Nashville just hosted its 31st annual Tin Pan South Songwriters Festival. If you’re not familiar with it, you may not be a country music fan (no judgement—well, not too much anyway). It’s been dubbed the largest songwriter’s festival in the world and is still somehow one of the most intimate music festival experiences out there (from what I’ve heard).
The whole point of the festival is to give the unknown writers behind of some of the biggest songs in country music a chance to sing their own stuff and share the stories behind the words they wrote. I’m a sucker for listening to writers talk about their work, so even though country music doesn’t have much in common with advertising as a whole, I couldn’t help but find a few parallels between the two worlds. Stick with me.
1. It tells a story.
Guy. Girl. Truck. Dirt. Beer.
Nearly every country song has at least three of those things at play. Guy + Truck + Beer = about 5 songs I can think of right now. I remember those songs because they tell a story.
Think of all the songs that make you want to cry (just kidding… nobody wants to cry) and the ones that have you saying “yee-haw!” even though that’s definitely not something you say (or is it?). I’m guessing there’s a story woven through each of them.
Point is, whether it’s a song on the radio or a radio script meant to sell something, stories make us pay attention. They give words meaning and memorability. They make ideas “stick.”
2. Tone makes or breaks you.
Tone isn’t what you say—it’s how you say it. Few things are more painful than listening to someone who can’t sing, sing a song you love. Some might say it’s more painful for the person singing, but from my experience, those people are usually blissfully unaware. It’s called being tone deaf.
Tone deafness is detrimental in music and marketing, of course. But so are the one-off blunders in tonality. For a star, tone issues are rare and unexpected. Maybe it’s one flat note or a crack in their voice. But these minor hiccups can quickly damage a singer’s reputation if they happen on the wrong stage.
The same is true for brands. Agencies don’t last long if they’re entirely tone deaf, but many will run a single campaign or publish a Tweet that is. One bad ad can have a negative ripple effect that quickly explodes in our digital landscape. Tone matters. And it matters every single time.
3. Originality wins fans.
From Florida Georgia Line’s rap-country collaborations to Hardy’s love-hate relationship with honky-tonk and rock & roll, country music isn’t what it used to be. It’s different. Fresh. Original.
Originality is what turns audiences into adoring fans. The stars doing what no one else is are the ones who stand out. They gain an edge and create a name for themselves that’s not easily forgotten.
Brands are always looking for fans, but what they often fear is originality. They want to get noticed, but not actually say anything. They want to be bold, but not too bold. They want to crush the competition, but wear socks when they do it. Problem is, socks are soft, and so is your branding when you try to find a middle ground between stilettos and combat boots.
Originality means being different. Like actually different. Taking chances, trying things and then trying other things. It also means you end up with a fan-worthy brand.
Every songwriter wants to write a hit. Many do. When it happens, some allow themselves the luxury of sipping celebratory cocktails or telling their Uber drivers “Hey, I wrote this.” But the best songwriters don’t ride the top-of-the-charts high for long. They go right back to work writing their next hit.
Every hit song is eventually replaced by another hit song. And the most on-point ad campaigns are often bumped by something else slightly more on point. TurboTax showed us that.
So, when something works—an event, a tagline, a photo shoot—that just means it’s time to start making something else work.