101 Great Minds on
Music, Brands and Behavior


ROB Reilly

Global Creative Chairman at McCann Worldgroup


“Sound is super critical. Music and sound are 50% of why a piece is good.”


Global Creative Chairman, McCann Worldgroup


As Global Creative Chairman, Reilly is responsible for creative oversight of the McCann brand globally as well as developing multiplatform approaches for clients across the more than 120 countries in which McCann Worldgroup operates. Before joining in 2014, he was Partner/Worldwide CCO at Crispin Porter + Bogusky. He had first joined CP+B in 2002 as a copywriter, creating some of the most talked-about campaigns in history. Reilly‘s work has been recognized at Cannes with multiple Titanium and Grand Prix Lions as well as two Interactive Agency of the Year awards. He has served on a number of industry awards juries, including as President of the Cannes Titanium and Integrated Jury. Reilly is a member of the Cannes Chimera, The One Club Board, the Facebook Creative Council, and the White House Entrepreneurship Task Force.

Reese: How important is music in brand-building for you?

Reilly: I don’t know if it’s in brand building, but I would say music and sound is 50% of why a piece of film is good. Even if it’s part of an app or a digital experience, sound is super-critical.

Reese: A recent Millward Brown study shows that sound contributes substantially towards brand recognition. And yet very little marketing resources are devoted to music.

Reilly: Well, it’s always a challenge. Brands like Microsoft are very committed to music: They spend money on tracks, they break new artists. Certain brands see the benefit. When we work on campaigns for Microsoft that are about devices, you need music to carry the interest of the spot, especially if you’re showing devices and not people. The story is somewhat limited so you’re relying on a piece of sticky music.

Reese: Do you use music when you’re thinking about campaigns?

I write ideas to music. If I’m in a situation where I have to sit down and solve something, I usually put music on, so I’m very connected to it. Depending on how much I want to concentrate, it’ll be more obscure. If it’s something I’m familiar with, it tends to distract me.

Reese: I’m interested in the decision-making process. Do you listen to music when you work with your team, to find the right fit?

Well, we have music people on staff at McCann in New York. They’re not necessarily brought in at the beginning, at the concept stage. We have talented creatives and producers who’ve got their own ideas. The music person usually comes in at the production stage. But the editors are pretty good, too. They make suggestions, because they have to cut to something. We might then send the cut to our music people who are also working on ideas. In the case of Microsoft, we also have a relationship with this entity called Platinum Rye, which is a sort of music licensing and music idea agency. So, you’ve really got a plethora of people working on it. Doesn’t mean it’s easier. Sometimes it’s harder. Plus, Microsoft has smart people over there, and they know what they want. The music’s been good, but it can be a struggle to get to the right piece.

Reese: So how do you get there? Once you see it on screen, it looks like a happy accident.

It’s trial and error. You never know what’s going to be interesting, what’s going to be funny, what emotion you’re going to get out of it. I think everything gets better with music… I’ve certainly not seen anything that has gotten better by taking music away. That’s just my personal preference. I know there are people who would disagree with me. If you look at the Eurobest 2014 Grand Prix (“Epic Split” for Volvo Trucks), the Enya song is maybe 150% of the eff ect. Of course, the writing, the whole thing, is perfect… The song is what adds to the comedy. When the music starts playing is when we start laughing.

Reese: This is a big subject for creatives: How do you talk to musicians, especially if you’re not a musician? You’ve been part of so many successful recipes, there must be a reason. Is there something you could share with us? Are you a musician?

No. I was kind of a singer in a band at college, but not because I was good. I had long hair, so I looked the part. The rest of the band were more talented than me, but they looked odd. So I know music a little bit, because I was around it a lot. But if you asked me to sing an octave lower, I wouldn’t know what that was.

Reese: So let’s say somebody doesn’t know. What would you tell them to keep in mind when they’re talking to a composer or a musician?

When you’re scoring a piece of music and when you’re dealing with music houses, it can be very difficult. I’m a firm believer in hiring one company. I don’t say, “Hey, here’s our piece of film,” and then give it to three or four different music houses to come up with options. You don’t hire three directors or three editors. Why would you need three music houses? The main reason I suggest this to producers is because our creative people do not know enough about music, just as they don’t know enough about directing or producing. “Oh, I want it to be energetic, but at the same time subtle,” those are the kind of directions creatives give to music companies. The direction we give them is, I think, pretty poor. So when you have too many music companies, they’ll throw tons of stuff at it because they want to get the job. But if you work with just one company, they can sit down and say: “What do we all want to get out of this? Let’s try a bunch of things together.”

