Chris Moerdyk
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Chris Moerdyk
Marketing Tips

Music as a weapon of mass distraction

Music can play an important role at marketing functions but be careful, it can also be a brand killer. For instance, doesn't it make you mad when you go out to a restaurant to have a quiet evening chatting to friends or family and the background music is so loud you can't hear yourself eat?
And worse, when you go to a business cocktail party, presentation or awards function where the whole idea is for everyone to do some networking and some idiot organiser brings in a band with a sound system big enough for a capacity crowd at Ellis Park?

What is it about so many of those people who run restaurants, department stores or organise corporate functions that makes them so singularly stupid and spectacularly vindictive? Why can they not understand the very simple meaning of the word "background" when they're told to provide background music?

Frankly, if I were a captain of industry having to fork out a couple of hundred thousand bucks on a corporate lunch or dinner event, I would want to get my money's worth by making absolutely sure that all my executives were able to network with invited guests.

That's the marketing rationale behind any corporate cocktail party, awards function, launch or relationship building event. The idea is to get everyone talking to each other.

But, some of the cretins behind these shindigs, seem to have a very different sense of purpose. Because, as soon as the speeches are done or the awards handed out and guests are able to talk to each other, they bring out the band or crank up piped music to a decibel level that would fell a hard of hearing bull elephant five blocks away.

Normal conversation is almost impossible, unless you put your mouth up against the ear of the person next to you and bellow at about the same level army instructors use on raw recruits who persist in calling them "boet".

I was at a major marketing awards function put on, believe it or not, by one the country's major marketers a few years ago and the live band that was supposed to serenely serenade guests as they sipped their pre-lunch cocktails and chatted, was so deafening that anyone wanting to hold any vestige of conversation had to cram themselves into the furthermost reaches of the venue and communicate using a sort of sign language with their swizzle sticks.

It was a laugh a minute with masses of open space all over the place and everyone crammed into a corner like a rugby scrum.

It happens at nine out ten events I attend. I come away with an aching jaw and a decidedly irritable disposition. On a particularly blustery day at some or other event recently, I thought someone was asking me about the weather so I answered; "a little windy." She'd actually said; "how are you" but the damn band drowned it out. She hasn't said a word to me since.

One only has to spend a minute or two talking to specialists in the field of musical motivation and they will tell you that music can be a magnificent marketing tool. Trouble is, it is also deadly dangerous in unskilled hands. Background is fine. In your face is futile.

Basically, one has a single simple choice in terms of organising a corporate function. Either its networking or its entertainment.

Big business functions are supposed to be marvelous marketing opportunities. They're also pretty expensive. And the return on investment dissipates into nothing when misguided maniacs turn music into weapons of mass distraction.

7 Feb 2008 15:56


About Chris Moerdyk

Apart from being a corporate marketing analyst, advisor and media commentator, Chris Moerdyk is a former chairman of Bizcommunity. He was head of strategic planning and public affairs for BMW South Africa and spent 16 years in the creative and client service departments of ad agencies, ending up as resident director of Lindsay Smithers-FCB in KwaZulu-Natal. Email Chris on moc.liamg@ckydreom and follow him on Twitter at @chrismoerdyk.