Jun 10, 2010, 12:40

Check out this State Farm commercial targeted towards an African-American demographic.



These types of commercials are sometimes referred to as “image” spots. They do not convey specific information (prices, awards, products) but rather combine music and visuals together in a collage and associate that brand with the experience. This music video features a slide show of photo stills and video clips of couples doing life together. Superimposed onto each shot are pet names that couples use for each other (Boo, Sweetie, etc.). Finally, a card displays “Coverage For Life…for the Love of Your Life…That’s Being There.”

What makes this spot so innovative is the eclectic soundtrack. Music composition devices are used that this writer has rarely seen outside of 20th century music theory classes. There’s a certain lo-fi sloppiness to the music (and the entire spot for that matter) that somehow engages the viewer in the same way a great independent films can jar someone raised on summer blockbuster films.

A string quartet accompanied by drum kit plays what sounds like a funeral march for the first 5 seconds. The visuals and music then shift tempo and groove along for most of the spot. A single alto sax solos over the band. When the State Farm card comes up at :23, the music shifts to a funkier B section with strings chopping away at a strong rhythmic figure.

Interestingly, the chords played by the strings are mostly atonal. That is – they operate FAR outside the conventional I-IV-V chord progression that has become so ingrained in the Western ears (John Mayer once wrote in his Esquire column that the “can’t lose” chord progression for modern pop was vi-IV-I-V). Atonality was explored heavily by orchestral composers in the early 20th century. As an example, here is Anton Webern’s Four Pieces for Violin and Piano, op. 7.

The Behind-The-Scenes Story:

“State Farm invests a lot of energy into multi-cultural segments. The goal for this spot was to basically to make a connection.” explains Dana Satterwhite, creative director at Austin-based ad agency Sanders/Wingo.

“Insurance is [considered by most] a necessary evil.” Satterwhite continued. “It’s a parity product. Instead of making this motivation by fear we were trying to make it personal and say, ‘Everyone has something personal to them. What’s in my record collection is different than yours. The people I love are different than the people you love. We’re there with a product that helps you protect the one you love. No matter how’.”

“The first two spots we did were about cars and money. ‘Loved Ones’ came at the end. For that spot we wanted something a little sweeter but still soulful. MassiveMusic gave us a nice range of demos. We would hear one that would feel right for another and have them move elements around until we had it right.”

Elijah Torn of MassiveMusic explains, “There was a creative process of back and forth between [us] and the editors in which we scored to their initial cuts and then they would add effects and then we’d add more effects and so on and so forth.”

“The lo-fi sound was created through the process of recording the instruments.” Torn says. “We tracked the instruments using both an AKG C12 tube microphone, Octava ribbon mics and a Great River preamp for both. The track was then mangled using Ableton Live and mixed using ProTools software with Waves plugins..….it ended up with that super Massive lo-fi sound we’re known for.”

“All of the music for these spots definitely had a solid groove to them,” Torn elaborates. “But this track was by far the most sentimental. In part due to the use of more organic based samples and also the subject matter. It resonated as more melodic and less groove oriented.”

Satterwhite says, “We got a little bit of love in the Austin ad community [for these spots]. There’s a fun website called kissmyblackADs.com that champions anything multi-cultural in the media space. The spot ‘Cars’ is up there. Some of our work for ATT is up there. The Austin Addys is a local award show [in which we] we definitely picked up some awards.”


Mike Bielenberg is a professional musician and co-founder of http://www.musicrevolution.com, a production music marketplace where media producers and business owners can license high-quality, affordable music from a online community of musicians.

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