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You can’t always get what you want

Professional communicator and amateur musician Alan Coates explores the potential for using music to make messages stick.

The US Presidential campaigns went on for almost two years, and for many, Donald Trump was never anything more than the underdog. But against all the odds, his campaign triumphed and at just under $240 million, it cost half of his rival Hillary Clinton’s.

A lot of explanations have been offered for why he won, like his business background, his celebrity status and the fact that he is not in the pocket of the political system.

Whatever your take on his success, I think a lot of it can be summed up in his campaign song, The Rolling Stones’ 1969 hit ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’. You may be humming it already, and if you think about the lyrics, the Jagger-Richards classic goes a long way to describing the sentiment of the American electorate. You might not want him, or the way he does things, but sometimes you get what you need: a change.

This isn’t the first time a presidential candidate has used music to bring their message home. John F. Kennedy’s famous election campaign against Richard Nixon in 1960 introduced a catchy Kennedy jingle to resonate with voters. He may have won the election for multiple reasons, like being proactive in the civil rights movement and understanding the importance of the first televised debates. But I think the jingle played its part too.

Why this sort of thing works

Getting a message through to somebody is hard enough. And getting it to stick and seem important is one of the key challenges we face as communicators. One of the most effective ways of achieving this is through the rhetorical device of repetition, as famously used to great effect in Dr. Martin Luther King’s I have a Dream speech, where the phrase ‘I have a dream’ is repeated over and over.

Which brings me back to music. One of the main reasons why it’s such a valuable medium for delivering messages is that it has repetition built into its construction; choruses, refrains and motifs that recur and are reused many times over, especially within the three-minute format of a pop song.

If you don’t believe me, here’s an example all thirtysomethings may have retained for more than two decades. Finish the following line: If you like a lot of chocolate on your biscuit…

So you want me to write a company song?…

That’s up to you, but I would suggest that this is not the only way to use music in your workforce. Every video you create and share could include backing music that not only carries the repeated messages you want to align with, but which also brings with it an associated emotional impact.

Consider how music is used in the workplace itself, as a backing soundtrack to people’s working day. An article by Forbes explores how Science is divided about music in the workplace, and states that it can be used to raise motivation and productivity, for the right kind of environment. And I would definitely look at getting rid of the Muzak in your lifts, if you want to improve morale.

So, while you may not be able to get The Rolling Stones to play at your next colleague conference, if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.

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