101 Great Minds on
Music, Brands and Behavior


Leo Premutico

Co-Founder & CCO at Johannes Leonardo


“Music needs freedom. It needs room to be what it needs to be. I think what marks music as “Bond music” is the first moment you experience it and all those visual associations that come with it.”

Leo Premutico, Co-Founder & CCO, Johannes Leonardo


After being nominated as the best young creative in Australasia followed by the best young creative in the United Kingdom a few years later, Leo became the youngest ever member of the leadership team at Saatchi and Saatchi New York, during which time the agency was names Cannes Advertising Agency of the Year. Leo co-founded Johannes Leonardo at just 29 years of age. Today Johannes Leonardo works with some of the world’s most influential brands and was cited by Stuart Elliott of the NY Times as an agency ‘becoming increasingly known for its unconventional creative output,’ such as Google’s Project Re: Brief which won the inaugural mobile Grand Prix at Cannes, the adidas strikethrough campaign, and their latest effort for the Bezos Family Foundation, Vroom, which involved creating a brand from scratch. I caught up with Leo just after JL winning the Entertainment Lions for Music Grand Prix for their work on ORIGINALS is never finished.

Reese: Leo, Johannes Leonardo’s work for adidas just goes right to the subconscious. It’s almost like the three entertainment pieces fell from the stars as one piece. What I’m looking for are the sonic three stripes. If you were to write an audio style guide for the brand, what would it include?
Premutico: It’s tricky. The nice thing about creating a definition of a style is that you can scale it. The problem with it is that it creates a formula and then you start to replicate, especially when the work and business results are successful. The three campaigns were very different. In Superstar, we had people like Pharrell Williams and David Beckham talking to camera defining the notion of superstar. We knew that we couldn’t use a lyrically-heavy track but we did want to create an undercurrent of importance in the feeling of the film, so Hans Zimmer created this epic piece that gave the film exactly what it needed. On the Future campaign, the message we wanted to communicate was so unique that we felt that it had to be an original piece of music. And although it’s an original, people assume that it’s not. It feels like it’s been created free of any strategic purpose. I think a deeper understanding of why something worked is more important than creating a definition of what it is. It really breaks down into three aspects for me. Number one is why the brand is saying this message. It might not be in what you say, but it’s an underlying trait that is connected to the origin of the brand. Secondly, what you choose to say, and thirdly, how you say it – the voice you choose, the way it looks, and, fundamentally, the music. Music is telling the audience how to feel about what they’re taking in. Like you said, it’s largely subconscious. So, it’s really about having a deep understanding of the history of the brand and why things have worked. It allows for flexibility because there’s not a certain genre you need to be true to. It’s about knowing the desired outcome and the pieces that are going to make that happen. And inevitably, music is going to play a crucial role in that.

Reese: At which point does the element of music come into play? Can you try to deconstruct the strategic process for me?
Premutico: In Original Is Never Finished, we didn’t even think about the role of music until we understood what we wanted to do in the third year of the campaign. When we decided to take on the notion of originality, we were thinking a lot about how to bring that to life as a film. We spoke about re-making an old song. Then it was the creative directors who said in the review, “why not use the most-used track ever?”. And that just felt very provocative in an industry where we’re constantly debating if things have been done before. But we thought, “For a company that can reinterpret a shoe, why shouldn’t we run head on at the notion that we need to avoid things that are familiar?” So, we tested ourselves by using the most-used track and gave ourselves the massive undertaking to say, “can we do it in a way that’s never been done before?”.

“I think a deeper understanding of why something worked is more important than creating a definition of what it is. “

Reese: Could the way of doing it be adidas’ sonic identity 4.0? – This feeling when you listen to it and say, “this can only be adidas”.
Premutico: I would argue that, if you know the song, you feel a sense of honoring of the past.  Frank Sinatra’s voice is there in the beginning. There’s a notion of “hacking with honor” (laughs). You know, doing it in a way that shows respect. And the best respect you can give to anything in the past is to evolve it so that it can survive. And that is a thread that runs all the way through adidas. Just look at the way they design shoes.

Reese: …to make it approachable for this generation. Most of the great creatives and CMOs in the 101 Great Minds project agreed on one thing: we’re not doing music justice. It’s oftentimes an afterthought in the strategic process. Would you agree?
Premutico: I do. I think the issue is that we bring in music too late in the process and then you have only a couple of weeks to get it right. The second issue is the creation of original music. It’s a delicate topic because it’s not what you’re trained to do as a creative director in our industry, so it’s the hardest one to get right. You understand the feeling you need it to create, but you’re not as familiar with the way to get there. Thirdly, we don’t think about the role of sound throughout the ecosystem of the brand and about the fact that all those moments are ways to reinforce the brand feeling.

Reese: The visual three stripes have helped to build a lot of visual equity over 70 years. How would you go about building sonic equity?
Premutico: Equity is all about understanding where the value is and making sure that you’re not leaving that behind as you chase modern business and communication challenges. It takes confidence as a creative person to first identify something as important then be eclectic enough in your style to bring what you have to the world in an interesting way.  And for a brand like adidas, when it comes to advertising, the lines between visual and sonic equity blur.  I like to think of it in terms of movie-making. We all have those scenes we love, where the music plays such an important role. Over time, there’s a language created by directors and the composers they work with. That’s how we’ve got to think about building brand equity. You cant always rely on a tagline to do all the heavy lifting.  

Reese: If you think of the recognisability and the sonic equity  in James Bond songs, for example – what if there were something comparable for adidas, just a small audible element that brands the piece?

Premutico: I think it would start to make the consumer feel as though it wasn’t theirs. If you go back to how adidas became part of culture, especially in the US, it was largely unintentional. It was not facilitated by the brand, it was consumer-led through things that legitimately became part of the culture and haven’t been sanctioned by a brand. It’s important to first acknowledge then do everything in your power to continue that. Music needs freedom. It needs room to be what it needs to be. I think what marks music as “Bond music” is the first moment you experience it and all those visual associations that come with it. Think about Skyfall by Adele and how each time you hear it all those visual associations come with it. It’s no different for someone like Baz Luhrmann. Music is vital to his films. For example the Lana del Rey song on the great Gatsby – it’s unlike what Luhrmann had done before, but it was right for the film and the role the music played with those visuals felt very true to Baz Luhrmann. I always like some sort of connection between what you’re watching, what you’re hearing and what you know about those bringing those elements to you.

Reese: Maybe that is the attraction. Because there’s no limitation, there’s complete freedom. Maybe the point of it all is that we experience that freedom.
Premutico: Yes it’s about tapping into the power of music by understanding all the other variables that are in the mix. And at a very basic level, it has to start with appreciation. You’ve got to appreciate lots of different genres and be confident enough to know that you can re-appropriate genres and re-appropriate history to make something fit now. I think if you do that, you have a very wide pallet. You can create something  progressive and disruptive by mixing it altogether, the old, the new, the visuals the music and the medium.

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