The Sound Of Crayola: An Interview with McGarry Bowen Creative Director Tom Pratt

January 25, 2010 at 9:51 am | Great Uses Of Music, Music Branding News


As someone who has selected and licensed music for some of the world’s most adventurous brands, I have been very intrigued by Crayola’s risk-taking with their soundtracks.  Over the last few years, Crayola’s spots have been scored with some really off-beat songs by Animal Collective, Dan Deacon, The Unicorns, Tally Hall and, most recently, Micachu & the Shapes. These artists are notable not just for their adventurous and youthful music but also for their minimal licensing placements.   I can tell you these artists are very careful as to who they lend their music to so I send major “Kudos” to Crayola’s ad agency, McGarry Bowen (and, in particular, Director of Music Production, Jerry Krenach) for pulling it off.

Jerry put me in touch with Tom Pratt, the Executive Creative Director on Crayola at McGarry Bowen and we had a discussion about these music choices.   Music branding experts profess that the right song has to tell both the commercial’s story as well as the brand’s story.  “Crayola is a storytelling brand,” begins Tom, “and the right music helps tell that story.”  I wanted to know specifically what it was about these songs that made them a natural choice for these spots. The songs “not only helps reflect the idea of Crayola as a innovator of new ways for kids to express themselves,” he said, “it also reflects it’s relevance to a new generation.”

As an avid consumer of online music blogs and websites, I was aware that the Crayola spots had been covered on some pretty cynical websites (Stereogum, Pitchfork) who were largely supportive.  I asked Tom how conscious McGarry Bowen and Crayola were of the underground appeal of these artists.Crayola is all about creative energy, exploration and discovery,” said Tom, “and our music choices were meant to help reflect that.”  As to whether appealing to cynical hipsters was part of the strategy, Tom admits they “were very pleasantly surprised at the warm acceptance of our efforts by the music community.”

Historically, from Nick Drake (VW) in the late 90s to Phoenix (Cadillac) today, ad agencies have a love affair with up-and-coming or underground artists but how much of it has to do with each client?  ”Crayola does have an adventurous spirit and a genuine interest in being experimental in the ways it reinforces itself as a creative brand,” said Tom, “(and) that spirit is reflected in all the ways it sets itself apart from other toy brands.”

Tom concluded, “We like to think that we are joining hands with new up-and-coming bands to bring their creativity, and ours, to a new audience.”

Crayola Glow Station Spot
Music by Dan Deacon



5 Responses to “The Sound Of Crayola: An Interview with McGarry Bowen Creative Director Tom Pratt”


    David Wiggs January 25, 2010 at 3:57 pm

    Richard shows that music choice is so much more than just a Creative team pushing for their favorite artists in spots.

    Julian Angel January 26, 2010 at 4:00 am

    It would be interesting to know what exactly is it about the music chosen in the spot above that reflects the commercial’s story and that of the brand. That would be easy to answer if the music had lyrics, thus it would be yet more exciting to find out what the producers considered the “telling” part of the instrumental piece they have finally chosen.

    jim goodwin January 26, 2010 at 2:53 pm

    I have the same curiosity as Julian. I was expecting some seriously interesting music after the big wind up. I don’t hear anything “adventurous” or “experimental” in this piece. This would lend some credibility to the argument that brands don’t buy the song, they buy the artist. I’m guessing Dan Deacon is somewhat “hip” and “contemporary.” And that makes Crayola the same? I may go with RoseArt – I hear they are using Eno.

    JD Morley January 28, 2010 at 9:49 am

    Love this article. Good points about experimentation, exploration, etc. The music seems to communicate that theme, with or without the “ad” content, if you will.

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