Audio branding is like the icing on the cake. It provides a rich and memorable tone to your brand identity. Sound has the ability to stop you in your tracks and quickly engage you like no other sense can. Sound can trigger memories and emotions. We are literally wired to sound thanks to Apple’s iPod invention. Sound and music are visceral. To test your audio branding knowledge we have created a quiz. Listen to 7 different unique sounds and see if you can identify the brands.
Most retailers already leverage music as a selling tool in stores. But, generally sound is under-utilized in building a brand identity. Few brands are strategically using music, sound and voice to create a brand connection.
The Beginning of Sound Branding
Before television, radio was the darling for reaching consumers. I have been told by those who still remember that radio was the entertainment center in households. The entire family would huddle around the radio to listen to broadcasts sponsored by a brand, well before, the trend of radio advertising spots. It is believed that Generals Mills aired the first singing commercial back in 1926 entitled “Have you tried Wheaties?” and was an instant success and made Wheaties a national brand.
The art of building brands through jingles reached a peak during the economic boom of the 1950s. Jingles were used in brand advertising for such products as breakfast cereals, candy, snacks, pop, tobacco, beer, automobiles, personal hygiene products, household products and especially detergent. Like the epic musical films, branding jingles lost their appeal by the 1960s. Any Boomer can recite a number of advertising jingles as they sit dormant in their brains like “Oh, I wish I were an Oscar Mayer Wiener”, “Ai, Yi, Yi, Yi, I am the Frito Bandito”,and “I’d like to but the world a Coke.”
To be a memorable and enduring jingle Linda Kaplan Thaler, creative legend and Chairman of Publicis Kaplan Thaler advertising agency says “it has to have huge sticking power. A jingle is not successful if you listen to it once and like it. You have to listen to it and want to sing it. Essentially, you become the advertiser for the brand.” She also thinks today is a better time than ever to build a brand through a jingle due to the many social channels to share it on. While Martin Puris, another ad legend and past Chairman and CEO of Ammirati & Puris, thinks jingles are passé. “In a marketing wary world a jingle seems oddly out of place. Too slick, too contrived.”
If you find yourself singing along, then you are hooked – marketing or not. “I wish I was a CEO of a famous advertising agency, la, la, la,….”
Big Bold Sounds
Filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock also known as ‘Master of Suspense’ understood the importance of sound to telling a story. He said “When we tell a story in cinema, we should resort to dialogue only when it’s impossible to do otherwise.” He was brilliant at manipulating his audience’s emotions by using sound design to enhance the situation. Remember his movie, The Birds (1963). He used a combination of real bird sounds and electronically synthesised noises, creating an auditory assault that brought the vicious bird attacks to life.
Great sound design can only be fully appreciated through good quality sound systems and speakers. Since the 1960s, we saw great innovations concerning sound systems from the bulky multiunit stereo systems and the iconic boombox to putting our entire music library into our pocket with the iPod. Add a set of good quality headphones and you are in another world.
Audio Branding – Music
Eric Sheinkop, co-author of Hit Brands: How Music Builds Value for the World’s Smartest Brands says “Music brings value to a brand in three ways: identity, engagement, currency. Specifically, using music to establish an emotional connection with a brand, increases brand recognition, creates excitement and buzz beyond the brand’s core products or services, and can empower consumers, giving them valuable content to discover and share. Music creates the value that brands need to win the war for attention and develop a genuine connection with their consumers. When used correctly, music not only creates loyalty, but true advocacy.”
Music has plays an important role in brand building for automotive and aviation brands where it is all about the emotional state. Music is a universal language that crosses all borders of culture, nationality and languages. It is the emotional connection to the brand. Yet, most brands tend to use sound and music to be campaign-oriented, not brand-oriented. Here is an example of a campaign-oriented advertisement by Honda featuring a 60-person choir who were the sole audio track. There isn’t any car sound that they can’t sing.
United Airlines took the brand-oriented approach using music as a key brand element. Since 1976, United has used the familiar George Gershwin’s tune Rhapsody in Blue as a foundation to their brand. The music is used in its television advertisements, its airport terminals, and even its pre-flight announcements. United Airlines uses this piece of music to strategically create a distinct audio identity that expresses its vales at all necessary customer touch points. Have you ever watched someone bring on a musical instrument onto a plane? How about the entire London Symphony Orchestra.
Their onboard safety video creatively incorporates the distinctive rhapsody in blue music in various interpretations to emphasis each cultural destinations – very clever.
Audio Branding – Sonic Logo
Sonic logo is linking your brand logo with a distinct and unique sound that becomes synonymous with the brand identity. The key is using it everywhere the brand is communicated. It takes years of reach and frequency to link a sound firmly to the brand. But, once it occurs it becomes timeless like NBC’s three-tone chimes, Intel’s five-note bong, and THX Sound System’s deep note. Kevin Perlmutter brand strategist and blogger explains that because sound bypass the rational part of the brain and reaches the most instinctive level, sound can be the fastest way to heighten brand engagement. Therefore, a brand identity is incomplete without utilizing a sound or music to help develop an emotional connection even if your brand is an unemotional computer chip. You have a better chance to position a brand into the customer’s mind if you use a multisensory approach.
Audio Branding – Product Sound
Some product brands have their very own sounds that can different themselves from the competition. Kellogg’s Rice Krispies “Snap, Crackle, Pop”, Alka-Seltzer’s “Plop, Plop, Fizz, Fizz”, Snapple’s “Pop” when the top is unscrewed, Dyson’s unique vacuum sound, Infiniti’s engine sound (check out the ten most distinctive sounding cars) and the “scritch-scratch” sound of a Sharpie marker on paper. The sound of your product can be as distinctive as its look, feel and smell. Rachael Pink, an acoustic engineer at Dyson says “People now expect products to sound good—not just sound quiet, but have a nice quality.”
Frit-Lay, part of PespiCo Inc. introduced a compostable chip bag for its SunChips brand to become more environmentally friendly. The noisy bag changed the customer experience so drastically sales fell and consumers complained about the sound. Frito-Lay went back to the old bag. Don’t underestimate the customer’s relationship with your brand sound.
Final Sound Track
Today, visual branding remains the focus for many marketers, but with the increased number of touch points (like TV, radio, website, mobile apps, social channels, in-store displays, voice messages, events and in-store), you can’t rely solely on visuals. Digital is also becoming the main channel for brands to communicate. Well, digital has many channels to reach the consumer; it can lack personality and emotional attachment. It can also come across as seemingly uncaring. Kevin Perlmutter says “The strategic use of music and sound can dramatically improve a digital interaction by placing a brand’s unique identity and personality front and center to provide clear navigation with proprietary sounds that are simultaneously functional and emotional.”
In our cluttered and over stimulated communications world, brands need to engage all senses to create powerful emotional impact that transforms brand experiences. Audio branding can play a part. Start turning up the volume.