Reese: Right.

As you said, the music budgets in these jobs are getting smaller and smaller, so the least we can do is not make it a pitch every time.

Reese: So, the music company of your choice, that you love, what are they doing so well? Why do you go back to them?

Reilly: There’s a company called JSM in New York. Joel Simon, whom I’ve known for a long time, he’s just a great guy and he’ll do whatever it takes to make sure we get what we need. I’ve introduced him to some people at McCann and he’s delivered for them; so now he has a relationship with them and they trust him and his people. Plus, familiarity means you’re able to say, “This is terrible,” or “I hate this”, or “This is cheesy”, as opposed to companies you don’t know, where you have to be more diplomatic.

Reese: Do you think music can change consumer behaviour? Can it influence purchase intent?

Reilly: Coupled with the right idea and the right execution, for sure. I mean, that’s why we use music. You watch a movie without music and it can be terrible. Or when someone puts different music on something, it changes the entire way you feel.

Reese: It’s a direct way to your soul. Are sound identities part of your conversation with brands? Do they ask you to help them find their voice – like McDonald’s or Coke? Let’s say a mnemonic.

Reilly: Yeah, I would say that happens a decent amount of time. I’m not a huge fan of that, but I’m not super opposed to it if it’s cool and interesting.

Reese: You don’t think it’s mandatory?

Reilly: No. I mean, I know someone’s done the math that says, “A signature sound at the beginning and the end of your commercial will increase recall or likeability.” So, it does come up. You see it more in global brands, like McDonald’s. And maybe that makes sense: you’re trying to have some kind of trigger globally. If you’re in Dubai and you see a commercial in a foreign language, but you recognize the tune, that gives an impression of consistency.

Reese: There are great campaigns, there are really great campaigns, and there are decade-defining campaigns. How do you know when something like that is on the table?

Reilly: Well, if we all knew that…

“Consumers are now much more interested in whether brands are playing a meaningful role in their lives. Which is what we do at McCann. We help brands figure out their meaningful role in people’s lives.”

Reese: But are there indicators in your life, when you can say: “That was the switch that got flipped”?

Reilly: The truth is you just don’t know. Maybe there are some people who claim they do. But I don’t believe it. You can’t really know until you put it out there in the world. I can say that my creative process always starts with: “When this idea lands in culture, what’s the story the press will write about?” And it’s not Ad Age or Campaign magazine, it’s The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal… That’s how I judge things. But in the world now and in our business, I don’t know if there will be campaigns that last for ten years anymore. I’m not sure there’s a place for them. Consumers are now much more interested in whether brands are playing a meaningful role in their lives. Which is what we do at McCann. We help brands figure out their meaningful role in people’s lives.

Reese: Right.

Reilly: Everything we do should ladder up to that. The campaign now is the products you come up with, it’s the experiential things you do, it’s the other brands you partner with – yes, it’s also the advertising, but that’s just one of the factors.

Reese: I suppose what I’m looking for is the advertising equivalent of a decade-defining song. What was the song that defined the 80s for you, for example?

Reilly: I don’t know, something by Madonna, probably. But I think you’re getting mixed up between ads and campaigns. Of course, we remember some of the ads that def ned an era. We can even remember the agencies: For me, the 80s was Chiat Day, for example. So “1984” might be a good choice. But it’s like with music: You could ask ten different people and they’ll give you ten different answers.

Reese: I think you can compare ads to music in that distribution was much simpler back then. There was a lot less competition for our time.

Reilly: Sure – and you know somebody asked me a question the other day about music. They said: “Do you think musicians are selling out by becoming part of brands?” And I was like: “Have you bought a record lately?” I think for musicians it makes perfect sense. Consumers can get music for free, or very cheap, they can get it on Spotify. So, for musicians, sales are not paying the bills. And when brands sponsor tours, or when musicians put their music on commercials, I think everybody knows why. People used to admire brands for “not selling out”, but now I think they’re aware of the problem. The model has changed.

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