Brands can engage multiple generations with pop music

Those aged 20 to 60 are listening to the same music so brands that use it can engage with multiple generations, finds exclusive research.

For the first time in recent history, consumers aged from 20 to 60 are listening to the same music and going to the same concerts, which presents brands with assorted opportunities to connect with audiences across multiple generations.

“Rather than focusing on ‘youth’ music genres, which older age groups may not engage with, it could be more effective to use music that appeals to both,” says Julia Jones, consultant and brand director at streaming service I Like Music and author of a PhD study that segments the UK using a 20-year analysis of music tastes and buying behaviour, shown exclusively to Marketing Week .

“Brands are hesitant to be seen marketing to those aged over 40 although they would like to tap into their pockets, but more sophisticated use of music selections can appeal to older markets without alienating younger ones,” she adds.

Central to branding

For brands such as Santander, which tries to appeal to all demographics, music is playing a more critical role, according to head of marketing strategy and sponsorship Dan Sherwood. “Music has universal appeal and allows us to connect with people in a more engaging and emotional way, which is crucial,” he says. It, along with others such as shopping centre Westfield and the Mayor of London, sees music as a way to reach a wide audience.

Today’s 40- to 65-year-olds were the first generation exposed to rock and pop music when the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Gerry and the Pacemakers and Dusty Springfield burst on to the scene in 1963. “Everyone who grew up after that time has been exposed to popular music that is completely different from anything before, so they are completely dissimilar from the 50-year-olds of previous generations,” says Jones. “It is also unlikely that this audience will ever identify with traditional ‘over-50s’ brands because they view them as their parents’ brands and not their own.”

However, she believes today’s parents share more behaviours and attitudes with their children because both groups grew up after 1963, so there is far more scope for cross-generational sharing.

Over the past 20 years, the amount of money spent by the over-40s on pop and rock music has steadily increased, but Jones says this does not mean they are suddenly buying more music. Rather, interest in this genre has continued to grow since the 1960s, acquiring more followers over time. At the same time, revenue from classical music has decreased as the generations interested in it decline. 

It’s about using music to amplify our view that a bank should be simple, personal and fair

In the late 1990s, 92 per cent of the music bought by those aged 20 to 29 was rock and pop. Meanwhile, 51 per cent of sales to over 60s was on the same genre.

By 2004, 60 per cent of the music bought by over 60s was rock and pop and by 2012, that figure had increased to 72 per cent. For 20-29 year-olds, the figure had slightly reduced to 90 per cent, showing a convergence in taste between the age-groups.

Rock and pop music has also increased in appeal and sales to people in between those age-groups when looking at figures from 1999 to 2012.

Santander is tapping into this with a sponsorship of the I Like Music platform, which links products with music and offers customers access to every UK chart hit from the past 60 years through a partnership with the Official Chart Company. Customers can buy a mug, for example, which comes with an album of selected songs that can be streamed by scanning a QR code. As part of this, Santander worked with I Like Music to open pop-up shops in Shoreditch and the O2 Arena selling products personalised through music.

The brand wanted to test the use of music beyond advertising (see below). “We are trying to tackle music in a different way,” says Sherwood. “We are keen to see how the idea of sponsorship and music can come together because, historically, our sponsorships have been built around the sports arena and, latterly, for the UK business at least, our three sporting ambassadors Jessica Ennis-Hill, Jenson Button and Rory McIlroy. We’re looking at how we can bring a more emotional connection to our consumers through an innovative proposition.” 

Santander is using the partnership to test how this sort of approach could work and explore how it can reinforce its brand philosophy of being “simple, personal and fair”.

Landmark moments

Westfield presents 2
Westfield Presents (this and main picture) harnesses up-and-coming talent

“We’re looking at how we can tie the goals, achievements and landmark moments in our customers’ lives with relevant music,” says Sherwood. “When a customer moves into a new home, for example, we could send them a greetings card with an in-built soundtrack of songs that are relevant to that life stage.”

