Inside Track with Jean Batthany, Executive Creative Director and EVP, DDB Chicago 1534 words · 8 minute read

It’s hard to look at Jean Batthany’s body of work and not be impressed. Kohler, American Cancer Society, British Airways, and Arby’s are only a few of the brands that Jean helped build. Couple that with two back-to-back awards - Advertising Working Mothers of the Year 2015 and The 30 Most Creative Women in Advertising 2015 - and you’ve got a whole creative dream-team crammed into one mighty brain.

In between new business pitches and catching up with all things Cannes, Jean answered a few questions for Music Dealers in an email interview to share how music in advertising has evolved over the years, and how it helps connect brands with their consumers.

Music Dealers: In an interview with “Beyond the Spot” in May, you said that when you were in college you thought that “advertising was selling your soul,” but now regard the craft almost like an addiction. Can you talk about what you see as the role of advertising in society with your 20+ years of experience? What does it do for the modern consumer?

Jean Batthany: Way back in the day, I saw the ad business as purely convincing people to buy what they did not want or need. Advertising is certainly the art of persuasion, designed to shape and influence the perceptions of the public. But it is also a powerful change agent, trendsetter, and entertainment vehicle. The modern consumer is exposed to so many messages every day. Thus they wield an incredible amount of power and demand more from brands in exchange for their loyalty…more relevance, more entertainment, and more purpose.

MD: You’ve worked at a variety of shops after graduating from FIT and over a commendable range of time. What has changed in music in advertising and branding over the years? What has stayed the same? Also, does the size/type/scale of the agency affect how music is regarded and utilized?

JB: When I first started, a lot more original music was being scored with live performers with real instruments, even orchestras. God help us, the jingle was still alive and well. But things got very synthesized very fast. At the time, relevant pop and rock stars wouldn’t be caught dead licensing their music to shill for a brand as it was seen as selling out.

But then there was definitely a cultural shift and you started hearing songs from bands old and new on commercials. I spent a lot of time at BBDO in the Pepsi days where music played a huge role. Everything from mega pop stars like Michael Jackson to oldies but goodies were negotiated in an attempt to create a culture of cool. Definitely a more expensive option than scoring an original piece, but instantly recognizable tracks reduced risk and brought instant social currency. Now it’s commonplace, and for up-and-coming artists it can be seen as a vehicle for success and sales. Apple really changed the way advertising could make a song or band explode with their cool cult status. Creatives everywhere were and still are trying to capture that magic.

“Both the size and attitude of the agency, as well as clients, are reflected in the music approach. Some agencies invest in an in-house music producer, who is potentially more knowledgeable and more connected to the music scene than the average creative. And some clients just have deeper pockets and want the star power that comes along with a known track while others don’t see the value.”

MD: How involved are you with the music of your campaigns? How do you see brands leveraging music, in both ad syncs and greater music-oriented initiatives, (e.g., artist partnerships)?

JB: Some creatives will have a very strong point of view for either the direction of music or a song when they share a concept. Especially if music is integral to the idea or will affect how we shoot or edit. Sometimes we’ll put tracks against rips as we sell work through, which can be dangerous if it’s well-known and potentially unattainable due to budget or talent as it runs the risk of demo love with the client. During the production process, the director, editor, and clients all tend to have strong opinions about music and it can be an extremely collaborative process. Sometimes we end up in a long drawn-out search and others you find and hear ‘the one’ right off.

As far as music partnerships and brand initiatives, it has to be mutually authentic to both the brand and the artist. Not just connect to the music for the sake of it.

MD: One of DDB’s new business clients, Kohler, has been doing some interesting things with music, such as the popular ad, “Never Too Timeless.” The song used, “Black Magic Boy” by Fran Hall, has earned 3,500+ listens on Spotify in three months and is available for purchase on iTunes. Can you talk us through the process of that song selection and music use?

JB: As we launched the Never Too Platform with Kohler, we really wanted to partner with up-and-coming artists and influencers, across all mediums that embodied the spirit of the campaign and the brand to live beyond the normal.

As we were producing the “Timeless” spot, Creative Directors Nathan Monteith [@NathanMonteith] and Andrew Bloom found a very cool clubby track from Australian producer and DJ Alison Wonderland [@awonderdj] via Nowness. The clients weren’t 100% sold, so we parallel-pathed music approaches. We asked the team at Massive Music to score an original track to our final cut and Music Dealers was brought in to search for an existing track from an indie band that would marry well with the edit. MD sent us many, including “Black Magic Boy” by Fran Hall, which had both a vintage and modern sound and married extremely well with the visual story of traveling through time.

Getting it up on iTunes was a no-brainer as people were asking what the song was as soon as the commercial was posted on YouTube, where it’s up to 2.5+ million views.

MD: Kohler is also a sponsor of Bonnaroo this year and is doing a lot of music activations around it: Spotify playlists, Instagram, and all-around really highlighting its Moxie showerhead. Did DDB lead the charge on this campaign? If so, can you walk us through its lifespan? How was the idea pitched and how were the steps determined/ implemented? What results do DDB and Kohler hope for from this?

JB: Kohler was already in talks with Bonnaroo when we started working with them last year. We definitely felt the NEVER TOO brand platform aligned extremely well with the partnership and thus were all for it. Collectively we saw it as a cool and authentic place to connect with a younger audience and the Moxie bluetooth showerhead the perfect product to demo Kohler’s attitude and innovation to very dirty music + tech loving millennials. Sort of a gateway drug if you will to the Kohler brand with an accessible price point.

There were many creative partners involved, including Revolver Media, Complex, Spotify, and Pandora, as well as social influencers at the festival. Kohler’s extensive internal creative and marketing team did most of the onsite and social activations.

MD: You’ve indicated in interviews that women influence or determine 85% of consumer buying decisions, and by ensuring there are more women creatives at the top, it will help develop ideas and campaigns that are more geared to that demographic.

When (not if!) the industry achieves at least a 50% ratio of men to women in creative leadership positions, how do you think advertising will change to more effectively engage with female consumers? Do you think the use of music in advertising/ branding will/would change from this?

JB: My hope is that more diverse, gender-balanced creative leadership in our industry will produce ads and content that include rather exclude women. If women are saying they feel alienated by advertising that’s not persuasive, that’s failing.

I’m definitely not an advocate for softer or (God forbid) “pinkvertising,” but a better balance of women and diverse ethnicities can draw from more and different life experiences and passions for inspiration. Music plays such a huge role in emoting a range of “feels” in commercials. Making consumers feel something is key to making a human connection.

Early in the interview, Jean commented on the idea that most excites us at Music Dealers regarding the evolution of advertising: No longer is it an industry that’s out to “convince people to buy what they don’t want or need.” When done right, advertising can be a change agent, a trendsetter, an entertainment vehicle. The differentiating factor between the two pathways is truly enriching the lives of consumers and, like Jean said, making them feel something authentic.

Music isn’t the only route to emotive advertising, but as the world’s most shared passion point, it can definitely be the fastest and most powerful way of building a real bond between brands and consumers. Big MD props to Jean for highlighting this in her work on accounts like Kohler, and we give great thanks to her for taking the time to share her expertise with us in this exclusive interview.

By: Zach Miller, Music Dealers