Ask viewers to name the most irritating advert on television and Go Compare’s campaign featuring a warbling opera singer regularly tops the list.
But is there a more effective way for a brand to soundtrack a major campaign than the price comparison website’s migraine-inducing repetition?
What if your 30-second commercial could incorporate the epic orchestral sweep of a big-screen blockbuster such as Gravity, or the high-drama turbo injection of a thumping James Bond score?
The creators of those memorable soundtracks are now available to hire through a creative venture, backed by Britain’s leading screen composers, which aims to replace crude commercial “jingles” with a more sophisticated musical backdrop.
Composers including David Arnold, who devised the music for the Bond films Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, and Steven Price, who won an Oscar for his Gravity score, are to collaborate with leading artists to create bespoke new music – from instrumentals to fully fledged vocal tracks – for high-end advertising campaigns.
The Bafta-nominated Ilan Eshkeri (Kick Ass) and Dickon Hinchliffe – a founder member of the band Tindersticks, who composed the soundtrack for the backwoods drama Winter’s Bone – have also signed up to the initiative, created by Universal Music’s Globe commercial division.
For advertisers, hiring an Oscar-winning composer adds instant credibility to any campaign and helps to make a commercial an “event”.
Despite the restrictions of working to a 30- or 60-second brief dictated by a brand, the composers believe the link-up can generate innovative musical shorts which will outlast the commercial campaign.
Universal Music, whose roster extends from Elbow to Lady Gaga, will make its artists available to collaborate with the composers and the results will be released through its labels, such as Decca. The famous Abbey Road studios will be placed at the disposal of the musicians to assist the creation of lavish orchestrations.
“Can you imagine Lana Del Rey collaborating with David Arnold for a BMW advert?” asked Nick Angel, a leading film music supervisor who is overseeing the project.
Angel, who compiled the soundtracks for films including Billy Elliot and The World’s End, said: “You can’t underestimate the importance of music in bringing a visual to life, and composers who work in film know better than anyone just how to do that.
“These guys spend their lives writing to pictures, sometimes having to build emotional and adrenaline punches in a short period of time. They’re used to working to a brief with directors and producers. It’s an opportunity to bring cinematic music to a different world.”
Composing to order for a commercial could actually offer greater freedom than a major film score. “Films are so micro-managed. There are a lot of people to make happy and you have to hit a story cue every second,” said Arnold, whose credits range from Independence Day to the BBC’s Sherlock.
He said he would be “very particular” about the brands he worked with, and accepted that his role would ultimately be to help a company sell its product. He said: “Sometimes it’s just a hook which will grab your ears, which is similar to a good film theme. You’re looking for something to make the listener stand up and take notice.”
The composers’ entry spells bad news for rock and pop acts who have increasingly relied upon the use of old hits in adverts to top up their royalties.
The business of “sync” – the strategic placing of songs on adverts, television trailers, computer games and film soundtracks – generated £19m for British musicians last year, according to the trade body BPI.
Last year, Blondie recorded painstaking reconstructions of its classic hits so that they could be placed at the disposal of brands including VW, Heinz and Commonwealth Bank.
“Now advertisers can commission music that stands apart from old songs and covers,” said Angel. “You can call the guy who won the Oscar for Gravity or Winter’s Bone if you’re looking for something in that style. Instead of a reworked oldie, the John Lewis Christmas advert could be artists collaborating on a new piece of music.”
Angel said that his ideal would be to pair PJ Harvey, whom he signed when he was an executive at Island Records, with one of the composers – although he accepts that there are few commercial campaigns which might appeal to the singer.
It is common for directors such as Sir Ridley Scott and Baz Luhrmann to jump between the worlds of advertising and films, often pocketing large cheques to help fund their big-screen projects.
However Craig Armstrong, the Bafta-winning Scottish composer who has collaborated with Luhrmann on films including Moulin Rouge and The Great Gatsby, and has dipped his toe into the world of advertising, prefers to keep his distance. He said: “I arranged Debussy’s ‘Claire de Lune’ for the Nicole Kidman Chanel No 5 advert with Baz [a 2003 mini-movie costing £18m] in Paris, and it was great fun, but I’m not personally attracted to making adverts as a way of making a living. I’m much more interested in scoring a film or making a record.”
Viewers will welcome the aural salvation promised by the composers who do lend their skills. Even a certain moustached opera singer may have had his day. Last year GoCompare.com posted a £10.2m drop in pre-tax profits, prompting a rethink of its musical calling card.
Adverts may pack the punch of films such as ‘Quantum of Solace’ (above) with composers such as David Arnold involved bloomberg