101 Great Minds on
Music, Brands and Behavior


JOhn Rocco

Vice PResident Marketing at Sonnet Insurance


“It’s about the importance of craft in advertising. Music can’t be an afterthought.”


John Rocco, Vice President, Sonnet Insurance


John Rocco has been the vice president of marketing at sonnet, economical insurance’s new and innovative insurance brand since 2015. His extensive branding experience is a result of nearly twenty years of working on big canadian and international retail brands, his previous positions including vice president of marketing at sears and head of marketing at target. Rocco, whose father was an opera singer, is a music lover who considers sound an essential component in marketing. In his interview with uli, he explains why it is important to re-introduce craft into advertising and the unique power that lies in the emotional voice of a brand.

Reese: John, do you have a musical background?
Rocco: No, I gave up on the piano after two years. I don’t have a musical background other than appreciation. My father was an opera singer, so I grew up with music in our household. I resented opera because I was forced to listen to it, and then I became a fan later on in life (laughs). My professional background is in marketing – mostly retail for the past 20 years. I’ve worked on a number of big Canadian and international brands like Target doing customer and brand marketing, Sonnet is my first time outside of retail. 
Reese: How important has music been in building a brand in your 20 years of experience?

Rocco: It’s been a massive part of any brand work I’ve done, for example when I was working with Sears and we were trying to reposition the brand. It had been associated with a lot of negativity and decline in the brand equity. We had some original music composed and that was very important for the rebranding. We had a custom piece of music created and had it made into a song that we had on iTunes and it actually got picked up on the radio network in Toronto. I also got a lot of experience working for Target as they’re famous for picking up and redoing popular culture and music. Obviously, as we launched Sonnet and started to create this campaign around optimism and these big, anthemic commercials with great directors, music has been an important part of that. “What’s the best that can happen” for the “Balloon” spot was the first real original score we did. In this case, music certainly took the lead, it was a piece of music that we built the animation around.

Reese: You used music strategically in “Balloon”. That’s the exception. Most of the 100 people I interviewed agreed that, in general, music is treated as an afterthought. Would you also agree?

Rocco: Yes. I think it’s easy for a lot of people to look at it that way and I think a lot of work is made that way. Certainly, it’s not the approach that Michael and I take. For us, music has been the biggest source of discussion and debate. It’s something that we’re very passionate about in terms of what it can make a spot be. I don’t think there’s enough out there that way. But there are others – for example I’m a massive fan of the John Lewis holiday ad every year. The first thing I think about when I wonder what their next spot is going to be is the music, the interpretation they do. I don’t necessarily think “what’s the story going to be?”

Reese: That’s true. Unfortunately, 80% of what’s out there is not like that. What can we, as an industry, do to change that? What advice would you give your colleagues?

Rocco: I think it’s the importance of craft in advertising and film making. I really believe that we have the opportunity of introducing craft back into the market place. And when I say craft, I think of all the different emotional components of a spot, meaning that music is as important as visual, as the storytelling and as the script. The advice I would give is: make all elements of the craft as important as each other. It doesn’t mean that music is more or less important, but it can’t be an afterthought.

Reese: When people hear Frank Sinatra or Michael Jackson, they are pulled in by their sound, their voice, no matter what it is they are singing – it’s their sound DNA. How important will it be for brands to have sonic discipline in the next five years?

Rocco: I think it’s becoming more and more important, especially as people start double-screening and their attention span is split between numerous devices. I’m guilty of it, too, and it’s the audio cues that get me to look up and engage.

Reese: Should the identity of a brand be translated into sound?

Rocco: I think it should, in terms of what their voice of emotions and their voice of values is. At the end of the day, it’s not like we’re trying to make films just to win awards. We have a responsibility to shareholders and our company to sell the product. But we know that consumers are going to engage with products that they are connected to and share values with. When you have a consistent tone of voice, you sound and look and feel the same. Apple is magic at it: whether you’re talking to someone in the store or you’re engaging with the product online or you’re holding it in your hand, you have that same visceral reaction to the brand. And the brand does that.

Reese: Where is this going to lead in the next couple of years? Is music going to become less or more important?

Rocco: I certainly think it’s becoming more and more important, especially looking at the way children are consuming music today, and the ability for them to move between genres and everything that’s accessible: playlists, recommendations and curation. My children flow across the genres of music that interest them. I’ve always been a music guy, but now I access music a lot more with curation – I find my audio pallet much more advanced than it was when I was much more obsessed with music. For brands as well, as there’s more noise and more information and you’re consuming more, you’re going to rely on different senses more to have a differentiation. You can’t just get there visually anymore.

“For us, music has been the biggest source of discussion and debate. It’s something that we’re very passionate about in terms of what it can make a spot be. I don’t think there’s enough out there that way.”

Reese: In your opinion, what are the obstacles on the way?

Rocco: I think advertisers go to the lowest common denominator far too quickly under pressures of sales, profits and customers and think that it’s the easiest way to get there for a brand. I’m of the mindset that brand building takes a long time and patience, and that care gets you to a much more defendable position. I think you need to treat your customers with a bit more respect in terms of the way you speak to them, and that’s where I think it’s important to bring that level of craft in. To take a higher order of view of how you present yourself to your consumer and give them credit so they can understand and consume it. I think that’s something that apple does very well. When you think of all the great songs that have become iconic with the release of their products and they’re all different and from different genres, and you think, “God, how did they find that?” They don’t jump onto something that everybody’s listening to. They say, “Hey, here’s something that reflects us that you’d probably love.” So, in my opinion, we need to give consumers a bit more credit.

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