Music & Sound: The Unsung Heroes of Great Advertising

Insights from Karla Henwood and Ralph van Dijk.

Image via AdFest

At some point, maybe even quite often, we have all watched ads on our phones with the sound off.  If you were the advertiser, would you be concerned about how much less their impact is?

Their emotive power is diluted, their message is even muddied sometimes and your attention isn’t held in a vice as it is with music and sound to carry you through the visual story. Sound has many tricks up its sleeve to amplify the power of advertising.

To cover this interesting topic, MassiveMusic and Squeak E.Clean are at AdFest 2024 to discuss some of the industry’s key assets. In the following interview, they reveal how they’ve evolved to make sure that the powers of sound and music are in peak form.


Karla Henwood is Executive Creative Producer of Squeak E. Clean Studios’ Australia. Ralph van Dijk is Director of Music & Brands for APAC at MassiveMusic and Creative Director and Founder of Eardrum. Donny Pereira is Managing Director and Executive Producer, MassiveMusic Singapore.

What recent technologies, cultural changes, brand attitudes, and creative ideas have become assets for you?

Ralph van Dijk: The popularity of sound-on platforms like TikTok means it’s essential for brands to be defined in audio. Not only did MassiveMusic create the brand sound of TikTok, we are their music partner, so we know exactly how brands can harness the power of music and artist partnerships on this platform. The increase in short form ad units has motivated brands to explore how sonic branding can improve attribution. For example, placing an audio logo at the start of a skippable ad ensures everyone know exactly which brand was talking to them.

AI will allow some tasks in the sonic branding process to be performed faster, helping us to explore more options and ideas in a shorter timeframe. As with anything creative, the more time you have to sit and think, and the more ideas you are able to work through, the better the end result.

Karla Henwood: Musical acts have always been part of peak celebrity, but the enmeshing of our music culture and brand advertising, thanks in part to platforms like TikTok, where advertising and trending music meet in perfect harmony, leads to incredible advertising opportunities where we play a front-row seat in steering the creative with our musical expertise. Last fall, we composed original music for Frito-Lay’s Flamin’ Hot campaign called FH University starring Megan Thee Stallion, the juggernaut Megan’s stamp of approval, of course. Musician and brand collaborations aren’t new, but we’re seeing a massive uptick in musicians steering creative for brand collaborations, which is of course an exciting time to be a global music studio.


We also tapped into the rise of global music appreciation among western audiences, in both Australia and the US. Most recently, we collaborated with HYBE x Geffen Records on an original score for their inaugural Dream Academy contest, a reality show where the ultimate winners will snag a coveted spot as part of the upcoming HYBE x Geffen global girl group. HYBE, a renowned label with K-Pop roots, represents a host of talented groups, not the least of which is the legendary BTS. As these labels begin making waves in countries beyond South Korea, we anticipate an uptick in studio collaborations for global campaigns such as these.

What are the greatest challenges for your company – and sound production in general – right now?

Ralph van Dijk: The greatest challenge is that sonic branding is still relatively new for many brands, so there’s still an education job to be done. Brands need to know how sonic branding can add impact and achieve cost efficiencies. Thankfully, we’ve been doing it for longer and in more markets than any other music agency so we’re able to show the tangible benefits our clients have achieved across all categories.

Every industry is navigating the role of AI and sonic branding is no exception. While it can improve the speed and efficiency for music referencing, the risk is that people rely on it for composition. So far, the result is that the same unimaginative and homogenised sounds are being generated, simply adding to the noise.

Karla Henwood: Even though we know the consumer trend has shifted towards audio, the challenge is getting the brand to think audio first on a strategy level and, where possible, to be more open to technology exploring immersive or experiential sound ideas. Consumers are chewing through content in so many ways and on so many different platforms that if you want to stand out beyond a voiceover saying your product name and where to buy it, just might help separate your brand from the noise.

How has the balance of the kind of work you do change in the last five years? What are you investing most heavily in for the future and why?

Donny Pereira: Over the last past five years, the music and audio production landscape has evolved in response to changing client and consumer preferences. While maintaining our dedication to traditional formats, we’ve adeptly embraced the demand for immersive content through innovative approaches.

We’ve prudently incorporated select technologies, embracing artificial intelligence, into our creative processes, leveraging its strength in referencing while preserving the human touch in composition. AI has proven invaluable in streamlining routine tasks and uncovering audience insights. Through the subtle influence of machine learning algorithm analysing music consumption data, decision-making in composition and arrangements has become more informed. In sound design, AI facilitates precise audio element manipulation, enriching our creative scope and enabling exploration of broader range of sonic possibilities.

Looking ahead, we’ve committed to innovation through investing in AI technologies, ongoing team training, and working with AI experts. Our aim is to smoothly combine timeless traditional principles with AI advancements, in a way we can push the boundaries of audio creativity in advertising, while upholding the cherished traditions music and sound design that form the core of our work.

Karla Henwood: We are still very much a craft-first company, so we continue to invest in great people along with AI and production tech tools and physical gear, because that’s fun and we always strive to immerse ourselves in any opportunity to be better. We recently invested in new Studios in Sydney. One might think this goes against the industry trend of downsizing and people working from home, but in our experience, creative people love to have our collaborative space where they can come and immerse themselves in the craft of music and sound working with our people.

This is published through our partnership with AdFest. To learn more about the festival go here.

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