The Marketing Lesson Behind the ‘Song of the Summer’ Phenomenon

Eric Suliga, Creative Director

At Pandora’s headquarters in Oakland, CA, we recently got the good news that we’ve seen the last of the stormy weather until next fall. So, goodbye rain and hello summer!

As we daydream about how we’ll spend our sunny days, we already know that a steady stream of music will accompany all our summertime activities. And because it’s summer, it will likely include that one song that (no matter how hard we fight it) inevitably becomes the anthem of the season, forever remembered as the soundtrack for that particular year and everything that happened.

Surprisingly, the infamous “song of the summer” isn’t just a marketing stunt created by record labels and Madison Avenue. “It’s become both an American tradition, and something so overhyped it’s worth questioning,” wrote Slate Magazine’s Chris Molanphy in a blog dissecting the history of this music phenomenon. In his article, Molanphy confirmed that although many songs top the charts in a given summer, there is one that dominates. “Summer smashes happen, and some are just bigger than others,” he wrote.

While summertime chart toppers are nothing new, the hype surrounding the annual battle for “song of the summer” gained serious momentum in the last few decades. In the late 90s, The New York Times’ pop music critic, Ann Powers, wrote several articles evaluating various songs for “song of the summer” distinction, thereby upping the competitive edge. By the time memorable songs like Rihanna’s “Umbrella” in 2007 and Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl” in 2008 topped the charts, almost all pop culture publications had made it an annual tradition to make their own “song of the summer” predictions.

To jog our own “song of the summer” memory…

We took a look at “thumbs up” history on Pandora over the last seven years to identify the most popular summertime songs. Without a doubt, these songs were ones that stood above the rest. We’d guess that any pop music fanatic could immediately hum any of these tunes by memory...
And so, by 2010, everyone was in on it. Billboard even launched a Song of the Summer Chart that aggregates data from the Hot 100 and publishes exclusively on their website three months of the year. They’ve also already kicked off speculations for this year, asking readers to vote for the song they think will take home the “song of the summer” crown in 2017. (Right now, Computer Games’ “Every Single Night” is in the lead.)

What this tells us as marketers looking to reach summer-minded people is that music is a powerful way to get your message heard--especially for retailers hoping to engage back-to-school shoppers throughout the summer and into fall. Connecting through the passion point of music is always an effective way to drive both awareness and sales.

If you’re interested to know more about how music, summer and shopping go together, check out our new Back-to-School eBook, “Summer Means Back-to-School for Marketers.” You’ll take home compelling insights into how all back-to-school decision makers--from parents and young adults, to multicultural shoppers--purchase back-to-school items. Get your free copy today:

Source: Pandora Internal Metrics, June-August 2009-2016