What Marketers Can Learn from ‘The White Lotus’ Theme Song’s Viral Success
HiFi Project Senior Composer Michael Kotch & Chief Operating Officer Aleena Bissett
Want weekly exclusive brand storytelling content like this direct to your inbox? Subscribe to the Brand Storytelling Newsletter.
While the opening titles of a television series are often skipped by viewers, there was something “sticky” about the theme song for Season 2 of HBO’s “The White Lotus” that dropped it at the center of the cultural zeitgeist, landing as a viral hit on TikTok as well as dance club remixes, including an EDM mix of the “Renaissance” track from legendary DJ Tiësto. Check out the viral theme HERE (for the unanointed).
Brand marketers can look to this unexpected hit as a road map for how they can engage music as a storytelling mechanism, especially when it comes to music-driven platforms like TikTok. As mutual HBO series fans, we’ve been drawn to the opening theme music for series quite often, never skipping the jam that is the opening song for “The Sopranos,” and more recently digging the track to start, “The Last of Us.” But with “White Lotus,” not only was the track carefully composed to engage audiences, but it had that special viral edge brands are constantly chasing. We put our heads together for how brands can look to the song’s viral success as a road map for how brands can become central cultural moments:
Here is a snapshot from our POVs as music industry professionals:
Don’t play it safe. The song gives viewers something unexpected. It starts with a bright piano and falls into a pop chord progression right away. You quickly get in the headspace where you expect it to be melodic and then it pivots away, bringing in the operatic vocals that give it an old European feel. Then they bring in the second voice and the whole thing starts getting chopped up, and THAT is when you start to feel the, ”Ok, what?!?” feeling that you saw echoed on TikTok.
All too often brands play it safe, but to truly set themselves up for a viral moment, it’s all about taking creative risks. While you can’t create a “viral video,” you can certainly bring together some of the essential elements to resonate with social media audiences in a highly shareable manner. Brands can also rest assured that taking these risks--from an ROI perspective--is anything but risky. Data shows that these types of efforts that stray away from the “safe” route perform better online and drive sales. When McDonald’s doubled down on its strategy to reach Millennial and Gen Z consumers, it steered away from its typical wholesome style and leaned into partnerships with cultural icons like Travis Scott, which led to the brand doubling sales of its quarter pounder as a result of the campaign.
Hone in on your theme and let it guide your direction. The music follows the thematic pacing of the show: on the surface, everything looks beautiful and serene, but underneath there is a collision of unsettling fractures. This sets the tone right away that audiences should be careful to not be lulled into a false sense of security by the pristine vacation setting, and keep their eyes out for something more sinister.
With widespread industry criticism over the lack of “fresh” concepts in the wake of the pandemic, including what many deemed an underwhelming crop of Super Bowl ads, there appears to be a lack of work committing to a creative narrative anchored brand ethos. Brands that can zero in on their purpose have been better able to stand the test of time and their campaigns build momentum with each launch. Dove has demonstrated their commitment to real beauty in a range of impactful campaigns over the years, cementing a broad understanding of the brand as one that supports body acceptance and beauty in any size, color, or shape.
Light-handed nostalgia can pay off. When the beat drops later in the song, it calls back to overlays of Gregorian chants on pop tracks that were popular in the 90s, like Enigma’s “Sadness.” This is the moment where the track really starts to slap, dropping the viewer into party mode. This connection to a more contemporary genre is a huge factor that drove its viral quality.
Brands know that nostalgia is marketing gold, but are often a bit too obvious in their execution and could benefit from this lighter touch. Being laser-focused on the target audience that you want to gear a nostalgic moment towards can help avoid some of the pitfalls that come with over-generalization, this way you can score big with “easter egg” moments, instead of trying to cover more ground with heavy-handed elements. To shake up the standard Black Friday sales strategy, Walmart brought on the cast of “Office Space” to shift their sales to a bit more of a “case of the Mondays.”
While we may have to wait a while for Season 3 of “The White Lotus,” brands can start to take some tips from the success of its viral theme song now. An effective music and sound strategy for a brand can leave consumers jamming and transform them into fans who will spread your brand message organically.
About Michael Kotch
Michael Kotch blends a genre-agnostic passion for music with excitement for the creative collaboration process in his work at HiFi Project. His dual backgrounds in the recording industry and commercial space have resulted in memorable tracks in campaigns for such top brands as Google, Progressive, Samsung, Chevy, Cadillac and Walgreen as well as a viral “Fright Song” theme song for Monster High that garnered over 90 million views on YouTube.
About Aleena Bissett
Aleena brings nearly a decade of experience as a music producer to her role as Chief Operating Officer at HiFi Project, with diverse expertise across original compositions, creative re-records, supervision and licensing. Bringing a creative perspective to everything she does, she not only ensures that HiFi’s producers, artists and clients are in sync, but she also thrives in the trenches of the creative music production process. A lifelong musician herself, she brings a genuine excitement for projects that call for unique creative solutions.