101 Great Minds on
Music, Brands and Behavior
Chairman & Chief Creative Officer at BBDO Worldwide
“Music is outrageously important. It‘s the most visceral of the art forms. It‘s one hundred percent feel. Great brands communicate through music.“
David Lubars, Chairman & Chief Creative Officer, BBDO Worldwide
Lubars has personally won over 100 Cannes Lions and 100 One Show pencils. His BMW Film series was the first ever Titanium winner at Cannes andis part of MoMA‘s permanent collection in NewYork City. He was named the winner of the 2007 Creative Leader Challenge, as chosen by the Wall Street Journal‘s Creative Leaders. At Cannes, he has served as President of the Titanium, Branded Content & Entertainment, Film and Press Juries. Under Lubars’ leadership, BBDO has won Network of the Year at Cannes five times. He’s based in New York City where that office alone won 24 Lions this year. Before joining BBDO, Lubars was President of Fallon Worldwide and ECD of Fallon North America.
Reese: David, how important is music in building a brand?
Lubars: It’s outrageously important. Music is the most visceral of the art forms. It’s one hundred percent feel. Great brands communicate through music. That doesn’t mean you have to always have music, but it is definitely very important.
Reese: What does music mean to you personally?
Lubars: Music is my passion. I play the piano, I play the guitar. It’s important to my entire family, my kids, my wife. I think it was Keith Richards who talked about how music is a neck-down art form. As for my work, music is not just a decoration, or an icing on the cake. It’s a substantial part of what we do.
Reese: Can you talk a little bit about your decision-making process regarding music? When are you thinking about music in terms of timeline in the process?
Lubars: I think we’re actually one of the very few agencies that still has full-time music producers. So as soon as we’re thinking about what the idea is, they’re in it thinking about how it could be scored. It’s really part of the creative process. It’s not about saying, “Well, let’s stick some good music on it after.”
Reese: So, it’s not just an afterthought?
Lubars: No. Well, sometimes you don’t know what it’s going to feel like until you put it on something. But there’s a constant flow of ideas. And it’s great to have people dedicated to the music alone to help us get it right. It’s invaluable.
Reese: When you have several options on the table, how do you know which is the right one? You’ve been part of so many successful recipes. But it seems nobody can predict a number one hit.
Lubars: That’s the great question of anything in creative theory. It’s unanswerable. There’s a range of options on the table, and one of them will just feel right. I don’t know how to put that any other way. There is no science to it. Again, it’s a neck-down, visceral feeling. And the one that moves us is the one we’ll go with. Of course, it must communicate the right thing. We did this project for Guinness last year, where a guy in a wheelchair plays basketball. We had a lot of music options, but the more we put in, the less emotion I felt. It’s like that famous Miles Davis quote, “It’s about the notes that you don’t play.” So, the one we ended up picking was so minimal, and simple, with holes in it, and it communicated it all. I watched it and I knew. It didn’t need accents and hits. It’s a di cult question, because a lot of it is feel-based. There is no science or metrics to determine what will become a winning, famous campaign.
Reese: A big frustration for a lot of creatives is often how they communicate music to music providers. Do you have a certain tactic in which you get your point across? After all, you’re a musician yourself.
Lubars: Well, I’m not a great musician, but I do understand great musicians by just being an average one. I think the best way is for creatives to sit with the composer and just work it through together. It also goes much faster that way, you don’t have to sit through demo after demo, you just go in there and you do it. It’s the most organic approach to it. Even if you don’t play music yourself, you know when it’s good and you know when it sounds right. And then, of course, there are music producers who can help translate that language to them.
Reese: The idea picks you, instead of you picking the idea?
Lubars: I think that’s true. I read a thing about John Lennon, where he said that his truly brilliant and inspired songs came out of nowhere. They just appeared, and he didn’t even know how he wrote them. I would never compare us to John Lennon, but I agree, that’s what happens, that’s what we do, too.
