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The Influence of Music in the Culture of Alcohol Advertising

The Influence of Music in the Culture of Alcohol Advertising

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An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Richie O'Donnell. Originally submitted for Dissertation at University College Dublin, with lecturer Dr. Jaime Jones in the category of Modern Cultural Studies
An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Richie O'Donnell. Originally submitted for Dissertation at University College Dublin, with lecturer Dr. Jaime Jones in the category of Modern Cultural Studies

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 29, 2012
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The Influence of Music in the Culture of Alcohol Advertising
In advertisement, despite the arguments of many artists and advertisers alike, music is
denied any illusory status as being art for art’s sake, but is valued by its acceptability
andfunctionality within the format of the ad. In order to promote a product without overtlystating this intention, it is often necessary for creative advertisers to disguise thecommercial interest of an ad by making it appear to be an artistic package.
This is seen tobe achieved when the ad uses minimal reference to the product and focuses almost entirelyon the events, narrative and overall creativity of the ad itself. Music is one of the keyelements in generating this artistry in television and radio advertisement; on television,countless ads use a combination of music and visual imagery to tell a story, whilst allowingonly the briefest of references to the commercial message, usually a logo, signature taglineor slogan of a company or brand, yet even the most fleeting of references to the productbeing marketed can be enough to forge an association between this product and the aditself in the mind of the viewer. It is this effect which I intend to investigate in this essay. Theobjective here is to analyse the entire audio-visual presentation of two particularly revealingads, looking at the ways in which music is used to give an ad a cinematic feel, an effectwhich I will argue has several purposes: firstly, it draws the audience into the fictional worldof the ad, allowing them to become temporarily involved with and affected by the events of the unfolding drama, as with a film. Once an audience has become captivated in this way,the music, along with the other elements of the ad, then serves the purpose of suggestingspecific ideas or ideals
to the audience, referred to as the “pitch” of 
the ad, which they willthen hopefully equate with the product in question. The secondary meanings which this
Bethany Klein.
 As Heard on TV: popular music in advertising
(Farnham: Ashgate 2010), 41.
process generates, that is, meanings which are not inherent in the material objects(products) themselves but which are attached to them by a particular culture (in this case,the culture of advertising)
, are often referred to as “mythologies”
, and are a commonplacephenomenon in ads which make use of dramatic, aesthetically pleasing mini-stories andnarratives as vehicles for making a point about the product being sold.One of the most noteworthy sources of the type of commercials which prioritiseartistic and aesthetic form rather than blatant promotion of the superior quality of itsproducts is that of alcohol advertising. Alcohol manufacturers have much to gain fromintelligent advertising campaigns, the production of alcohol being one of the most lucrativebusinesses in the world providing a company keeps its competitive edge. The idea thatadvertising of alcoholic products tends to favour the more artistic ad makes sense when weconsider the strict regulation and legal pressure which is imposed upon these companies topromote their product and encourage maximum consumer purchase without hinting at theperceived negative effects of alcohol consumption. Working within such parameters forcesthe advertiser of alcohol to appeal to the target audience by drawing attention away fromthe physical effects of the product itself and directing
the potential consumer’s attention
 towards its other aspects, which are usually imaginary in nature, that is, they are notinherent in the product itself, but are attached to it by the ingenuity of the advertising. Inthe ads discussed below, one of which promotes Heineken, the other, Guinness, I willattempt to unveil some of these secondary meanings. In the case of the Heineken ad, I willlook at how the music reinforces, even exaggerates, the mock-tragedy of the ad, whilst also
looking at the image of “classiness” which is proposed by the particular song chosen for the
spot. I will also look at some of the particular considerations which were taken by the team
See Barthes, Roland.
trans. Annette Lavers (London: Vintage 1993).
of advertisers who developed this ad, the Dublin-based McCann Erickson group. With theGuinness ad, I will once again correlate the music with the visual drama, and also drawattention to the way in which this ad draws upon particularly Irish images and meanings sothat Guinness is seen to be a symbol of Ireland, especially in relation to the Irish diaspora inAmerica.T
he Heineken commercial entitled “Life of a Green Beer Bottle” was in circulation on
Irish television in early 2009. The ad was created by McCann Erickson, Dublin, and featured
the song “This is My Life” by Shirley Bassey. The choice of music is far from incidental, but is
essential to the effect of this ad, and is one of the main vehicles of its symbolic meaning. Wearrive on the scene of a party in full swing at twilight, yet we do not hear any music playingin the background, only the heightened sounds of voices. The absence of music here isworth mentioning because it sets the beginning of the ad apart from what follows, themajority of the ad containing music. At this point we are clearly in the world of normalhuman sociability. In this way the introduction of the music is far more dramatic, as it not
only signals the beginning of the ad’s main dramatic content, but transports us to th
eimaginary world of conscious, living Heineken bottles. An inconsiderate bystander hascarelessly knocked one particular bottle from its pride of place at the top of a shelf, while asecond man (another Heineken bottle in his hand) attempts to rescue the falling beverage.
The camera zooms in on the bottle and we are then shown, in flashback form, the “life” of 
the bottle, which amounts to the series of events in the production and distribution of thebottle of beer, with the Bassey song playing in the background.

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