Veritonic Podcast Episode 1

Do You Hear What I Hear? Episode #1: Karl Westman of Ogilvy and Glade

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Welcome to the Veritonic Podcast, Do You Hear What I Hear? Every episode examines how a marketer or brand makes decisions about using audio — a voice, a song, an audio logo or functional sound — for marketing.

Transcription:

Introduction

This is “Do you hear what I hear?” presented by Veritonic. In today’s episode, you’re going to hear a story about how one small piece of music for an air freshener ad can blossom into a global anthem, heard and sung all around the world. And our special guest today is Karl Westman, Director of Music at Ogilvy, in New York. We’re sure you’ve heard from Karl many times over the past thirty-six years.

Karl:


Hi, pleased to be here! Karl Westman, I’ve been here for thirty-six years on and off, Director of Music, working on many of the accounts here: IBM, Comcast, Motorola. The list goes on and on.

Scott:


Great! So tell me, for people who don’t know… what is, for Director of Music for thirty-six years, what do you do?

Karl:


The main role is to be a liaison between the creative and the music supplier or, in a music supervision role, publishers and so on and so forth. We wear many hats. We do original music, we license from big publishers and labels, and also from production music companies as well.

Scott:


And so the volume of this, which I think some people have a hard time understanding — I know when I first met you, I couldn’t even believe it myself — how many different ads are you dealing with on a monthly or yearly basis?

Karl:


Well there are four people in the music department, so given that amount of people, we spread out over all our accounts, and the three or four that I mentioned is just a fraction of what we do. The workload can be very intense. We do hundreds of commercials a year, TV ads, and then multiply that by two at least to approach a number that seems realistic for all content. And that would be everything from internet, long-form spots, to six-second, social media blips and blurbs.

Finding Sound

Scott:


So how do you find sound? How do you find all this different music? Is it inspiration, is it creative, or are you flipping through record bins?

Karl:


Well flipping through record bins, in a metaphor, yes. We get help, although, from labels and publishers who are sending us material. It’s our job to be on top of what’s happening and to source music at the drop of a hat. We do our best to be the source for the music, but personally, I find it just so overwhelming.

So we do look outside for help, but our job, does it come from inspiration? A lot of it comes from inspiration, a lot of it’s luck, coming across a track that just happens to work to picture. A lot of it is sweat, and just grunting and getting through it and hopefully something clicks with people. It’s a very subjective realm, and what works for one person will totally not work for another. So we have to have many options, and at this point, our hard drives are full. I suspect that we’ll need more hard drives as time progresses.

Scott:


There’s that magic moment I think that people have when they hear a great song for the first time or when you’re creating, for content creators, when you feel like you’ve really nailed it or you’ve had that awesome moment. Do you know? Does that kind of light bulb go off for you at that moment when it hits?

Karl:


Absolutely. And I think that the harder you work… your taste level gets involved, your ability to understand whether or not the music is helping the story or detracting from the story, whether or not the music is connecting on a level that’s greater than the sum of the parts of the visual and the music. You know, there’s a synchronicity that happens there. And it’s magical, and that’s the fun of it honestly.

Scott:


So you’re sitting there, you’ve tested a bunch of options yourself, you’ve played different things and you’ve just had that magic moment where you feel like the music and the picture just come together?

Karl:


Bingo. And there are times that you say “Oh, I have to edit this to make this happen, in this particular section, the build happens to late,” and then you start to get into the fine-tuning of it, which I’ve enjoyed music editing quite a bit. And that becomes more the craft.

But there is a certain amount of being a documentarian, a librarian of music knowledge, knowing where to go for certain kind of sound, going to a certain composer, certain tempos feel right depending on the cut. Whether or not you’re trying to put music to picture or often times you get a storyboard and there’s no picture… and the creatives want to talk about what it could be. Then you do research in advance, and then it’s nothing but your imagination. Often times you get the picture, and then you’re off on what you had anticipated it being, and then you make adjustments. It’s an empirical process. There’s no doubt about it.

The Process

Scott:


I think a lot of people wonder, at least in the general public, I think wonder sometimes, it might be hard to realize how much time and effort goes into a thirty second ad or a sixty second ad.

Walk us through that process of… let’s say you’ve received the picture or storyboard, and now you’ve chosen some music, what happens next? How long does that process between you’ve had that moment of aha… there’s probably a lot that happens between then and the time we see that ad on television.

Karl:


Absolutely. It really does depend. I wish I could say that our schedules were loose enough that we could ruminate over what the track should be over a couple of days before we get digging into the project, but we’re usually given maybe three days to kind of… you get a cut, and to kick around ideas before it goes to the client.

Sometimes the process, depending on what kind of film it is — if it’s animation, or some kind of slick CG process where you have a lot of time because the post-production is weeks and weeks — I will say this, that when you have… as I said, there’s luck involved. So you might stumble across something in the first day and you nailed it, and you get smiles all around.

