The other day I eavesdropped as a pretty girl faced the teenage boy seated across from her and sang, “Tonight / We are young / So let’s set the world on fire”.

Frustrated by his blank stare, she said, “Don’t you know the song? It’s from that Chevy commercial”. 

If that example doesn’t convince you of the power of music and marketing, nothing will.

Sure, marrying the two isn’t easy, but Susan Stone of Tonic Music and Jedd Katrancha of Downtown Music Publishing kindly shared their expertise at Internet Week last Wednesday and offered the following tips on how marketers might best integrate music into their campaigns.

1. It’s okay not to know

In 2008, Santigold (then called Santogold) was a relative unknown, but Bud Light took a chance with her “Creator” for its Bud Light Lime campaign. The gamble netted the company cachet when the musician went on to win Best Breakthrough Artist from NME that year.

“If you wait until something is certified ‘cool’ with the public, you’ve probably missed the opportunity to launch something new and benefit from that because it’s too late,” Stone wrote later in an email.

2. In the age of “like,” be in the business of love

While you can’t predict with certainty which new artists the public will embrace, you want to make sure that your audience has its ears pricked to the music you’ve chosen for the campaign. You or your client won’t always love the song or artist, but it’s more important for your audience to be the one that loves it.

You’ll have a better chance of playing matchmaker between the two if you’ve been listening to your target group and know which artists, songs, or genres have been moving them, be it classic tracks or newest subgenre.

Stone pointed to the recent example of Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence” featured in Dior Couture’s Secret Garden campaign, which counted 22m views in just two weeks. It’s an oldie from an established band, but it fit the brand and its fans, who used social media to praise the musical choice (55 tweets per day).

3. Don’t be a control freak

Does your brand’s name or logo need to be on every frame, every t-shirt? No. “Brands that I’ve worked with do the best when they own the experience,” Katrancha said. 

4. Respect

You’ll find it easier to let go of the reins if you respect the artist and the audience.

Brand integrity will be harder to come by if you use a song that sounds an awful lot like the hit by that band who wouldn’t give you the rights when you came knocking.

Do otherwise and you may find yourself collared in something like Flavorwire’s “10 Advertisements That Shamelessly Rip Off Well-Known Songs,” which fingered Microsoft for running a song that sounds criminally like Arcade Fire’s “Wake Up.” 


Plus, there’s just no reason for such behavior. There are too many good bands out there who will say yes to your request. “It’s not worth it,” said Stone.

5. Care where the music comes from

Sometimes the artist or the label has a built-in community that matters more than the song. “So what if the high hat doesn’t match up with the car when it comes out of the gate?” said Stone, referring to the synchronous sound design many marketers crave with spots.

Examples abound on this point — Stone referenced the Alabama Shakes, while Katrancha offered Miike Snow — but another is McDonald’s use of The Shins’ “New Slang.” The band was still relatively obscure when the ad ran in 2002 (It would be two more years before Natalie Portman would utter, “The Shins will change your life,” in Garden State), but it was part of the family of bands signed to the iconic Sub Pop label and so had a ready-made audience.


We encounter music in so many ways — at the store, as a video posted on a friend’s status update, as a loud blare from a passing car. How can a brand stand out in the cacophony?

In each of the tips Stone outlined, the key, she said, is knowing that listening is a two-way street. Ensure your audience feels heard, and they’ll listen the next time you have something to communicate.