Visit Austin

The Allure of a Song for Creating a Sense of Place

Randy Houser Mt Lemmon.jpg

Ever wake up at two in the morning with a song running through your head? Or, maybe you’re humming the same tune all the livelong day. Earworms (also known as “musical imagery repetition,” “involuntary musical imagery,” or simply “stuck song syndrome”) take over your brain, and they’re confirmation of the emotional and mnemonic power a catchy song can have.

Using mnemonic devices like lyrics that provoke imagery, sounds that suggest a certain style, and tones that set the mood, songs have the capacity to idealize the essence of a place, which can create an emotional desire to experience that place firsthand—an effective marketing vehicle for travel destinations.

 Additionally, songs have the power to instantly access implicit memories. Unlike explicit memories (which are actively recalled), implicit memories exist outside the conscious, making them more durable and emotionally driven. That’s why hearing a certain song can effectively transport a listener to a time and place relative to the song and immediately evoke emotions associated with that memory. For a destination, this means recalling memorable vacations, getaways and locations which likewise motivates a desire to return there.

Verse 1

Licensing a song to represent your brand is marketing 101, so why don’t more destinations do it? Limited funds can be an issue, but if you know how to create meaningful, symbiotic alliances, money becomes moot, or make that mute.

 In fact, for the inspirational soundtrack of their “Top of the World in Tucson” destination marketing video, Visit Tucson managed to license the song “Top of the World” from chart-topping country music artist Randy Houser for a small fraction of what it would normally have cost. How? During my tenure leading the marketing team, we had spent two years building a mutually supportive partnership with Houser while he shot two music videos, “Like a Cowboy” and “We Went” in and around Tucson. So, when it came time to make a deal that benefited both parties, the arrangement was already fine-tuned. Learn more.

In this case, the song was the inspiration for the destination, but what about when the destination is the inspiration for the song? Such as Bruce Springsteen’s recently released Tucson Train or up-and-comer Grace Kelly’s latest release “San Jose” — a love letter to the town where she grew up.

No matter how the song originates, destinations benefit for years to come from the sense of place they create in listeners’ minds.

Verse 2

 Jingles, or mini-songs, written specifically about a product is perhaps marketing 102, but why not amp it up by having a song written about your destination?

 That’s exactly what Visit Tucson did when we commissioned musical duo Shockley & Fields to write a ditty about Tucson. Again, we accomplished this by leveraging our connections—this time with William Shockley (actor, writer, director, producer, and singer/songwriter) who was involved with the Houser projects. Tommy Fields, the other half of Shockley & Fields, brought years of experience not only as a songwriter and performer but also as a feature film composer to broaden the song’s horizon beyond basic commercial advertising, which it did (see You’re Gonna Miss Me below).

 The result of this creative collaboration, aptly titled “Tucson,” is an up-tempo, country rock tune about a wandering troubadour who lands in Tucson, a mountain desert town where he finds the magic he needs to free himself from his restless life and settle down. Its lyrics are relatable, its rhyme and rhythm memorable, and it conveys Tucson’s hip vibe with a shot of the old west—a rugged, magical, wide-open place where you can feel free to live your life.

 Available to stream or download on multiple music platforms, “Tucson” was used in television advertising conservatively generating more than 49 million impressions in New York City alone which resulted in a 370% positive lift in travel consideration and 713% lift in recall of brand message. The song is also included in the soundtrack and promotional trailers for the 2017 feature film You’re Gonna Miss Me (filmed in Tucson and southern Arizona).

 The Chorus

 Like Visit Tucson, other destinations are singing from the same songbook.

 It rings true that Austin, the live music capital of the world, should lead the group. In 2014, they created their own theme song, and you can bet that music continues to be at the core of their visitor marketing. More recently, Brand USA, the marketing organization that promotes travel to the U.S., jumped on the bandwagon—giving the lyrics from one song to five different artists with distinctly different musical styles to embody five iconic American destinations (Atlanta, Denver, Houston, Portland, and San Juan, Puerto Rico) for their “Hear the Music, Experience the USA” campaign. Arkansas Tourism engages multiple artists from their state to create original music for their videos. And, Visit Myrtle Beach professionally commissioned two theme songs to evoke stronger emotional connections among travelers to its brand. They also capitalized on the serendipitous mention of Myrtle Beach in the Dan + Shay hit song “19 You + Me” by ensuring the duo filmed their music video in Myrtle Beach and sponsoring free ticket/trip giveaways when Dan + Shay toured nationally with Blake Shelton.

Need further proof that songs are an excellent vehicle to get deep into the heads of potential travelers? Listen to Sinatra sing about a city that never sleeps, a place where he’s “a number one, top of the list, head of the heap, king of the hill…” then consider how its melody and it lyrics permeate your brain, how it makes you feel, and especially, how it brings this place to life in your mind not just for the rest of the day, but when you think about it, forever.