Then there’s times when you struggle. You struggle with your own knowing whether or not it’s the best choice for you as a person who likes to do good work. Then there’s the layer of the creative team who might not agree with your point of view. And then, ultimately, there’s the client, and the client may not appreciate your sensibilities and they too have their own outlook on what it should be.

So you have a lot of balls in the air. As I said… the schedule doesn’t allow us to do anything but jump to it. Like for instance tonight, after this… it’s 6:15 in the evening, and I know that I’ll probably be working until midnight, easily.

Scott:


Holy cow, wow. So as we sit here at 6:15, we’ll try to keep this podcast… Everything always looks glamorous when you’re looking at it from the outside, and I think a lot of people don’t appreciate all the work that maybe goes into something… It’s “Wow, that was thirty seconds, they just stuck that piece of music in there, that was easy” and the reality is there’s always a lot of people who make it look easy in the process.

So how much — I think one of the things we try to talk about at Veritonic and here on this podcast is that place where the rubber hits the road, where the client has got to now make a decision and you’re involved, and sometimes maybe involved or uninvolved in that decision, and who makes that final call of how did that music get in the ad? How much of this is working with the client? Is it a sales job, is it sometimes… because music can be so subjective, we see it all the time.

I might love a piece of music and my wife, who’s the same age as me and lives in the same house as me, might hate that piece of music. And so how much of this is, after you’ve made that decision, or you feel good about something, how much work is involved in working with the client as really a liaison and help shepherd that through? And what is that… and understanding there’s going to be challenges, people aren’t going to agree. How does that process work?

Understand The Brand

Karl:


Well, it behooves anybody in this business to know what the brand is about. And what I mean by that is, when it comes to sound, is that there is a tonality, there is a point of view, there’s a demographic that has to be addressed. But not only that, there’s a, let’s say, kind of like a DNA built into what the brand represents. And the music reflects that.

For instance, take two clients that I work on. Motorola’s brand identity, musically, is much different than IBM’s. There might be some overlay here and there, but we know our clients. So, once we establish that kind of sound, we work within those parameters. And then there’s no surprises to the client, because we understand their brand.

Scott:


So you’ve kind of done a lot up front, so it’s not just this music with this ad, there’s a lot of…

Karl:


It’s our job to understand what their brands about, and to build on that, as an agency.

The clients understand what their brands about. It’s our job to understand what their brands about, and to build on that, as an agency. We are brand makers. Is it beneficial to go into a client and say, “You’re missing the point on this track, you’ve got to like this, if you don’t like this you’re really making a mistake.” Never works. There’s no… just like you were talking about your wife, if she doesn’t like it she’s not going to like it.

Scott:


No, and definitely I’m not going to change her mind, I can tell you that!

Karl:


So the smart thing to do is not to sell, but to understand what the client represents as a brand, and to work within that area. Now, clients might say, “It’s not emotional enough for me,” or “It’s too repetitive,” or “I don’t particularly like this instrument.” Those things are, you know, they pay the bills. Certainly, those are valid. But, if it has to go much further than that, then I think that we’ve missed the mark, and we have to go back and address it. Good work — now that’s not to say that you shouldn’t push your client to do the best work, because that’s our job as well — but to sell super hard, I’ve never seen it work.

So the smart thing to do is not to sell, but to understand what the client represents as a brand, and to work within that area.

Scott:


That’s worth repeating actually, and that’s, you know, for people listening to this podcast, if you take anything away from this, it’s to not to sell but to understand, to quote you. I think that’s a fantastic quote. Now I’ll take that one home and use it myself. It might work with my wife, not to try to convince somebody to understand but I think… People can get very focused on singular spots, and a singular piece of music, but if they really… you make a fantastic point about, there’s a whole vision of the brand and the sound of the brand that has to happen ahead of that, and if you don’t have that foundation, it’s probably much harder to get those individual spots figured out if there’s not some foundation there.

The Rise of Audio Branding

Scott:

So that’s actually a great segue. So, two other things we want to try to cover. One is, what is… you know, sometimes people try to ask, “What is sonic branding? What is audio branding? Should I have an audio identity? Should I have an audio logo?” I get asked that question all the time. What is your response to that question, like should I be doing audio branding? One of the things we’ve heard people say is you’re always doing audio branding, whether you know it or not. What is your response to that, after thirty-something years doing this?

Karl:


I have personal preferences when it comes to the use of mnemonics or like an audio branding tag. Clearly, they work. They’ve been around for a very very long time, and I think it’s safe to say there’s been a resurgence of them in the last ten years. There was a time when you didn’t hear much of them. And now, some of our largest brands have them in the branding world, and some of our clients are asking for them as well.

We have Hello Moto, which is a lot of fun. And I like that one a lot, you know, because I think it has a real personality and it reflects the brand.

Other ones are more simplistic and it gives a corporate glaze to the end of each spot. And again, I think that works to remind the audience who is, over time, when it’s basically in our… it’s an ear worm, and it becomes what we all expect from AT&T or Intel or Coca-Cola or McDonald’s — we all know it’s that spot. I’m going to just reiterate, you’re always audio branding. You know what I mean?

I’m going to just reiterate, you’re always audio branding.

