What Earworms Can Teach Us About Communication

By Alexander Jutkowitz

An invisible thread connects some of the world’s biggest pop stars and their mega-hits, from Britney Spears “…Baby One More Time” to Katy Perry’s “I Kissed A Girl” and, more recently, The Weeknd’s “Can’t Feel My Face.” That thread is Max Martin, the Swedish songwriter who wrote these and many more of the most memorable hits from the past two decades. You may not recognize his name – a testament to his strength as a ghostwriter – but as marketers, we can learn a lot from Martin.

Martin has the Midas touch for melody, creating earworms that are impossible to ignore. When I think about how to succeed in marketing, I think about what it takes to write people’s favorite songs. I think about how to create those rich and deep sounds that harmonize together and touch us in inexplicable ways, giving rise to different emotions.

A brand’s narrative must touch on the same principles of harmony that our favorite songs do. Every beat of the song, every sine curve, is a message. And together, each of these individual messages aligns to create something memorable, catchy, and enriching. These are precisely the attributes we need to bring out in a brand’s story.

If our messages, just like the sine curves, are rich and deep, they have a profound ability to resonate with audiences. I call this rich and deep communication “RAD Serialization.”

Serialization speaks to our desire to target audiences with the same messages over and over again. And the good news is that audiences are receptive to repetition. But that doesn’t mean we have to be boring or drone on and on. It means we have to be creating content that is rich and deep on a regular, ongoing basis.

Digital media today is constantly flowing, with information organized in streams; from a Google search results page to our Facebook and Twitter feeds, and on video-based platforms like Snapchat and Periscope, we are increasingly consuming information in a flow. The famous quote on impermanence, “No man ever steps in the same river twice,” applies perfectly here. Media in today’s age is ephemeral, and what’s viral today will be usurped tomorrow by the next diaper clad chimera.

The antidote to this ephemeral age is RAD Serialization.

RAD Serialization is a reminder that our messages, although repeating, can’t be generic. They need to be counterintuitive and surprising, and incite emotion – the same principles Martin uses to create his mega-hits.

As the New Yorker stated, Martin’s Backstreet Boys songs use “major and minor chords in surprising combinations (going to a minor chord on the chorus, say, when you least expect it), producing happy songs that sound sad, and sad songs that make you happy.” Similarly, to stand out in the streams of information, we also need to create the unexpected.

But of course, even the raddest message won’t break through if our sine curves don’t continue to flow. As marketers, we can’t let our messages stop or we risk losing our audience’s attention. The song will end, and our audience won’t be able to hear us.

In order to resonate with audiences, you have to make sound. And to make sound, you need to make waves. These waves flow into the streams of information where our audiences are consuming content, connecting with them and fostering an ongoing relationship. That’s serialization. But to truly connect, don’t forget the rich and deep part. It’s our job to communicate with our audience, and satisfy their craving for knowledge.

In other words, never stop being rad.

Alexander Jutkowitz is the CEO of Group SJR, Truffle Pig, and Colloquial.
Top image shot by Chris New, Director of Multimedia, art direction by Joelle McKenna, Visual Designer. 

Explore this issue

From Fireside Chats To Breaking Bad: How Media Creates Community

Read More 

When Serialization Goes Bad: 3 Rules to Keep a Series From Falling Flat

How Serialization Changes The Conversation

You are

What Earworms Can Teach Us About Communication