Dress an Advert with a Song

February 15th, 2022 

“Dress poorly and they remember the dress; dress impeccably and they remember the woman”. Coco Chanel’s famous quote may seem only applicable to the art of fashion, but it also contains an important lesson in the craft of advertising. Chanel argued that a great dress should never outshine the wearer, but merely accentuate one’s natural features. Recognisable music in an advert should operate in much the same way, not overshadowing the visual elements, but accentuating its narrative capabilities, and creating a product that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Here are 5 different ways that we believe music can complete an advert.

1. Boy on the Bike – Hovis Advert – Music setting the Tone

Hovis’s “Boy on Bike” was described by the BFI as “one of the most potent, popular” ads in British history. So we know the score worked, but how? The advert was an attempt to get people to associate Hovis with an artisanal product, in an era when bread was becoming increasingly mass produced. The musical choice had to induce a nostalgic feeling, taking them back to a more quaint time where bread was delivered by hand from the local bakery.

The song choice of Antonín Dvořák‘s New World Symphony to score the advert creates this nostalgic tone. The classical genre of the song gives the advert a timeless feel, as if it were a childhood memory, while the brass section that the symphony is built on gives it warmth, taking the viewer back to a simpler time when bread was delivered by hand.

2. Maria Sharapova “Pretty– Nike Advert – Music Offering a Punchline

Maria Sharapova was at the height of her powers in 2006 when this ad was released, playing in the U.S open that she would go on to win, at the ripe age of 19. But behind this success was the nagging media attention that fetishised her simply for her looks, reducing her to an object of desire, distracting from her accomplishments as a sportswoman. This Nike ad plays with the conundrum that Sharapova faced, of how to be taken seriously for your craft in a world that will only judge you for your appearance. In doing so it uses music as a punchline the ad follows Sharapova as she heads from her hotel to the court.

Around her is a world singing Leonard Berstein’s, ‘You’re so pretty’ from West Side Story. There seems to be no escape for Sharapova; the crowd, referees, commentators all seem to be in the act, mouthing along mockingly to the song. But Sharapova is not playing ball, silencing the song with an unmusical grunt as she returns her opponents serve.

The song perfectly sets up the gag by metaphorically recalling the media’s obsession with her looks, the punchline is Sharapova abruptly silencing it with her sporting talent. A lesser advert would be completely outshone by such a famous song, but Nikes ‘I’m so pretty’ uses it cleverly to put the issue on centre court, while simultaneously deconstructing it comedically.

3. Red Dress – John Lewis – Music Reinforcing a Narrative

A list of great advert needle drops would not be complete without a John Lewis entry. For the last decade, their use of songs in their Christmas ads has not only dominated the TV, but also the top 10 charts. Our pick for John Lewis is not a Christmas ad, by this point it’s almost a self fulfilling prophecy they are good. We have instead gone for the 2010 Red Dress ad, whose success can be witnessed outside of the world of hype, seen in the concrete increase of sales by 39.7 per cent.

The ad follows a woman through all the stages of her life from being a baby, to motherhood and ending as she walks with her grandchildren in the park. Without the addition of music this advert would be a family standard narrative life arc told through montage. But the addition of the poetic notes and lyrics of Billy Joel, Always a Woman, gives the advert an additional dimension, by linking it to the universal female experience that the song connotes. This experience is exemplified by the protagonist’s commitment to establish a family, musically tying John Lewis commitment never to be beaten on price to the lifelong commitment of motherhood.

4. Rule Yourself  Phelps – Under Armour – Music Strengthening Character Arcs

Michael Phelps’ success at the 2016 Olympics was not just a story of victory, but also one of redemption. It came after he had prematurely retired after a disappointing showing at the 2012 London Olympics which had led to substance abuse issues and depression. Having dealt with these issues Phelps made a return to the American swimming setup and it was this redemption arc that Under Armour decided to play with musically and visually in their ad.

The visual motif of the ad is the loneliness of Phelps’ pursuit, it ends and begins with Phelps swimming lengths in the pool by himself. The message is clear: it is what Phelps does in the shadows that has made him the competitor he is. The music of The Kills The Last Goodbye can be heard throughout the ad, suggesting that the sacrifices that he has chosen to endure on this lonesome path, are because this is his last dance. This deepens the audience’s understanding of Phelps’ character, as we begin to understand that he is prepared to endure so much suffering because this is his last Olympics, leading us to question why this last Olympic means so much to Phelps, bringing the audience back to his redemption arc. This all helps humanise an otherwise unreachable athlete.

The use of music to humanise Phelps was undoubtedly a success with the ad becoming the most shared Rio Olympic ad on social media, with 47% of those surveyed saying they did so to be inspired by the Phelps story, with the ad also going on to pick up a top prize at the 2016 Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity

5. Fanthem – Qatar Airways – Music Connecting us to Superstars 

Now to an award-winning ad we produced for Qatar Airways. During the Covid-19 pandemic, we were tasked with creating a film that showed how much footballers missed their fans. It had to evoke emotion, be memorable and we had to find just the right song. 

Bill Withers’ iconic Ain’t No Sunshine, felt like the perfect piece, full of the sweet sadness of missing someone you love. We filmed football stars including Neymar Jr, Mbappé and Leroy Sané in empty stadiums speaking the lyrics to this motown hit. Why? To build an emotive connection between fans and footballers and look to a brighter future when we can all watch sport together again. The strength of our concept can be seen in the result, as we led to us picking up a prestigious cannes dolphin.

Hope this blog shows why it’s worth going to the trouble of getting the perfect score for your ad. The only challenge is navigating usage agreements for hit songs can be soul-destroying, but at Fortemus Films, we can take the pain out of using iconic tracks on your content, it’s something we do all the time. If you would like some tips about how to achieve this please give us a call on 020 3405 2260 and ask for Sean, or email sean.matica@fortemusfilms.com.

Tell us about your project.

Send us a email to get a quote or more information on Sports Sponsorship. 

sean matica photo

Sean Matica
@: sean.matica@fortemusfilms.com
T: 020 3405 2260

As a client partner at Fortemus Films, we provide FIFA & UEFA approved media that wins awards, increases audience engagement and delivers results.

I strongly believe in the benefits of creating exciting engaging experiences that help your target audience bond with your brand.