Pooja Ahuja Nagpal
Nov 29, 2013

Live issue: Opportunity cost of popular soundtracks?

In using popular songs for obvious reasons, are brands missing out on ‘sound’ identity, asks Pooja Ahuja Nagpal

Live issue: Opportunity cost of popular soundtracks?

The house is divided on whether brands are losing out on an opportunity to create an identity in sound that can pay back over the long term, by using popular tracks. Think Britannia’s sign off, think Airtel’s signature tune, and one realises that there is a case.

Says Prasoon Joshi, executive chairman and CEO, McCann Worldgroup, “It’s a lost opportunity in the sense that we do not see music as a long term proposition. It’s a fundamental issue - if you keep changing your tone and manner every now and then there will be no consistency in the brand. The root cause of this is that there is a short term plan, it comes from the client’s side where they get short term goals and they want to match those short term goals. To live up to the short term goals, the brief given to an agency is also a short term one. And in the short term, I do not think that original compositions can benefit.”

There are constraints that prompt the use of popular soundtracks, reminds Santosh Desai,  CEO and MD, Future Brands. He explains, “Yes, it is a lost opportunity as it always makes sense if you have as many assets as you can own and sound is a very important element of owning assets. I think, for a lot of brands, the thing is whether they think they are able to create that - whether given the fact that media is not cheap and therefore will they be able to own an identity based on sound.”

He also notes that there is a ring-in currency and nostalgia. “For a lot of tracks that use older songs, you are able to import the associations that are already embedded in the track onto your storyline and on occasions on your brand. What you are actually managing to borrow is not just sound but a set of feelings and emotions that are associated with that sound property that already exist with the song. I think that’s really the kind of toss-up. Yes, you don’t have the same kind of ownership that you would have if you created something of your own, but you do it relatively quicker without that much repetition and at a lower cost. Both are valid strategies – I don’t think it’s one or the other.”

KV Sridhar, CCO, India sub-continent, Leo Burnett, cites the example of Tata Capital, for whom the agency created a track through musicians Shankar, Ehsaan and Loy four years back. While the track has been used since then, it was because for that brand, rhythm and sound was part of the strategy. He reasons that there are other brands that may not use the signature tune at all.
“There is no compulsion that you need to create a property out of sound. We have to have an audio and visual to tell a story,” he adds.

Ninety per cent of the commercials in the West use an existing soundtrack, points out Agnello Dias, chairman and co-founder, Taproot India, concurring with the view that it would be wrong to view use of popular soundtracks as a lost opportunity to create IP.

He notes that even at international award shows, the ‘Sound’ categories recognise both best use of music and original  soundtracks. “If you see the TOI Nakka Mukka commercial, it won in the Best Use of Music. It was an existing and very popular Tamil film song,” adds Dias. One cannot contest that the track worked for The Times of India.

Arun Iyer, NCD, Lowe Lintas, contends that a brand could take either route, noting that context and fit matter - and how it is used.

“You end up thinking that a song would sit perfectly on a film. One may realise that the instrumentation is a bit dated and hence make it a bit contemporary. Coke is a classic example – the Imran Khan and Kalki film using the soundtrack ‘Tum jo mil gaye ho’. Everything sat perfectly but in its previous avatar it would have made the brand sound a little dated. They did a new age version;  it seemed contemporary as the brand is today. So, it’s a matter of how the song is used and where it is used,” surmises Iyer.




Prasoon Joshi, executive chairman and CEO, McCann Worldgroup

“If your idea to begin with is short term solutions, then you will find short term answers and I think that remixes are very good short term answers. When there is a long term thinker of the brand who comes with that vision, you will always find an investment in original composition. The root cause of this is short term thinking.”



Brand consultant

Santosh Desai, chief executive officer and managing director, Future Brands

“The way sound works is that it equally becomes a part of your mind. When you share it ‘x’ number of times it has to do with the quality of sound itself. The point is that some brands do not necessarily back themselves to do that - even in terms of just your quality of the music or track produced, you are not always confident that you will be able to create that quality. ”




KV Sridhar, chief creative officer, India sub-continent, Leo Burnett

“Sound is sometimes very strategic and sometimes less for storytellers. There is no one rule to anything and if you have an opportunity to say that for our brand we will just use sound as an important thing and create it and use it for each commercial then you create your original sound. Or you tactically use sound to enhance your film; then you borrow from outside. There is no one rule; it depends on the strategic route and the need.”




Agnello Dias, chairman and co-founder, Taproot India

“Some brands decide before hand that they will make music identity a part of their template; for them to create an original track and use it film after film is valid. Not all brands create a music identity. I don’t recommend it because it is locking in all future communication to be music-based - there is no guaranteeing what communication need may arise in future. To have a music identity at the end of the film, where there are one or two notes that remind you of the brand, that is fine. ”





Arun Iyer, national creative director, Lowe Lintas and Partners

“I don’t think it is a lost opportunity. If the song is making sense to the plot and if it is adding value to the plot, then it is okay. Otherwise if the song is being used just because of a lack of an idea, then it doesn’t make sense. I don’t think anybody uses a song out of context. There would be some thought as to why a song should be used. ”

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