Every Breath You Take


Released in 1983 on the Synchronicity album, Every Breath You Take was the biggest hit of the year. In fact, it was awarded a Grammy for song of the year, beating Michael Jackson’s Billy Jean and Beat It from the groundbreaking Thriller album. It became the Police’s only number one hit on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart.

For decades after its release, the song was played at weddings. Every Breath You Take sounds like a sweet, gentle love song, but as you probably know by now, its lyrics are creepy. The song is actually about obsession and control, which is not the type of song one would typically choose for the occasion of a wedding.

Sting wrote the song while he was going through a messy divorce. Here is what he said about it in a 1993 interview: “It sounds like a comforting love song. I didn't realize at the time how sinister it is. I think I was thinking of Big Brother, surveillance and control….”

Here are a few of the song’s lyrics. They take on a different meaning without the tune:

Every move you make, every vow you break

Every smile you fake, every claim you stake, I'll be watching you

Every breath you take and every move you make

Every bond you break, every step you take, I'll be watching you

These dark lyrics are wrapped in a bouncy, love song-type melody. Sting called the tune “generic,” but that’s not a fair characterization. It’s a catchy, memorable and extremely popular song. And if you attended a wedding in the 1980’s or 1990’s you might have witnessed the bride or groom singing along to it. The question is, how can anyone sing these lyrics and believe this is a love song?

The answer to this question is found in Marshall McLuhan’s famous quote, “The medium is the message.” Every Breath You Take provides us with a unique perspective on the power of non-verbal communication. We derive meaning from how a message is delivered much more than what is actually said. Some experts believe that over 90% of communication is non-verbal.

Because the tune to Every Breath You Take sounded like a love song, we believed it was a love song… even though the lyrics told a different story. It is apropos that the song came from an album named Synchronicity because the meaning of the lyrics were not in sync with the vibe of the melody. And the melody (or non-verbal communication) dictated our interpretation of the song.

How does this story relate to the business of marketing? It is proof that everything communicates. Many business leaders believe their advertising and corporate communications speak for their brands, but like the lyrics to Every Breath You Take those messages often go unheard. Think of every customer touch point as a note in your song. The aggregate of those encounters is the tune that your company is playing for your customers. And as we have learned, the tune is what tells your brand story.

Many wedding planning websites now list songs that are inappropriate for the occasion. Every Breath You Take is at the top of the list. It’s a wonderful song, but widely misinterpreted. The brides and grooms who sang or danced to it at their weddings might find that disappointing.

Your message and actions should always be in sync to support your brand promise. If you find that your message is being misunderstood, it is time to change your tune (unless, of course, you are a Grammy-winning song writer).

Want to ensure that your company is playing the right tune? We can help. Contact me today at kentaylor@39consulting.com.

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