Using Popular Songs In Advertising: Does It Detract From Branding? John Lewis & Tiny Dancer

In our previous article we analysed award winning advertisement by VW ‘Laughing Horses’ to ask the question of whether an entertaining advertisement would also be commercially effective. Today we take a look at the effect of using popular songs in advertising, specifically the nostalgic song ‘Tiny Dancer’ to determine whether using this type of music in advertising has a positive or negative impact on remembering brand information.

John Lewis certainly appears to have a penchant for creating great commercials, with 2015’s “Tiny Dancer” being no exception, taking home a gold Lion in the Film category at Cannes. Adam&EveDDB’s creative toys with the notion of impending doom, as we watch young girl practising her passion for ballet around her house. Set to the iconic soundtrack of Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” we see the young girl dance a fine line between success and domestic disaster, pirouetting around the living room, endangering ornaments and putting the curtains in jeopardy. But in the face of multiple potential breakages, her dad remains relaxed and unconcerned; as we find out at the end, he has it all covered with John Lewis home insurance.

But are viewers following the interwoven message from John Lewis telling them not to worry because everything is covered? And are they taking on board the branding? Neuro-Insight has analysed this commercial to understand its second by second impact on the brains of viewers to determine the underpinnings of this great commercial.

The times series videos that are below, contrast male and female viewers’ response to the John Lewis home insurance commercial. The red trace reflects memory encoding from the left hemisphere, which is primarily responsible for the encoding of the detail in experiences, such as text or dialogue. In contrast the right hemisphere, which is represented by the blue line, is concerned with the storing of global features, such as soundtracks, scenery and facial expressions, as well as the emotional underpinnings of a particular experience.

Male Viewers Memory Encoding

“When contrasting the responses of male and female viewers, we can see that the narrative of potential damage and breakage appears to resonate strongly with females”

Female Viewers Memory Encoding

When contrasting the responses of male and female viewers, we can see that the narrative of potential damage and breakage appears to resonate strongly with females. In particular, female viewers had a much higher level of memory encoding to scenes where the likelihood of something breaking was high. These included scenes of the vase rocking perilously on the table, the painting swinging on the wall and the curtains being pulled from the rail. In contrast, the response of male viewers was only moderate during these very same scenes.

Figure 1: Potential moments of disaster resonate with female viewers.
While the theme of near catastrophe is a strong driver of the memory encoding in female viewers, male viewers on the other hand, are interested in a completely different part of the narrative. While males appear less interested in the potential chaos that may unfold, they are however much more interested in the dancing itself. This is evident early on, as memory encoding responses are initially being driven by the iconic soundtrack (right-brain, global memory encoding) but are later being influenced by the dancing, which in turn drives a detailed memory encoding response. These include visuals of the dancing between rooms, dancing in front of the window and on the stairs

“While there was poor linkage to the John Lewis brand, male viewers were much more engaged with the soundtrack and with the dancing”

Figure 2: The dancing sequences are more strongly encoded by male viewers.
When it comes to the final part of the ad, as the resolution of the story unfolds, we also see differing patterns of response amongst male and female viewers. The scene where we see the front of the house adds further context to the narrative and is much more effective with female viewers. Male viewers, on the other hand, appear to perceive this shot as much less relevant – it doesn’t advance the dancing narrative and so the brain does not encode it as strongly into long term memory. The differences in brain responses between both genders are further carried right through to final branding. In particular, female viewers respond more strongly than male viewers, showing an increase in memory encoding as final branding appears on screen. This indicates that the underlying message present in the narrative is consolidated at final branding for female viewers – importantly linking the John Lewis brand back to the narrative. Male viewers in contrast, have not been taking out the destruction narrative and therefore are disconnected when final branding appears.

Figure 3: Responses diverge at the end of the ad.
In summary, the commercial is more effective with a female audience than it is with a male audience. Female viewers follow the narrative more closely and are better able to link this message with John Lewis’ home insurance product. For male viewers, it’s a much different picture. While there was poor linkage to the John Lewis brand, male viewers were much more engaged with the soundtrack and with the dancing. For male viewers, using these particular elements in supporting media streams such as OOH & digital may be better suited to linking the John Lewis brand to this particular campaign for this group.

Written by Heather Andrew and Shaun Seixas

Find this content interesting? Read our other articles analysing advertisements with neuroscience here. If you’re interested in working with us on your brand’s next big advertising project contact us

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