to get you noticed then it is underutilized. Now I’m not advocating painting and covering the windows fluorescent yellow and red (although in some situations this may be appropriate) but to employ a sign strategy that jumps out and gets you noticed. It is a branding tool by which consumers most readily reference your business. They can close their eyes and visualize your location in their minds.
Proper presentation, utilizing your storefront as an iconic billboard, helps connect the mind when viewing your advertisements, i.e. The Golden Arches. How many times have you seen an ad then driven by the showroom without connecting the two? We always recommend that photographs of your store exterior be incorporated in your ads.
In Philadelphia, the main thoroughfare going into downtown is I-95. There is a curve here known as the “Diamond Furniture Hill Curve”. Facing the highway as the road turns is a 200’ x 75’ old brick warehouse that is directly in front of the traffic. Diamond Furniture, a retail furniture company that has been operating in the Philadelphia marketplace since 1927, rented space in this old warehouse and purchased a long -term lease, not for the warehouse space but for the painted sign on the side of the building. Every day thousands of commuters passed that billboard.
Using their ingenuity the owners of Diamond actually paid to have the #1 radio news station call this the ‘Diamond Furniture Hill curve,” during their traffic reports. THIS STATION HAD TRAFFIC REPORTS EVERY 10 MINUTES AND REFERENCED THE ‘DIAMOND CURVE’ OVER 200 TIMES A WEEK (IN ADDITION TO OTHER RADIO STATIONS ON ‘SHADOW TRAFFICS ROSTER’). According to the owner, he was the first ever to pay for a name on a curve of a highway. This ploy has been so effective that the Diamond Curve is part of the Philadelphia vernacular. How would you like it if the name of your company was mentioned during every traffic report on the eights? It goes something like this, “This is your eye in the sky traffic report, there is a 2 mile traffic jam starting at the Diamond Furniture Hill, CURVE. Now the weather, brought to you by Diamond Furniture …
With the advent of affordable flat screens the retailer can also construct electronic billboards inside their windows. These screens can be put together both in vertical and horizontal stacks that allow you to actually have video window presentations. Imagine that it is now affordable to bring “Times Square” into your showroom windows. These signs add a new dimension that hasn’t quite been utilized by the mainstream retailer yet. The beauty of electronic screens is that you can modify your messaging anytime, day or night. So you can adjust your messaging to an older demographic in the morning, change it by the hour and appeal to a younger generation at night. With multiple locations, content can be broadcast simultaneously to all locations in real time and preprogrammed with a scheduling program that will automatically feed preset content. Many small and mid-sized retailers think that this is cost prohibitive, but I can assure you the pricing has come down dramatically. These signs will get you noticed.
I encourage retailers to pay attention to their showroom fronts and to really analyze how your business is viewed from the road. What message are you sending if your neon signs’ letters are out? Fix them! Weeds growing in the sidewalk cracks? Pull them! Handwritten paper signs taped to your window? Take them down!
One of the most effective mediums and least expensive way to pull in foot traffic is using your building as a billboard. Many retailers are not paying attention to this advertising asset. Take the time, step back, and look hard at how your property is being viewed by the consumer as they drive by. Make the investment and just around the curve you will find that your traffic will improve and sales will certainly increase!
The New Reality!
There have always been two components to great advertising - selecting and delivering your message through the right media outlets and communicating a message that compels your prospects to come into your store.
Due to shifting demographics and rapidly developing new technologies, there exists a new reality in advertising and marketing. Below are a few examples of dynamic shifts that have altered the modern advertising/marketing landscape:
The fact remains that Generation X and Y are the new buying core and this generation derives their entertainment and information differently from their parents. Time moves forward bringing radical new technologies into the mainstream, resulting in a technological creep that is being embraced by the older generations. Once dominated by the youth, Facebook usage has dramatically expanded into an older demographic and almost all of us, young and old, jump on the computer when looking for products or services.
Baby Boomer Perspective
Gen X and Y have grown up in a world that has and is constantly bombarding them with electronic messaging. Messaging of all types - from automobile sales, to the mainstream pushing of erectile dysfunction pills, to political advertising, comes at the viewer constantly, fast and from all angles.
The Baby Boomer viewers “remember when” which enables them to have a perspective of the world when it was simple. Gen X and Y do not have this perspective. Does all of the hype and action blind viewers and do they turn off? I believe to some extent, they do. They certainly flip channels. Perhaps you are not interested in product offerings until you are in the market for that product. But how do you present a message that doesn’t get lost, doesn’t whiz by in the fast traffic on the electronic messaging highway?
Understanding Gen X and Gen Y
As advertisers who are trying to get our message out, a message that will be compelling enough to sell our products and enhance our brands, we must gain an understanding of the new consumer. Through extensive research we have gained tremendous behavioral insights but the fact still remains that there are advertisements and campaigns that are ineffective. We have all at one time or another, after viewing an ad, scratched our head and asked ourselves “what was that all about?”
“If you’re selling the things that Betty buys, better see the world through Betty’s eyes” is a fundamental truth when we work with clients in our agency. We must have clear vision when it comes to understanding Betty. Professional research groups and behavioral physiologist produce invaluable data that enlightens, but it can still be incomplete when we are speaking about your customer in your market.
Taking Research In House
Companies that take research in house generally have a better understanding that their decision-making capabilities are enhanced if they understand their customer. Formulating home grown research is a relatively simple process but the difficulty comes from sticking to the project commitment and enforcing the discipline that it takes to gather and collate the findings. Once a research gathering system becomes an ongoing part of your business operations the data needs to be dissected and interpreted. All of this in the quest to find and understand whom your prospects are, where are they and what compels them to buy your products and services.
In search of the “New Reality” your homegrown research should be looking for the answers to the following general questions:
Keep It Simple. Keep It Believable.
If the Gen X and Y is our core consumer, we’d better understand where we need to reach them and, as important, what type of messaging will compel them to try our products at least once. Over the years we have found one simple axiom that works with the younger generation – tell the truth. Gen X and Y, because they have been cultivated in an environment of hyper-information, have strongly honed senses for what is true and what is not. The days of 50% off sales are waning fast.
If you’re trying to get people to try your service or product or store with tricks, you’re missing the point. Gimmicks tend to be discourteous and ultimately keep people away. Compelling, honest messaging has the opposite effect. People like to be treated as intelligent and respond in kind. It’s time to get back to basics.
Really think about your business. At its core are fundamental differences that separate you from your competition. These are the features that first appealed to your existing customers when they were prospects. They are the qualities that compelled them to try your product or service for the first time ... and they are the reasons that keep them coming back.
These points of differentiation are the simple truths of your business. Combined, they represent your brand. With today’s shifting demographics and rapidly changing new technologies, the simpler and more honest the message the better, particularly when speaking to younger generations that are impervious to grand statements and promises that are too good to be true.