Listen Up: Keep It Authentic by Extending Brand Suitability Measures to Music | Industry Insights | All MKC Content | ANA

Listen Up: Keep It Authentic by Extending Brand Suitability Measures to Music

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With consumer sentiment shifting from mindless consumerism to mindful consumption, brand authenticity is everything. A recent study from Asendia found that 59 percent of consumers shop exclusively for retail brands that they view as "authentic," meaning that the brand is "faithful to itself, its customers, and to the wider world."

When a brand's values significantly influence consumer buying decisions, it's critical to have that brand voice pull through in marketing assets; all elements in ad creative should be carefully considered in campaign development. But there is one element that is still often overlooked when it comes to brand authenticity and brand suitability: music lyrics. And sometimes, embracing authenticity might mean leaning into "edgy" or controversial territory.

Just as visuals and copy help bring a brand's message to its audience, the lyrical elements in a brand's marketing creative can be a powerful tool and contribution to an authentic brand voice. Lyrics infuse emotion into a brand's call to action while helping to engage consumers more deeply. The lyrics in your creative – from traditional or streaming TV spots, radio or podcasts or in paid social – must correctly embody that brand's voice.

For some marketing channels, that choice might be a track with explicit lyrics as opposed to something" clean." While explicit or content considered "profane" is not permitted by law in broadcast TV commercials, platforms like YouTube where audiences are increasingly 'tuning in' do not have these restrictions and in fact, offer filters for under 18 viewers.

However, nuance matters. There's explicit, and then there are lyrics that could be considered inappropriate or offensive in 2023. All it takes is one unsavory lyric to rub audiences the wrong way. Therefore, brands must consider how both music and lyrics connect with a range of consumers in terms of both psychographics and demographics.

Indeed, more culturally sensitive consumers today can quickly "cancel" a song because of one word or stanza in a lyric that might be deemed unacceptable. Ask Beyonce and Lizzo, who have recently been called out for using ableist language in their songs, prompting both to edit and re-release their recordings. It is also essential to remember that the lyrical context does not always stand the test of time. Taylor Swift and Paramore have gone as far as changing lyrics or stopped performing material criticized by listeners who have retroactively taken issue with lyrics released years ago that they now regard as problematic.

While these superstars might have a forgiving fan base, brands that make the same misstep rarely receive the same grace. Marketers need to take extra measures to appraise musical assets. Adding a brand suitability layer to global campaign management is doable and can provide insights to help creative directors pick the right tracks and avoid tunes that don't ring true.

By looking through the same lens as today's consumers, focusing on the lyrics and sentiment behind the songs they consider, marketers can more effectively avoid unsavory messaging when developing scalable and global campaigns.

Even in our highly automated digital age, marketers have a range of brand-suitability solutions to make the right consumer connections, at a global scale. Make sure to include tools and frameworks that flag, filter or rate the emotional quotient and cultural nuances of lyrics.

In today's "make-or-break" cultural climate, what you say and do, regardless of intention, can have a lasting impact on a brand. There is little room for error, so mindfulness and scrutiny are essential in ad creative development, right down to the lyrical context. Corporations, advertisers and artists must consider the effects of song lyrics on brand suitability, whether through campaigns, marketing materials or the music itself.


The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.


Darryl Ballantyne is co-founder and CEO of LyricFind.

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