great minds on music: an interview with amir kassaei

Here at iV, we like to say that we live at the “intersection of sound and marketing.” We’re committed to helping brands and agencies communicate brand identities, increasing awareness and equity as they harness the power of sound. As audio branding professionals, we’re constantly working to improve the strategy, execution and measurement services we offer.

Our continual pursuit of knowledge on the subjects of audio and branding sparked an idea: what if we interviewed some of the best minds in the world of advertising, asking for their perspectives on the relationship of music and sound to brands and marketing?

It’s not about the right sound or the right piece of music. It’s about the strategic question “What should my brand sound like?” – Amir Kassaei

To that end, Uli Reese, President of iV2, set off with a laptop and a digital recorder, traveling the world in pursuit of some of the top names in the business of advertising. Two years and dozens of interviews later, we’ve edited and compiled his conversations with these innovative thinkers.

While a book is in the works, we thought the content was far too relevant to keep under wraps any longer. We’ll be releasing portions of these interviews here on our blog. Since these posts will be part of an ongoing series, please make sure you’ve subscribed to the blog – or follow us on facebook and twitter.

We want to thank everyone who shared their insights and ideas so freely with us. There’s much to be learned in the sharing of your stories. So without further adieu, here’s our first installment in our “Great Minds On Music” series, featuring DDB Worldwide Chief Creative Officer, Amir Kassaei. Enjoy!


Reese: How important is music to you in advertising?

Kassaei: Music is one of the most important tools for adding emotion to a brand. It has something no other medium can offer. It can reach people’s hearts if you’re using it right.

Reese: Are we giving it enough importance? Research shows our ability to remember music or songs is more developed than our ability to remember images or moving pictures.

Kassaei: It’s not about the right sound or the right piece of music. It’s about the strategic question “What should my brand sound like?” For example, my voice differs from yours because my voice is a consequence of my character. What does that mean for a brand? If you look at the Apple brand, it has a holistic approach: “This is my language, the sound of my company, the way we look at things.” All this is in the brand’s tone of voice as a consequence of its character. What do people recognize or comprehend when a brand talks or even when it’s silent? It’s about the sound of the door when you enter an Apple store or when you turn on an iPhone. All this is the sound of the brand. If the sound does not match with the brand’s personality, you have a problem. Volkswagen has a very nice interactive tool: a Blue Motion configurator. You can drive with it from City A to City B with Blue Motion and it tells you how long it takes and calculates your mileage. It also chooses the music you like, setting up the complete soundtrack.

Reese: Love it!

Kassaei: The times are gone when it was enough for a brand or company to tell you how great it is. You have to prove you are great; you need to deliver and innovate. My definition of innovation is, “everything that makes people’s lives better, easier and more efficient.” If you are delivering this, people will love you, and if people love you, they talk about you, and if they talk about you, you are successful. Companies like Apple are doing exactly this: not talking about how great they are, but simply proving it everyday. The customers’ brand experience is “Apple makes things easier, better and more efficient.” No matter if you experience an Apple store or visit their online site.

Reese: People want to get involved. They want to be engaged.

Kassaei: You can’t fool people. Today they have tools to expose you. There’s an app for the iPhone called “Red Laser.” You can go to any supermarket in the world, scan the barcodes of products with the app, and it will tell you where you can buy the same product. The next version of this application will show product ingredients and an alternative product in the same category. You cannot advertise against this, no way. In real time I learn from my friends what I can trust, what is good or bad. And here we get to the essence of it: brands must have an honest voice.

Reese: Before you talk to a creative, a composer or a music producer, what is the process you go through? How do you communicate music?

Kassaei: This is where ninety-nine percent of agencies have a problem. Not only in terms of music, but also in terms of creating things. People come up with creative ideas, they sell them to a client, and only then do they talk to a composer or a music production company. That’s the old world. The new world is: we are launching a car like the new Polo, what do we want to achieve? You need to know the market, the company; you need a deep knowledge of the product, its qualities and the worries and needs of the audience. Then you need to define the challenge and bring together the right people from all disciplines to solve it. It’s about combined creativity. Finding the most innovative solution is a team play. Given this, you have to revolutionize the whole working system of advertising agencies. We should stop being arrogant. We are only one part of the process. We need to gather the best minds to do the best job. And that includes the composers.

Reese: Your favorite songs can release dopamine in your body. There’s a chemical reaction, but that reaction is also very personal; it could differ from person to person.

Kassaei: Exactly, the individualization of communication is very interesting. We have more and more fragmented target groups. So it’s not about mass communication anymore, it’s about individual people. If you want to reach me, you should be relevant to me, not to everybody. That’s a huge challenge for the advertising industry. We were taught to go to a club every night and stand in the front door, shouting at everyone, whether we knew them or not, telling them how great we were. It worked. But it doesn’t work anymore. Old advertising is like the vuvuzelas during the World Cup: a dumb, annoying sound.

Reese: What about “product sound?” When I arm my car alarm, there’s a sound that’s so loud it’s really an assault on my “personal sonic space.” It’s like placing a barking Chihuahua right in front of me and asking, “Oh does it disturb you?” I wish I had the option of changing that sound.

Kassaei: At Volkswagen, we were going one step further. We presented a sound design for the brand. We said, “Don’t use it only for advertising, but for your product.” So starting your car is like starting an Apple computer, with the specific sound of Volkswagen. And by establishing it at that point, you can use it as a sound logo for your communication. If you look at most car manufacturers, the sound logo is not related to the product.

Reese: My last question: When you have an idea, how do you know when it’s a really big idea?

Kassaei: You feel it. You feel it instantly. Your body is shaking. You think you can’t go to sleep before the idea is realized. I have four children. It’s like having a child: it’s a complete emotional experience. A great advertising idea is not only great in terms of marketing communication. A great idea has the potential to change things for the better.

Uli and Amir traded stories at the Cannes Lions Advertising Festival. Amir Kassaei, Chief Creative Officer for DDB Worldwide, was born in Iran, raised in Austria, and educated in France. He settled in Germany in 1997, gaining experience at agencies such as TBWA, Barci & Partner and Springer & Jacoby. Amir is one of the most lauded creatives in the world, working on an impressive range of the world’s major brands, including Allianz, Apple, Adidas, Bosch, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Nike, Reebok and Volkswagen. Amir and his teams are the recipients of more than 2,000 national and international awards, including 40 Cannes Lions in the past five years. Amir was named The Big Won Report’s ‘Top Chief Creative Officer’ in 2009, and has been selected as The Big Won’s ‘Top 3 Chief Creative Officers’ for each of the last three years. Most recently, Amir was tapped by DDB to establish DDB’s global creative center in Shanghai.


  1. P G Branton
    Posted March 9, 2012 at 10:04 am | Permalink | Reply

    Very interesting!

  2. Posted March 13, 2012 at 10:49 am | Permalink | Reply

    Thanks for this Steve. I really like the point made about consulting the composer early on in the process. Otherwise, everyone apart from the composer makes all the music decisions in advance. The composer is then drafted in to ‘write a track a bit like x’.

  3. Posted March 17, 2012 at 4:41 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Keep up the good work and spread the word! JG

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