Sounds Interesting: Using music to differentiate challenger brands

October 1, 2015 | blog | By Mike Sullivan


How fast can you hear? It’s an odd question, but neuroscientist Seth Horowitz, author of “The Universal Sense: How Hearing Shapes the Mind” has an answer.

“You hear anywhere from 20 to 100 times faster than you see, so everything you perceive with your ears is coloring every other perception you have, and every conscious thought you have,” Horowitz says. “Sound gets in so fast it modifies all other input and sets the stage for it.”

Listen to just the first two seconds of the TV commercial at this link and you’ll immediately recognize the obvious truth in Horowitz’s assertion. Just a couple piano notes is all it takes to prime the viewer for what turns out to be a touching and powerful message. The emotive content of music not only creates a quick impression, it builds a lasting one. If you doubt it, just listen to this and then try to snuff out the mental replay for the rest of the day. Sorry about that. Music is a powerful memory aid. In fact, I’ll bet you used a song to learn your ABC’s as a kid.

Of course, brand differentiation and message durability are hallmarks of good advertising and music can be used to foster both. This is especially important today, as around 20,000 new brands are launched each year. That’s a lot of clutter and noise. Just 40 years ago, the average consumer was exposed to around 500 advertising messages each day. Today, that number is closer to 2,000 messages daily. It’s no wonder advertising recall is falling. In 1960, the average consumer could recall roughly one-third of the advertising they saw or heard. In 2015, message recall has dropped to less than 10 percent.  Breaking through is more challenging than ever.

Category killers may enjoy the luxury of spending their way to advertising success, but challenger brand marketers have to work harder and smarter to boost sales and grab market share. As Nobel Prize winning physicist Ernest Rutherford once quipped, “We don’t have the money, so we’ll have to think.”  That’s a sentiment shared by challenger brand marketers who have no option but to outthink, rather than outspend the competition.

Making smart, strategic use of music can turbocharge an ad campaign by punching through the noise and making a lasting impression. Higher message recall requires lower media spend, and that’s a winning combination for a challenger brand.

Mike Sullivan

President at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency


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