Beware Angry Customers, Especially Those Bearing (Musical) Gifts

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Music has been used in advertising since pretty much the advent of commercial messages on the radio. And for good reason: the use of music and sound can be a powerful way to create brand associations and make an advertising message stick in consumers’ minds. For example:

This campaign, created by Leo Burnett Worldwide, ran from 1992-2007 and was  wildly successful. In fact, The Beef Checkoff Program (who funded the campaign), claims that the tagline “Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner” is now recognized by 88 percent of Americans.

American composer Aaron Copland may have been an unwilling contributor (and may be rolling in his grave to this day), but the use of his music (Hoedown from the ballet “Rodeo”) was, I would argue, a huge contributing factor to the stickiness of the ads.

For most Americans the first note of this snippet of music immediately conjures up an image of a sizzling steak, not (sorry, Aaron) dancers dressed as cowboys and cowgirls on a ballet stage.

Similarly, in the not so distant past, when you heard Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, you might have thought “Come Fly the Friendly Skies” (…with a pod of humpback whales) on United Airlines.

But now when someone says “United Airlines”, the more than 11 million people who have viewed this video are probably more likely to recall another message entirely: “United Breaks Guitars”

United eventually acknowledged their error (Crow. It’s what’s for dinner.), but not before suffering epic public humiliation and enormous damage to their brand (some even attribute a rapid drop in United’s stock price around this time to the viral spread of this video and the subsequent media coverage).

Incidents like this are becoming more common and brands need to watch out not only for the potential takedown of their company by celebrities, online influencers and the like, but also by a different type of influencer: the creative types who also really understand the power of social media.

Marketing and branding gurus are fond of talking about how the brand is no longer what a company says it is, but instead what our customers say it is.

And it’s true. Immense damage can now be done in a flash to even a huge brand like United when one single angry customer redefines the brand by writing a catchy tune and uploading it to YouTube.

All the more reason to beware the aggrieved customer with musical talent.