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4 Ways to Create Emotionally-Driven Ads with Music

Don’t you wish your life had a soundtrack? With the ability to make us smile, cry, or feel nostalgic, music is a powerful part of the human experience — and marketers know this. 

From Coca-Cola’s 1971 'Hilltop' ad featuring the song “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” to Apple’s commercial for the first MacBook Air with “New Soul” by Yael Naim, the most memorable, emotional ads of today are those where music plays a prominent role.  

For decades, marketers have used music to elevate a concept into something more, whether for TV, radio, or social media. Music and sound can tell stories and evoke emotions that cannot be unlocked by visuals alone.

In one study, Nielsen looked at over 600 television advertisements and found that ads with music performed better in terms of creativity, empathy, emotive power, and information power than those without. 


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Here are four ways you can use music and sound to create emotional ads:

1. Tell a Story

Marketing is all about storytelling, and good marketing is about telling a compelling story — one that tugs at heartstrings, inspires action, and opens the audience’s eyes to something new. 

Can you guess one commonality between every form of storytelling, whether it be a TV show, movie, or theater? The use of music. 

That’s because music offers cues: a dramatic crescendo indicates to the audience that this moment in the storyline is important, while a fast beat with a loud bass can pump adrenaline and signal that an exciting or dangerous event is upcoming.

Music is a storytelling aid that pushes the audience into the right headspace, helping them better grasp what is happening. 

John Lewis, the high-end U.K. department store, is a great example of a retailer that uses music to enhance the emotional pull of their ads. 

Every holiday season, the brand releases a Christmas advert, where sentimental songs are used to augment touching and emotional narratives that emphasize themes like the innocence of childhood (“Real Love” cover) or true friendship and care (“Can’t Fight this Feeling” cover). 

And these emotional ads work — their YouTube comments are filled with viewers describing how they were overcome with emotions (with some reporting that they even sobbed uncontrollably.) Consequently, John Lewis’s annual holiday campaign has become a cultural phenomenon. Some have even described it as “the best Christmas present every year.” 



ProTip: To switch up a well-known song and make it appropriate for your narrative, consider changing the tempo, instrumentation, or tone. Having a different artist record a cover can drastically change the feeling of the song while still keeping it recognizable.  

For more resources on marketing storytelling, check out 5 Film Books That Will Teach You About Marketing Storytelling

2. Spark Action

Music has the power to inspire — that’s why we have national anthems, college fight songs, and football club anthems that rally people around a shared cause. 

Brands that have a greater purpose beyond their bottom line can use music in their ads to encourage viewers to take action, such as standing against injustice, donating money to a cause, or enacting change for the greater good. This, in turn, can help shoppers better associate the brand with its meaningful cause, from body positivity to shattering stereotypes. 

Take a look at Nike, one of the top brands striving to make a cultural impact beyond selling products. Their “Dream Crazy” ad comments on the obstacles that we as a country have to overcome, inspiring people to do their best in adverse situations. 

Starring athletes such as Serena Williams and former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, the spot used a simple yet optimistic song called “We Move Lightly.” The visuals and message were already powerful, but coupled with the music — which captures the energy of what propels people forward — it’s impossible not to feel empowered and energized to contribute to change. 



Pro Tip: It can be challenging to find a song that’s appropriate for your exact cause. Consider choosing music with ambiguous lyrics, so it doesn’t dictate or narrate the ad. Instead, let the beat, rhythm, and melody serve as artistic elements. 

3. Evoke Emotion

The primary reason why marketers use music in their campaigns is that music can evoke emotions that match a commercial’s CTA. An upbeat pop song can elicit joy, while loud EDM can arouse excitement. 

One great example is Sony’s “Balls” commercial, created to promote the retailer’s new high-definition LCD televisions. By releasing 250,000 colored bouncy balls down the hills of San Francisco, the brand wanted to celebrate color visually. 

But instead of pairing the concept with a boppy and fun tune to drum up energy, they decided to accompany it with “Heartbeats,” a guitar ballad. The melodic music choice highlights the hypnotic and engaging quality of the visuals without overpowering it. With no sound effects or voiceovers, the music does most of the emotional lifting — the extremely captivating ad ultimately evokes a sense of nostalgia for the simplicities and small beauties of life. 



ProTip: It can be exciting to license a popular hit that’s instantly recognizable, but these songs may not tell your story best. Find a song that’s suitable without only focusing on the artist’s name or record label. Struggling to source the perfect track? Consider commissioning a singer-songwriter to create a song just for you. 

4. Align with Your Viewers

Music choice can be a highly useful tool for brands that want to align with specific audience demographics. That’s why Beats by Dre, which targets millennial shoppers, chose to feature Billie Eilish in one of its recent ads. Music can set expectations for promoted product experiences, as well as form the tone of the brand’s identity itself. 

So, if you’re hoping to capture the attention of younger consumers, try some gritty EDM or top 40 hits. Comparatively, for mature audiences, you’ll want to go for more pleasant music or old tunes that’ll catch their attention. Whether you’re writing a jingle or purchasing rights to a well-known song, try to balance catchiness and relevancy with emotional messaging. 



Pro Tip: Writing a jingle or original score is a great opportunity to create something that your brand can own. Take the “We Are Farmers” jingle for example — it’s simply a few notes that people immediately associate with Farmers insurance. 

Check out this post to learn how to find your target audience.

Not Musically Inclined? No Need to Fret

Whether you’re using music to tell a better story or spark an action, it’s a great tool to include in your marketing arsenal. Even if you’re not musically inclined, it’s hard to go wrong with leveraging a popular hit, a catchy jingle, or an original score. 

And to give your marketing — including emotional ads — even more oomph, be sure to check out AdRoll’s tools that can help grow your brand. Remember: Effective ads go far beyond selling products. They’re about emotive power and connection. 


About the author: 

Laura Finnerty is the Multimedia Content Manager at AdRoll, where she creates audio, video, and digital content. She has a passion for educational content, and a particular sweet-spot (obsession) for audio, radio, and podcasts. Her career has lead to adventures around the world, including Europe, Qatar, and USA.


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