Dear Brands: You’re Using Christmas Music All Wrong. Here’s How To Fix It

Sonic branding expert Joel Beckerman gives his top five rules for using Christmas music effectively this holiday season.

Dear Brands: You’re Using Christmas Music All Wrong. Here’s How To Fix It
[Photo: Flickr user Johan Hansson]

The holiday season is in full effect with brands pumping the wellspring of Christmas to infuse their products and services with good cheer in the hopes that you’ll spend a good amount of cash. And as always, music can be a helpful medium to do just that–but to what effect, exactly?


“There are some brands that do a great job in this, and there are some that get it completely wrong,” says Joel Beckerman, founder of sonic branding agency Man Made Music and one of Fast Company’s Most Creative People. “It’s not about the Christmas music–it’s about the Christmas experience you want to provide people. So any time you use music and sound in association with any kind of experience, it has to be in sync with what people want in association with that connection.”

Just as important, if not more so, is the music should fit the brand. Imagine how jarring it would be to walk into an Apple store with Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You” on full blast. It’s easy to just hit play on some random Spotify holiday mix, but to Beckerman, brands should make sound and music an integral part of their holiday marketing strategies.

“Think about all of the planning down to the smallest detail that a [brand] will engage in: ‘Where am I going to put certain merchandise? What is the store going to look like in holiday time? What do we do with our marketing campaign?’ There’s just an incredible amount of focused detail that they bring and they need to be bringing the same to the music,” Beckerman says.

Whether its music in stores or used for a campaign, Beckerman lays out his five rules for using Christmas tunes effectively. And for good measure, his team at Man Made Music compiled a Co.Create Christmas playlist for your listening pleasure.


No. 1: Don’t “Play” Music

“Score people’s brand experience. If you’re playing the music, you’re dead. If you’re scoring their experience, that’s the number one most important thing.”

No. 2: Build an Experience

“It’s not about the Christmas music, per se. It’s about the Christmas experience. Does it enhance that experience or does it distract from that experience? Think about music and sound as part of the entirety of a holiday experience and not just as a layer or an add-on or something that you need to have.”

No. 3: You Don’t Own Christmas–And That’s Okay

“The music you choose and the sounds you choose and the way it’s laid out need to be in sync with with your brand and really distinctive–it shouldn’t sound like other people’s brands in terms of the way it’s put together. You can’t own the music. You can’t own Christmas. But what you can own is a distinctive experience that could only come from your brand. Create the experience of Christmas for your brand and no one else’s.”

[Photo: Flickr user Rob Hurson]

No. 4: Have a “Silent Night”

“Silence can also be fake silence, a moment where you have a quiet song playing that doesn’t have tempo. It’s a change of pace, and that change of pace that’s much quieter is perceived silence. Would you have signage everywhere in the store? Of course you wouldn’t. You need to have white space in your visual design, and you need to have white space in the soundtrack designed for holiday music in stores.”

No. 5: Variety is Your–And Your Employees’–Friend

“A lot of stores might program an hour’s our worth of music and it repeats over and over again. First of all, if you have a customer who’s been there for an hour and they hear the same music over and over again, they’re like, ‘It’s time to get out of here.’ And also it drives employees crazy. Stores don’t think about how that affects their employees’ mood. Do you want to have unhappy employees coming in contact with customers? Not really.”

About the author

KC covers entertainment and pop culture for Fast Company. Previously, KC was part of the Emmy Award-winning team at "Good Morning America," where he was the social media producer.