Where Dreams Come True
Nathan “420Doggface208” Apodaca's Ocean Spray video was the best accidental advert ever, but there’s an art to making dreams between music and brands. Here Tom Skinner explores how music can move both people and products in the TikTok era.
Until recently 420Doggface208 wasn't a name that any agency or marketeer would have had at the top of their marketing and music hit list. Yet Nathan Apodaca (his real name) has definitively flipped the brand story script, and with help from Fleetwood Mac and the global TikTok community the world gulped down the story, along with gallons of Ocean Spray Cran-Raspberry juice. His carefree skateboarding video has to date has been viewed over 64 million times on his TikTok stream, and instantly created one of the most successful mixtape moments ever, effortlessly combining a spontaneously creative and joyful narrative with perfect product placement and a soundtrack that will forever take listeners to the moment and that brand.
But to look at how this TikTok moment came about in the evolution of brand and music connections, we need to rewind a little. As Shakespeare wrote, “If music be the food of love, play on”, and many a copywriting scribe has reached for their dusty vinyl collection or Spotify playlist to cue up the right music track to enhance the narrative of their commercial messages and, by association, the love of the product. The ability of a perfectly-placed soundtrack to magnify the magic and enhance viewers’ emotions literally provides food to the soul or in today’s terms, social media likes.
Whether for Ireland’s famous black stuff or for American black denim jeans, music is without doubt the ad maker and ad breaker. A glance into the history of songs that are forever linked with brands, shows what they have in common and how they can guide music selection today.
It’s been said that music makes up 50 per cent of any commercial brand message and the right song selection can make immeasurable percentage gains in terms of ingraining recall. Music has the ability to to take the listener to a different time and place, and transport them from their sofa or smartphone and put them in the heart of the brand story.
Consider Leftfield’s “Phat Planet” track which, with its thumping metronomic heartbeat, teleported viewers of the Guinness Surfer ad into the moment of salty, crashing seas. This story of waiting for perfection was clear, and the volume of tension was dialled up by the building soundwaves of the track, resulting in an unstoppable wave of accolades and sales. “Phat Planet” and the story of the sea-hardened surfers are now forever linked but it apparently took a trawl through over 2,000 songs before the creators stumbled on this unreleased track, something which is now possible far more quickly on TikTok.
The same can be said of the Levi’s hit factory of memorable advert soundtracks. Each one took the viewer to a time or place, linking them to the moment and to the make and model of jeans. Some of these tracks were by previously unheard-of artists, such as “Spaceman” by one-hit wonders Babylon Zoo, while others looked to bring forgotten classics to new ears. In 1985, Nick Kamen’s impromptu laundrette striptease to Marvin Gaye’s, “I Heard It Through The Grapevine”, took viewers out of their mundane suburban slumber to a moment of effortlessly cool Americana. It set heart rates soaring to levels matched only by the 800 per cent rise in sales of Levi’s 501s.
“Music is a powerful force in communication and should never be underestimated,” says Sir John Hegarty, the advertising executive who was responsible for that Nick Kamen advert. “It connects on a deep emotional level, creating a lasting bond between the communicator and the listener, adding value and memorability to your message.”
Plugging into the past as firmly as fixing your Fender into your Marshall amp is still what guides strong song selection in adverts today. The medium may have moved from big screen to the screens of our mobile devices, but the link to a narrative thread remains, as does the idea of transporting the listener to a different time and place. With advances in technology viewers can also now physically step into the experience, surrounding themselves in a stereo brand moment.
Samsung turned it up to 11 with their 2019 collaboration with K-Pop superpower BLACKPINK by offering fans around the globe the chance to #danceAwesome with Jennie, Jisoo, Lisa, Rosé, or all of them at once. The group’s custom track paired with a TikTok toe-tapping choreography sealed the deal by letting users feel connected to the band and brand as they learnt the lyrics and dance moves before stepping in front of their phone cameras to fully immerse themselves in the moment. Four million fans created their own content and stepped up to appear in their own version of a music video, willingly sharing the narrative of the product features, and gaining 20bn views. With insights linked to the strength and emotional cut-through of music, Samsung saw a 190 per cent rise in purchase intent and 850,000 new followers on the brand’s TikTok feed.
“You have to relinquish some control if you want a serious hit on TikTok,” says Nick Pringle ECD at R/GA. “‘Dance Awesome’ was a good example of that. We made the track and had BLACKPINK hand it over to the TikTok community. Back in the 2000s, you hummed along to the best ad tracks – today, you can ‘be’ the track and your own expression of it matters. That’s powerful.”
Ad agencies and marketeers have long been the sole conductors of all these works, wielding the baton to coordinate perfect orchestrations of music and brand. But recently TikTok has become the catalyst of a newer shift, with users making content by combining their favourite brands and tracks – with no agency involvement. These moments of magic are by their very nature narratives of people’s own story and their connection with a brand, and users are playing back a brand narrative with their own personal spin on feeling through the medium of music.
“The closer a consumer gets to experiencing an advert through their heart, the more effective. Brands yearn for us to viscerally ‘feel’ a personal connection to their product and there is no simpler way to do this than through the multidimensional power of music,” says Ayla Owen, Vice President of Sync & Creative Services, Europe Warner Chappell Music. “The unintentional alchemy in 420Doggface208’s TikTok masterpiece happens spontaneously; a snapshot of pure, unadulterated joy through the eyes of an ‘everyday guy’, blissed out on Ocean Spray and Fleetwood Mac’s classic ‘Dreams’ (a song surely unknown by most of Gen Z only months ago). For music publishers whose topmost priority is to keep their iconic catalogues relevant to future generations of fans, this kind of viral smash hit is indeed the holy grail.”
This new chapter in the brand storybook really connected with the cultural consciousness in late 2020, when Doggface208 grabbed his longboard and a bottle of Ocean Spray, sharing his personal story and setting it to Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams”. The combination obviously clicked: the right time, the right product, and the right song. The elements came together, much like the perfectly constructed brand stories from agencies that have preceded it, elevating to a new level of narrative what was, on the surface, just a guy living his very best life and enjoying his favourite drink and classic song. This TikTok took us to that feeling of freedom when we escape the woes of the world, the product and lyrics combining to enable a micro-moment of joy.
But alongside that, Nathan Apodaca also became an overnight star and Ocean Spray the must-drink beverage of the moment, while Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” topped the Billboard and iTunes charts again for the first time in 43 years. TikTok’s jukebox of joy spawned countless remixes including versions from Mick Fleetwood and Ocean Spray’s own CEO, Tom Hayes, who jumped on the bandwagon – or rather their skateboards – to keep the pages of this particular story turning.
Proof if it were needed that music and storytelling have always been and still are at the heart and soul of creating a moment that moves people and moves products off the shelf – often faster than you can skateboard down a street singing, “It’s only right that you should play the way you feel it…”