Reese: Most brands follow strict guidelines for their visual communication and visual identity. Do you think audio should be treated with the same discipline as the visuals?
Lubars: The question is: If you have very strict, rigorous visual guidelines, maybe you don’t want to have equally strict audio guidelines, because you need some surprise and freshness in the mix, and be more open with music or audio assets. Conversely, let’s say you have one piece of music that you always use – then you should have visuals that go all over the place. So that it doesn’t seem like the same piece every time. I’m not sure you want to have the same rigor in every discipline. I think you need room and leeway, to keep things interesting. Take our Snickers campaign – it’s the same concept every time, but we try to change it up with different situations, people, and celebrities. Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes not, because you don’t want to have a predictable kind of format where people go, “Oh, here’s one of these again, I know what’s going to happen.” So, I’m not sure… but I do believe parameters are good in at least one of the disciplines to anchor the thing.
Reese: So, there should be some standards, but you don’t want rules that are set in stone and will handcuff the agency?
Lubars: Yes. To me, a great campaign, wherever you see it, is like a welcome friend, who comes in a new outfit, but it’s nice to see them again every time, as opposed to the same old, boring, “Here they are.” You want to be able to add new things to a campaign. Tight parameters are good, choking parameters are bad.
Reese: So, you prefer the kind of audio style guide that offers more of an overall tonality for all of a brand’s audio assets.
Lubars: Yes, exactly. To me, a brand is like a person. Sometimes it can be thoughtful, sometimes it can be witty, sometimes it can be funny, sometimes emotional, just like you are or I am. That’s what the guidelines should reflect, while staying within a certain personality to every brand. As opposed to, “It’s always going to have this ending.” That’s where it gets problematic to me.
Reese: Just like a person, a brand should have their own voice, with which they can sing a hundred different songs, while it’ll always sound like the brand.
Lubars: Yeah, totally. That’s a good way to put it.
Reese: What’s the greatest challenge in finding a brand’s voice?
Lubars: That you don’t do what others have done. The best thing you can do for a brand is to separate it from the pack. The challenge is always to find the new, the fresh. Because there’s so many formulas that you can fall back on, but it wouldn’t be responsible and it wouldn’t be effective. Things that have already been done will just pass through people.
“To me, a brand is like a person. Sometimes it can be thoughtful, sometimes it can be witty, sometimes it can be funny, sometimes emotional, just like you are or I am.”
Reese: So, you prefer making sure people are not too detached from the process?
Lubars: Yes. But I’d never tell a composer, “Give us that and that chord.” I just talk feel. It’s all feel. I mean… I enjoy paintings. But paintings have never made me cry. Music can, so easily. It can make you do a lot of things.
Reese: True. And you can also close your eyes, but not your ears. Do you see a shift in how important music is becoming? If you look back at the last 5, 10, or 15 years – what has changed?
Lubars: To me, music has always been crucial. I worked on Apple in the early days. You know, in the ‘80s, they used that new age piano. It’s funny, I would never listen to that style of music at home but it had an amazing effect in the ads. To me, music has just always been a key tool. It’s always been important.
Reese: But how about new touch points like social media, and so on?
Lubars: Oh, it’s amazing the number of new avenues, new ways for people to be exposed to music. But … I mean, from the beginning of humankind, music has always been important.
Reese: Why is it then that brands don’t invest more in music? Why is it still so often an afterthought?
Lubars: It’s hard for me to second that… When I think about all the Gold-winning Lions out there… there has always been fantastic music with it.
Reese: I know, but the reality in Europe and, especially in Germany, is different. You watch advertising on TV and you can tell it doesn’t have the same quality or value.
Lubars: Sometimes you want to start with no sound because you want to convey something that’s naked. It’s not that music has to go with everything. To view it as an afterthought, though, that seems careless. If you want to evoke emotions, and beauty, it’s a careless thing to underestimate music.
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