Sherwood agrees that music is a universal connector for people of all age groups. “Whether you’re into music style A or music style Z, music is an all-encompassing ‘like’ for everyone. It can also be very personal, though, because people link music to particular times in their life.”

As part of her research at the University of Westminster, Jones set up the Generation Music Club, which focuses on musical anniversaries to determine the eras that different age groups are interested in.

“People’s music tastes are so firmly formed in their youth that they remain strong throughout the course of their life. So although we advertised events to people of all age groups, the 50th anniversary events attracted people who grew up in the 1960s, the 40th anniversary events attracted people who grew up in the 1970s, and so on.”

Although this sounds logical, brands’ use of this information is important, Jones says. “Using nostalgia is not groundbreaking, but being able to hang it all together using an anniversary is key. What we’ve tried to do with the Generation brand is create something completely different to see how people react.”

For the 40th anniversary of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album and David Bowie’s final performance as Ziggy Stardust, Jones organised a space-themed event with astronaut Chris Hadfield, whose performance of Space Oddity became infamous in 2013, space scientist and The Sky at Night presenter Maggie Aderin-Pocock and Professor Stephen Hawking.

“We were trying to do something that had a music theme so we could tap into that passion and attract a certain audience without simply putting on a concert,” says Jones.

Retail experience

Research also shows that the use of music can strengthen the retail experience for shoppers and encourage people to spend longer in-store. Indeed, 90 per cent of people are more likely to recommend a store that plays music, while 84 per cent think it creates a better atmosphere for customers, according to a study by Music Works.

Curating performers in popular shopping locations, as part of an organised programme, can also add value, says Jones. “It brings such vibrancy and increases dwell time so it is in the interest of shop tenants in these areas to have high-quality music performers who attract crowds and create a great atmosphere. “The economic benefits can be vast, but busking still has a poor status in London except in places such as Covent Garden and Southbank, where it is curated.”

Mayor of London Boris Johnson, whose Gig competition seeks new busking stars, is formulating a pan-London music strategy designed to raise the quality of talent and simplify the application process.

The benefit of finding good performers is not lost on Westfield director of operations Bill Giouroukos, who has been instrumental in developing the Westfield Presents initiative that finds up-and-coming music talent to play at its shopping venues in West London and Stratford, which together attract 66 million people a year.

“Our global strategy is to develop superior retail destinations in major cities,” he says. “We look to integrate food, fashion, leisure, entertainment and technology. It’s not just about the best array of shops; it’s about an environment that comes to life and Westfield Presents helps us achieve that.”

The company has invested in stage areas at both locations and has more than 400 pre-approved acts. “Music transcends all generations, which is very important for us because we cater for a broad range of age groups, from young children all the way up,” Giouroukos adds. 

Consumers’ love of rock and pop is not fading and their interest in this genre of music is likely to last a lifetime. Marketers must exploit this fact to engage with them in more innovative ways.

Santander F1 case study


To support its sponsorship of the British Grand Prix, Santander created a Formula 1-themed soundtrack of ‘Songs for the Road’, which it distributed at an exhibition last year. It handed out postcards that, when scanned, enabled attendees to stream the album, which included songs such as Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen and Blur’s Song 2. With people streaming the album rather than downloading it, it was much cheaper to produce and could be curated quickly. From the cards distributed at the event, 32 per cent of attendees engaged with the album.

Santander head of marketing strategy and sponsorship Dan Sherwood says: “Initiatives like this start to tie together our sponsorships with our broader message by giving people relevant and exciting content that is more personal to them. It’s about using music in a way that can amplify the fact that we think a bank should be simple, personal and fair. And it’s about showing customers their loyalty is rewarded.”


Mindi Chahal

Use research for a deeper dive or lose customers

Mindi Chahal

As a marketer it’s obvious that you need to know what consumers are doing, particularly in terms of the channels they use to engage with a brand and buy products and services, but taking a closer look at why could help brands retain customer loyalty.