In the wake of the United Airlines account moving to McGarryBowen, Robert Channick, a reporter for the Chicago Tribune, wrote a piece about United Airlines use of Rhapsody in Blue as its theme song. He asked the question: “Is it time to retire the rhapsody along with the tulip tail?”
For years, Trivers Myers has been creating the arrangements and the musical scores for the award-winning animated series of commercials for United, beginning with the Clio-winner “Interview” that premiered on the Oscars in 2004. For the next five years, we created all kinds of arrangements, from an orchestral version where the mono-stringed Chinese erhu plays along with Gershwin’s melody (“The Night”), to a simple solo piano version that score the story of a man’s whole life in 60-seconds (“A Life”). We’ve created underwater orchestras for delightful 3D animation (“Sea Orchestra”) and we’ve even created a piano duo for Lang Lang and Herbie Hancock to play for the 2008 Olympics version (“Heart”).
The animated concept began at Fallon Advertising and was continued at Barrie, D’Rozario & Murphy, The campaign won an Effie for its skill at targeting the frequent business traveler. The music has won numerous awards, as has the outstanding animation by such extraordinary artists as Tilby & Forbis, Alesandr Petrov, David Dedok DeWitt, Shy the Sun, Gaelle Denis and Jamie Caliri.
As is commonly agreed, the power of the commercials wasn’t just the music: it was the combination of a good tale told by the visuals AND the music. Everyone who watched the spots seemed transported into a moment of reverie, of imagination and wanderlust. And then there was that beautiful moment at the end of the :60-second commercial where the reassuring voice of Robert Redford told you “It’s Time to Fly.”
The branding power of the relationship between Rhapsody in Blue and United Airlines is undeniable. It’s been said that if someone hears Rhapsody in Blue and sees an airplane in the sky, it is automatically assumed that it is a United plane. People have confused entire concerts as extra-long commercials for United. The music is urban, jazzy, cheeky and “up” in a unique way.
The copyright for the Rhapsody in Blue expired in 2007 in Europe, and will move into the public domain in the US in 2019. This gives McGarry Bowen, if the agency is so inclined, another eight years to create commercials that take advantage of this special relationship between music, visuals, word and marketing strategy.
Other mega-brands have used music as a persuasive branding force. Imagine the combination of coffee and music, as announced by Starbucks in their 2007 agreement with Concord Music to found a company called Hear Music. This iconoclastic record label, cum coffee-bean company shattered the mold by signing none other than Paul McCartney as their debut artist. Recall that the Beatles’ catalog was not sold on Apple iTunes at that time.
Along with your vente cappuccino, you can also pick up Barbra Streisand’s latest unique offering of songs with the lyrics of Alan and Marilyn Bergman. Or you might be swayed by the bright green cover of the Muppets latest CD “Green”, or even the soundtrack from the smash movie "The Help." And you can listen to the music while sipping your coffee drink, as the CD’s for sale are being played over the sound system. At their website, Starbucks announces that they are “just as passionate about music as we are about coffee.” In the last four years, Hear Music has become one of the top-40 music retailers. Not bad for a bunch of bean counters!
Why is Starbucks using music in this way? Because it reaches people. The CD cover featuring Paul McCartney strategically positioned at the cash register speaks volumes to the consumer. “If McCartney thinks enough of Starbucks to sell his CD here, then this must be an awesome place,” says the subliminal mind. As the website states, “helping people discover their next favorite artist or recording is one of our favorite things to do.”
Another news article caught my eye, this time in the Los Angeles times from September 6, 2011. Entitled “Apple Designer Enters A New Era
” by Jessica Guynn, the profile of Apple Uber-Designer Jonathan Ive was impressive, as it lauded the product design that has won worldwide acclaim and success, while imagining how this process might change without Steve Jobs actively involved in Apple. Ive is a 44-year old English industrial designer who has created many of the Apple products that we hold in our hands and have on our desktops. His extraordinary vision has produced technology gizmos that have moved into cult status. iPod, iPad, Power Book, Mac Pro, we all know exactly what these products look like. And the sleek ergonomic shapes perfectly fit our hands and our lifestyles.
It was no surprise to me that in the super secret design room within the Cupertino campus where the next Apple product comes to life, Ive and his team are playing music to get their muse on. Music and Apple have always been soul mates. In 1983 when Apple was launching the Macintosh computer, there had been a deal struck between Steve Jobs and Windham Hill Records to provide the sound for this new advertising campaign being formulated at Chiat/Day in Los Angeles. One year later, the sound of a perfectly recorded solo piano became the sonic branding of Apple.
Fast-forward to the present and the latest iPhone and iPad commercials, and you will recognize what has become known as “Apple music.” Crisp, clean, rhythmic, and with a production quality known as indie (meaning not slick, not over produced), these tracks have created an environment that is optimistic, modern and basically neutral in emotion. Technology becomes friendly when this music underscores these visuals. Even though no human is found in the commercials, other than the ubiquitous pointer finger, the feeling is warm and welcoming. This is the beauty of branding Apple products with simple images and music that is fun! The old advertising adage “less is more” has never been more relevant.
Liz Myers is the VP and Co-founder of Trivers Myers Music based in Los Angeles, and National President of the Association of Music Producers (AMP).