Scott:


That’s a cliche, because it’s true, right?

Karl:


It’s true, and this goes back to the previous little segment where we talked about… each brand has their own point of view. And that is your branding. I know that audio branding can be developed into larger pieces, it can be used for industrial use, it can be used for on-hold music, all that kind of parlaying of that kind of stuff has its usage.

At the end of the day — this is a very practical sense to me — at the end of the day if you have a two and a half second mnemonic, you’re just robbing from what precedes it, in a thirty second spot. That’s almost 10% of the spot. Also, the tonality of that mnemonic may not be compatible with what precedes it.

So, you have to kind of give into the fact that, when it comes to the purity of the sound, you’re going to have something that’s going to make a right hand turn at the end. Sometimes, I find that — as a personal preference — more jarring, on a sonic level… Is it pleasing to the ear? Does it leave me in a good place? It might leave me knowing who the ad’s from and that ultimately is what advertising’s about. But, you know, sometimes they’re a little bumpy at the end.

Glade + Jordin Sparks

Scott:


Give us an example of… I think there’s, there’s an interesting thing about music, it’s very… people are very passionate about it. And it’s one thing that’s very… in marketing, people may feel somewhat compelled to have a discussion about a line of copy or a color or a visual but people tend to really feel compelled… and there could be fist fights over which music goes into a spot. So, in your thirty-something years of doing this, what’s a good example of an interesting music choice? Something that was really an innovative way to use music or something that stood out to you as being a “Wow, this is really — the way music was used in this ad has never really been done before.”

Karl:


Okay. The first thing that comes to mind… and it’s not necessarily how the music was used, it’s how the music became a kind of force of nature on its own after the spot basically stopped running. And this was a spot for Glade.
It was a Christmas commercial that we made several years ago. Our creative director had asked us to make a Christmas song, that would be sung by children that would be… he called it a perennial favorite. Very much like Budweiser Christmas, or the Norelco Santa, or another favorite, that I actually worked on twenty-something years ago, the Hershey Bells that comes out at Christmas all the time. That’s one of the longest running commercials I’ve ever worked on. It’s been since 1987. And I just saw it, just the other day. But this Glade commercial, which we eventually shot in New Zealand, and was sung by a private school of kids was this lovely song with a wonderful message. It’s called “This Is My Wish,” and it’s about hope for the future, and it’s to be sung by kids.

Scott:


Now, you flew to New Zealand?

Karl:


Yes, yes.

Scott:


Wow so your job is glamorous!

Karl:


Yes very glamorous. And so we made this commercial and it was written by Angela and Tim Lauer out of Nashville, through We Are Walker Music. The song was beautiful and I asked Tim to do a long-form version of it, just to have in our back pocket. And low and behold, we played this particular version, the long-form version, to the client, and the client liked it very much. They had the notion through their PR department to connect with Jordin Sparks and she sang the song with kids and then made a video. And it was a big hit, it was outside, it got a lot of hits on YouTube.

The following year, we did the song with a Capitol Records artist, and that made… that version, long-form version, made it to thirteen in the R&B charts on iTunes for several weeks. The following year we made another version of it, and this was sung by an independent artist from the Northwest.

But what became apparent, and what made this particular song more than just a recurring theme for Glade for Christmas, was that we started to get requests from outside. From college bands that wanted to be able to play it at football games, community theaters wanted to use it, charities wanted to use it. We even got a request from Disney to use it in their Disney World Christmas shows. We got requests from people who wanted to make sheet music out of it. It’s become… every year it seems to grow more and more. And our latest, and most surprising is that the US Navy band wants to play it.

So, this is a piece of music that is kind of like a sleeper in that it only comes out once a year. This year, we were only hearing it… there is not a television commercial based on it for the first time in I think 4 years running, but there’s this grassroots movement that this song is actually becoming it’s own kind of White Christmas type of thing that people want to be able to play it because of its message and make it their own outside of advertising. Now, that’s very gratifying to me. Because we make a lot of commercials, we work very hard, we love our work, we feel that we’re doing our job. But this is, outside of that, this is bringing joy to people who are actually wanting to perform it, which is a totally different level of actually brand engagement, if you want to look at it that way.

Scott:


Right. And that’s a great example and frankly I can’t think of a better example of just how you can use music to help make a spot work, help make that point, help evoke those emotions. But then, to have something transcend a piece of advertising can really only happen with sound. And that’s a fantastic example of it. And all the different iterations, I mean I’m sure we can go on YouTube and probably find people in their bedroom covering it. It’s amazing how this stuff goes.

Karl:


There are, there’s a person who does a beautiful job on the piano… It’s fascinating. I get a chuckle out of it.

Scott:


Well that’s great, that’s a great story. And I appreciate you sharing that.

Full Version of “This Is My Wish” with Jordan Sparks:

  1. Dan F

    Great interview! Awesome to hear the background behind This is My Wish and how it has evolved. And wow, this quote “So the smart thing to do is not to sell, but to understand what the client represents as a brand, and to work within that area” …. so critical for any type of agency.

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