Science of sound: making Christmas adverts more memorable

By Shazia Ginai, UK CEO, Neuro-Insight

Every year, British people turn their attention to the TV screens in anticipation of the first Christmas advert to drop as a signal that the festive season is upon us. This year, despite the pandemic restrictions and constraints when it comes to filming, marks another season filled with emotional and creative Christmas adverts.  

Our research on previous Christmas ads has shown that stronger bonds are formed with festive ads that specifically reference the season and its well-known traditions in both imagery and script. Our memories are constructed through strong associations and key Christmas cues within an ad will make it live longer in people’s minds, as well as boosting its relevance. 

Another element that increases the longevity of connection is the soundtrack of the ad – something which the iconic status of the John Lewis adverts can attest to. Many customers could probably pick a John Lewis ad out based on audio soundtrack alone. It follows a consistent formula year after year. 

Humans are visually dominant and sometimes sound is overlooked but at Christmas the soundtrack can take centre stage. When it comes to how to maximise the use of sound, we have seen that by aligning the audio cues with the visual narrative brands can expect stronger peaks of memory encoding. Not only does coupling the soundtrack of the advert with the Christmas visuals have this effect, but also mentioning the holiday in some way through the lyrics or the sounds, also aligns the song with pre-existing associations and can indicate familiarity. After all, we’ve all got those songs that remind us of a certain place or time in our lives. This familiarity drives stronger right brain memory response.

Because of the emotional response elicited from a piece of music (which can be either positive or negative depending on the context and sound) – the associated memory also tends to be strong.

A great example of using a popular song to engage the viewers is the Marks & Spencer’s Go Jumpers for Christmas ad from last year.

The creative doesn’t explicitly mention Christmas until the very end, however frequent festive cues throughout the ad drive, repeat and trigger those associated memory responses. Furthermore, the highly recognisable 80s hit song “Jump Around” not only aligns with the dancing visuals in the video, but also connects to the product itself – a smart play on words and associations. The jumper is the central character of the narrative, and the music acts as a boosting mechanism to drive further brand associations and long-term memory encoding. 

While music on its own can be a powerful tool, it becomes far more effective when it also highlights or corresponds to the story. When it matches the sentiment of the story and the melody aligns to the ebbing and flowing in the pace of the creative story being told. It can also set the tone for a brand’s personality, as well as target a specific type of audience demographic.

Disney’s first Christmas advert “From our family to yours” is presented as a short animation around the themes of traditions and family togetherness in a year that has upended both. The lyrics of “Love Is A Compass” fit perfectly with the storyline of the grandmother, granddaughter, and the beloved Mickey Mouse character. The storytelling in the emotive advert is powerful, and important as family and loved ones are so front of mind for many of us – especially this Christmas.

The festive season is such a meaningful time for so many families to celebrate special memories, so brands need to be considerate when presenting such moments. Our brains love human interactions, and in a year that we miss those moments the most, people will be turning to their screens with the aim to entertain themselves and escape from reality at least momentarily. This ad relies on the emotional storytelling of the song, rather than a dialogue to powerfully move viewers on the journey alongside the key characters

It’s been a difficult year for brands to strike the right balance with their creative as their hands have been forced away from the big budget and hyper-joyful approaches of previous years, but a key aspect consistent in many of the 2020 Christmas crop is the music within the adverts. Sometimes, a simple song can drive stronger memory peaks and to become the soundtrack of the season and help to recreate those warm fuzzy brand association long afterwards. 

By Shazia Ginai, UK CEO, Neuro-Insight

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