Richard Bratby

The Mozarts of ad music

The hidden men and women composing melodies to make you buy

‘We call it the John Lewis Ending’: the commercial’s music has become the defining advertising sound of our time. Credit: Image courtesy of the advertising archives

It’s Christmas 2020 and Kevin the Carrot is on a mission. Snow swirls, ice glistens and roast turkeys and cold cuts wait on the table, bathed in cosy firelight. The visual symbols of Christmas are all present and correct in the big Aldi seasonal advert, but what pulls them together is the music. A hint of John Williams on a solo horn, a burst of swashbuckling rhythm; symphonic strings as our vegetable hero makes it home. It’s all there, sumptuously scored and precisely gauged to make you feel that in 30 seconds, you’ve experienced an epic. And then, of course, to go out and buy parsnips.

‘I was lucky, because the mood had already been chosen,’ says Guy Farley, the composer who wrote that score. ‘I’d done a previous campaign; and it was such a success that the team at Aldi called again the following year: “Can you record it at Abbey Road? And this time we want Home Alone meets Pirates of the Caribbean.” ’ So that — no quibbles, no questions — is exactly what Farley gave them.

The business of writing music to order in an aggressively commercial environment is easily undervalued. Fundamentally, though, it’s closer in spirit to Bach or Mozart (all those weekly cantatas and Salzburg divertimenti) than today’s grant–funded Serious Classical Composer agonising for months over an instantly forgettable Proms commission.

‘Consider what moderation is required to express oneself so briefly,’ wrote Arnold Schoenberg in 1924, ‘… to express a whole novel in a single gesture, a joy in a single indrawn breath.’ Now imagine doing all that and selling groceries at the same time. All year round, composers like Farley craft little symphonies that enter the consciousness, stick in the memory and change their listeners’ actual behaviour. Intel Inside. You Can Do It if You B&Q It.

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