Soundings: Did you know that…
Did you know that…
… there are around 25 different ways that music can function in a film or video? Understanding these puts you at an advantage when it comes to creating commercials that excel. Ignore the ways that music can function effectively and you might find yourself asking the question: why did it fail?
Maximising the use of sound in a TV commercial means knowing about what it can and cannot do just as much as knowing which style of music track to use. Most people assume (understandably) that a music track should somehow amplify or confirm the visual or verbal content of a commercial. However, music is often at its most effective in performing a contrasting or ‘framing’ role.
Pastoral music warbling gently behind an idyllic country scene for example may support what we can already see on the screen, but there is no tension, no drama, therefore no emotional pull. Place the same music behind a scene of devastation and the emotional temperature is immediately heightened by the tension between the visual and aural elements. It doesn’t take specialist musical expertise to understand this. What is important is to have a clear grasp of the creative function of each element of the video: dialogue, voice-over, image, character, soundtrack, etc.
Speech, text and image are important transmitters of semantic information. Music cannot do this and indeed studies show that the emotional undertow of music can be distracting when the principal aim is getting facts across in the space of a few seconds. But music can generate pace and urgency behind a voice-over so long as its melodic or harmonic content does not create an alternative aural focus.
Ensuring the right music is doing the right job for a commercial means thinking about it at the beginning of the creative process. Because one thing is certain: music as an afterthought associates that value to the product, and ultimately the consumer.
A salutary tale
Few companies appear to be pro-active about the media potential of their websites. Of course there are many examples of flashy flash animations and cinematic videos, but they are invented by and large by website designers with probably only the vaguest of creative briefs from the client company. Or they are simply imported from a TV campaign.
Nestlé, however, appear to have taken an in-house decision about sound on their corporate website. On a number of pages they have taken the trouble to embed a simple audio player which automatically reads the text of the article featured on that page. Nothing new in principal, but it’s encouraging to come across a global brand thinking more imaginatively about their web presence. This is not the same as a podcast created purely in the audio medium, but an attempt to provide an alternative platform for the same written content. Screen readers are commonly used by people with visual impairments and they are available with the Microsoft Office package, but Nestlé are possibly unique in embedding the software.
There are two sides to the screen reader, however. On the positive side, updating textual content does not require separate updating for the audio. Thus documents can easily be changed or amended on the relevant page without having to be concerned about audio files. On the negative side, not only does a digital voice sound odd, but it signals a lack of authenticity which can seriously undermine a brand image. The ‘female’ voice, in fact, makes Nestlé sound like cheap fairground automaton. And this is perhaps more damaging than the frequent mis-pronunciation of numbers and technical terms. No-one at Nestlé, it seems, bothered to listen to the result.
So if there’s a moral to the story, it is that good intentions are never quite enough where sound is concerned. It’s always better to take advice in advance. Or perhaps just to listen more attentively.