Should brands globalize or localize their music?


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Should brands globalize or localize their music?

Whether it’s a signature song, commercial jingle, or unique SFX— sound creates another way for your audience to identify and connect with your brand. Using sound as part of your brand is referred to as sonic branding. Adding audio touchpoints in advertising or in your physical spaces can go a long way to help connect with your audience and build your brand. According to the popular music streaming platform Spotify, over 75% of the US digital population listens to digital audio each week, and people in the US spend over 1.5 hours listening to digital audio every day. However, when it comes to blending music with branding, there are a few elements that brands should consider. Discover our top tips in this article, or speak to a member of the Artlist team to get custom advice for your brand. 

Does music sound the same everywhere?

It’s often thought of as best practice for a brand to use simple and consistent sounds to build audience recognition. As brands become increasingly global, the question of cultural relevance is more important than ever. Do brands need to consider local culture when making music choices for their brands? Or will the same advertising soundtrack or sonic branding resonate globally?


One key element for brands to consider is language/lyrics rather than the music itself. For example, McDonald’s iconic slogan ‘I’m lovin it,” forms an important part of their sonic branding and brand identity. However, they don’t use it in all of their markets. In some markets, such as Brazil, they have chosen to localize the slogan rather than translate it, as a literal translation wouldn’t have been as effective. However, the catchy music behind the slogan remains the same, as the vibe of the music is considered to be more globally relevant than the language itself. 


McDonald’s decision has recently been backed up by findings in a research paper from the University of Amsterdam. The study asked a simple yet important question: “Can you tell what a song is used for when it is not in your language or culture?” 

The study found that there are a few audio elements that cut through in most cultures. For example, across cultures, certain types of songs share acoustic characteristics, e.g., dancing music is often loud with a strong beat, and lullabies are soft and melodic. The research proved that people can pick up on these audio cues and hear if a song is meant for dancing or lullabies or another purpose, no matter what language or culture it comes from. The universal language of music can represent emotions and share messages that transcend linguistic barriers. 


The impact of cultural differences

The research suggests that some audio elements resonate across cultures. However, it’s vital for global brands to consider cultural differences in their overall approach. Not every melody, instrument, or lyrical theme has the same meanings or associations across all cultures. An uplifting tune in one culture might be perceived as sad in another, or a particular genre might be deeply rooted in specific regional experiences. While music has global appeal, brands must navigate cultural differences to ensure their message is both effective and respectful. Ignoring culture can lead to unintended messaging or even backlash. 

Even some of the world’s largest brands have made mistakes. Like Pepsi’s 2017 ad featuring Kendal Jenner. The ad tried to compare political protests with the feel-good vibe of its soda through music and visuals. The ad featured a generic upbeat pop track and was widely criticized for being tone-deaf within the context of global human rights protests happening at the time. 

Another example is Heineken and “Rude Boy”. Heineken used Jamaican artist Red Rat’s song “Shelly-Ann” in their European marketing, not realizing that some of the lyrics could be considered offensive. In Jamaica, the song was humorous and playful, but without understanding the cultural context and slang, the message could be misinterpreted in other markets.

To avoid any misunderstanding, we’ve put together our top 3 tips to help ensure you’re sonic branding is well received globally. 


3 tips for global music branding 


  1. Do your research

Before selecting a piece of music, it’s critical to understand its origins, meaning, and cultural significance. This involves not only researching the history and background of the song or genre but also consulting with cultural experts from the target market. This can help identify any potential cultural sensitivities, historical contexts, or political implications associated with the music. Cultural consultants can provide valuable insights into how music will be received in different cultures and can help navigate nuances that might not be immediately apparent to outsiders.


  1. Understand your audience

Brands should have a deep understanding of their target audience’s cultural background, including their values, beliefs, and preferences. This involves segmenting the audience demographically and psychographically to help make sure the music resonates with them in the intended way. Brands should ask questions like: How does this culture express and experience emotion through music? Are there any genre preferences or significant musical movements within this culture that should be considered? Are there any taboo themes or styles to avoid?


  1. Test and learn

Before fully committing to a piece of music or sonic brand identity, test it with focus groups from within the target culture. This can reveal unexpected interpretations and reactions that might not be anticipated by the brand’s marketing team. Feedback should be collected from a diverse sample to capture a wide range of cultural nuances. It’s also important to monitor social media and customer feedback after the launch to quickly identify and address any negative reactions.

Get more tips to power your brand

How can Artlist help?

The music team at Artlist has a deep understanding of trends and cultural insights when it comes to music. Artlist has a range of music available from several cultures, like Latin music, world acoustic, and many more. Brands can rest assured that each piece of music is a genuine and culturally appropriate representation of that style. However, we understand that it can be especially tricky to navigate on your own. Our Enterprise subscribers can consult with their dedicated Account Manager on any project to help with the music or SFX selection process. Your Account Manager can provide a custom playlist and provide insights based on data-driven research. If you’re looking for a helping hand for your brand, don’t hesitate to talk to the team today. 

Wrapping up

By taking these steps and talking to the Artlist team, brands can help make sure that their music and sonic branding will be culturally appropriate, sensitive, and appeal to their audience, ultimately enhancing their global appeal while respecting local culture.

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