101 Great Minds on
Music, Brands and Behavior



Global Chief Creative Officer at FCB


“The future of audio branding is like a sawtooth wave.
Quite bright.”


Susan Credle, Global Chief Creative Officer, FCB

Credle started her career as a fill-in receptionist at BBDO in New York and worked her way up to becoming a creative director at BBDO. She is now one of the most influential women in advertising, particularly known for developing the wildly popular M&M‘s characters. Along the way, she also helped turn Cingular Wireless into a household name and created award-winning work for clients such as FedEx, Pizza Hut and Pepsi. At Leo Burnett, she raised the bar for the creative department, fomenting a collaborative environment and producing some of the venerable agency`s most memorable campaigns. In June 2015, it was announced that she would succeed Jonathan Harries as FCB‘s Global CCO.

Reese: Susan, thank you very much for taking the time for this interview. Let`s dive right in: In your opinion, how important is music in building a brand?

How important is a putter to golf? Brands are built with many proverbial clubs, tag lines, imagery, manifestos, points of view, missions, voice overs, spokes people, content, events, acts, sponsorships, the product. Music and sound design should definitely be in that bag. Enough with that metaphor. No doubt, people think about music when they are executing an idea in film. But I am not sure many of us think about the power of music and sound design when it comes to building a brand. Especially when it comes to a brand signature sound. One of my favorite examples of a signature sound is Old Spice. I recall that whistle from the 70’s. And while the creative expression is very different, the whistle still has that approachable sexual confidence embedded in it. The product name, design, point of view in the world, and the music are the enduring qualities of this brand.

Reese: I was surprised how many of the creatives I have talked to have a very close connection to music, not just in regards to their work, but also at home. So how important is music for you personally and for your work?

Working to music is hard for me, so my office is usually silent. But at home, the music is always on. Music is like lighting. It sets the mood. Sunday mornings are always classical. Saturday afternoons are country. Start of the day, anything aggressive. End of the day, classic rock or alternative. If I light candles, I like jazz.

Reese: Seeing how strong we`re personally affected by music, do you think the right choice of music can change consumer behavior?

Music is personal. When music gets someone’s attention, that message becomes more personal. If you believe likability contributes to a consumer change in behavior (and I do), the right music can lift the likability quotient.


Reese: Most brands disappear once you close your eyes. Do you believe a brand should be recognizable by sound only?

It is an advantage for a brand to be recognized by sound. I wouldn’t say only. Audio is a powerful medium. So if you can hear a brand, when you can’t see it, that is definitely an asset.

Reese: Should audio be treated with the same discipline as visual and verbal branding? Should brands have an audio style guide – just like they have a visual style guide?

Credle: The times I have worked with brands on audio signatures, I have never regretted it. However, you must give yourself the freedom to use or not use when appropriate. Many times, I have seen people shy away from audio branding because they fear it will become a cumbersome asset. If you are writing the audio style guide, give yourself the freedom to apply where it makes sense. I can’t wait until we have this same discussion about smell.

Reese: Can you share your most memorable experience with music and how it influenced your work?

“WHY THE FUCK can`t I find this cover anywhere???? This is bullshit! This is such a beautiful version of a beautiful song. God Damn It!” “Has the FULL VERSION of this ever been released yet? I guess it’s possible she didn`t actually records the whole song, which sucks.” This was the reaction to the music on a spot we did for Cingular Wireless. She was Cat Power and she didn’t record the full song. It made me realize commercials would become an incredible vehicle for artists to promote their music. It changed the conversation for me. Instead of taking advantage of famous music; we could make music famous together. This seems obvious today but not so much in the early 2000s.


Reese: Audio branding is a relatively young discipline, which is also one of the reasons I have created this series. I would like to spark the conversation about audio in branding. How about yourself – when you ‘re meeting with a new client, is audio brand design part of the conversation?

Audio brand design has come up often in my career. However, I must admit we could do a better job of thinking this through for brands.

Reese: Where do you see the greatest challenge in finding a brand’s voice?

I struggle with committing to a tone. Big brands with big points of view should be able handle different tones and different conversations. I worry about becoming too committed to one executional style or approach. If I look at a brand like Nike (which we all do), I admire how the executions are wildly different but the point of view, the soul of the brand, never wavers.

Reese: What’s your current decision-making process involving music?

Credle: It seems weird to put music and process in the same sentence. Music is magical. Music gets discovered. Music is about playing. I hope we never have a musical process.

Reese: That’s true. Music is difficult to put into words, which is also why a lot of creatives struggle with it. So how do you communicate music when briefing a composer/music company/music supervisor or publisher?

Credle: When I brief someone about music, I talk about emotion. I want to cry, feel uncomfortable. Euphoria make my heart beat faster. Anticipation followed by peaceful calm. I almost never talk instruments, notes or beats.

Reese: What’s your evaluation process? Do you test audio assets used in your brand communication?

Credle: I evaluate music by how it makes me feel first. Also, it is very interesting to watch how music can speed up a cut or slow it down. Does the lyric advance the filmic story? Is it provocative or expected?

Reese: How do you determine how much you are willing to pay for music – licensed or scored?

Credle: Music benefits from commercial exposure. The idea of selling out feels so precious to me. I don’t like paying ridiculous amounts for licensed music. If the music is the right fi t for the brand and the idea, it should be a win/win for the artist and the brand. The minute the price is too high, it makes me rethink the partnership. Perhaps, we aren’t right for each other. And if you are doing it simply for the money, well, that does make it rather crude.

I am not sure many of us think about the power of music and sound design when it comes to building a brand. Especially when it comes to a brand signature sound.

Reese: Is there a certain brand that you admire in their use of audio in their brand communication?

Credle: Definitely Intel.

Reese: Do you see a shift in how important music is becoming in your brand communication?

Credle: Actually, if I go back to the early days of what we call traditional advertising, music and sound were far more important to the brands than they are today. Perhaps because radio was the dominant medium. A sound strategy really was a sound strategy. We should
probably purposefully put more branding importance on this sense than we do.

Reese: Where do you see the challenges and opportunities when working with music in a branded social network environment?

Credle: Selfishly, I am excited by the possibilities for music in a branded social network environment because there will be many. But only for brands and marketers who stand for something. Artists will be more apt to partner with brands that reflect their own values. Marketers who know what their brands stand for will benefit from these associations. Hopefully, this will help marketers realize the value of long-term brand building as well as short-term sales.

Reese: What does the audio branding of the future look like?

Credle: The future of audio branding is like a sawtooth wave, quite bright. Film makes us listen with our eyes; audio will continue to make us see with our ears.

Reese: What does a big idea feel like? Do you recognize it immediately when it arrives?

Credle: A big idea feels amazing. Your imagination starts running so fast you can hardly keep up. The conversation is peppered with “we could, we could, we could.” And when you try to move to the next idea, you don’t want to, you keep going back to that other idea, that big idea. Big ideas are I-want-to-run-down the-hall-and-tell-someone ideas. I’m getting better at recognizing them. But ideas, even the big ones, are also very fragile. So you can ‘t just recognize them, you must execute them brilliantly.

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