Soundings: Intercontinental and the ‘Girl from Ipanema’

by Michael Spencer on Tuesday 2nd of October 2007

By Michael Spencer.

“Why do we play ‘The Girl from Ipanema’ when no one in the bar is over 40?”

Why indeed?  It was this comment from InterContinental Hotels Group CEO, Andrew Cosslett in a wide-ranging Time Magazine interview (see Time Magazine, The Times, Chief Executive) that first caught our attention.

So my Sound Strategies colleague, ex-Burson Marsteller CEO (London) Reginald Watts, put a call in.

Since then Sound Strategies has been working with the Group’s lead brand, InterContinental Hotels & Resorts, to develop a comprehensive Acoustic Program that will affect all the sound and music touch points in the brand’s 148 hotels around the world and across all communications channels. Intercontinental will launch its Acoustic Program in early 2008.

According to David Anderson, vice president, global brand innovation for InterContinental Hotels & Resorts:

“Over the last year, we’ve been conducting in-depth consumer research around the world and one area of focus was the application of sound and music in our hotels. Music and sound have a profound and distinct affect on people’s physiological states and their moods. And of course, music and sound contribute significantly to the essence of our Brand. Therefore, we chose to take a comprehensive and scientific approach to our acoustic program.”

Music is such a fundamental part of our lives, our every tradition and celebration – regardless of culture – is accompanied by its own special sound-track. It’s so integral to our life experiences, in fact, that it is very easy to slip into cliché. And, as was only too obvious to Andy Cosslett, a hotel bar, restaurant, or even elevator, were potentially major transgressors! In fact, the company’s own research found that while two out of three guests consider themselves ‘passionate about music’ and are very clear about which styles they prefer, other research cites that nearly half of all hotel guests consider music used in hotels in general is ‘poor or very poor.’  This despite the widespread availability of hotel-branded CDs!

For us, this has been a fascinating and challenging commission which has opened up a new way of thinking for the use of sound as an effective communications tool.  The whole of the work was underpinned by a year-long research and analysis project into all aspects of the brand and business, and informed by the latest psychological and neurological information into how we associate with music. Not to mention a great day-long Music Awareness Workshop at the famous Abbey Road Studios in London with the entire InterContinental Hotels & Resorts brand team – not quite Take That recording ‘We can rule the world, ’ but as close as a brand team gets, I’ll wager!

The end result has been the creation of a robust methodology which can be used for briefing music suppliers, agencies, live musicians, in fact anyone who is involved in sound in the hospitality industry. One that will take into account the differing needs of both communications media and audience (participator, really) situations, be it in physical spaces, online, television, telephony, or navigation.

Sound Strategies aims to help business understand more about sound and how we interact with it.  We work closely with companies’ corporate affairs and marketing departments and the communications and advertising industries to examine how the use of music and sound can be more effective in all aspects of communications.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Amy October 2, 2007 at 6:05 pm

I think we should play ‘The Girl from Impanema,” and I promise you, I am under 40. I have loved the music of Antonio Carlos Jobim ever since I first heard it in the movie Black Orpheus (an amazing movie). I feel pretty secure in saying that ACJ’s music would sound fresh to the vast majority of under-40s, -30s, and even -20s, most of whom haven’t ever heard it. To cross it off some list because it connotes “old” seems wrong to me. In fact, it might be perfect for a hospitality atmosphere, with its blend of soothing and complex sound. Although I appreciate that you’re trying take away the vile elevator music that slimes out of most “hospitality” venues, I’m distressed at the concept of using music to “contribute to the essence of” a brand. It’s kind of like matching your artwork to your furniture – contrived.

Ronna Porter October 2, 2007 at 6:07 pm

Hi Amy, While I don’t know Antonio Carlos Jobim’s music specifically, I absolutely agree with you that good music can cut across the decades, especially where it is played authentically, in a Latin American, rather than a Japanese hotel, to use this Intercontinental example. Andrew Cosslett’s issue was more linked to the stereotype of the tired, impassionate, yellowing-white evening-jacketed pianist, rather than the vibrant style to which I believe you are refering. Our project is about identifying that vibrancy, in a way that supports the brand, and to provide the advocacy framework, skills and tools to enable Intercontinental’s team members to achieve high standards, to create environments (physical or otherwise) that people will enjoy visiting again and again. Perhaps a more helpful comparison than furniture is to think about the use of colour and form in graphic design – some combinations just meet the objectives of the publisher and of the user better than others. So it’s the same with music. Few would think it contrived to avoid certain colour combinations, so why as communicators should we treat what is heard any less professionally than what is seen – regardless of the industry? Thanks for taking the time to comment. Ronna

Cheryl October 2, 2007 at 6:13 pm

I agree with Ab to a certain extent, but I also have to say that I wish more hospitality spots paid attention to the research. I took my folks to a great restaurant the other night. I’ve been there before, the food is fantastic, the atmosphere is leather and upholstery (think Irish and English combined), the service upscale… and what did we have to endure all during dinner? Pink Floyd, Metallica, Led Zepplin…. huh? This wasn’t even from the bar area (at the other end of the restaurant). I LIKE this music but it felt so wrong in that place. They obviously spent a lot of money to look and feel like a European tavern… why the hard metal music?

Michael Spencer October 2, 2007 at 6:34 pm

Please make a note….’must listen to Jobim, preferably performed by artists such as Astrid Gilberto and Stan Getz.’

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