sonic branding

The sound of success in branding

April 2021

Sound is powerful. Capable of eliciting strong emotional responses in people. And in today’s digital transformation era, big brands and entire agencies are harnessing the limitless power of audio for marketing purposes. But using sound as a form of marketing is not a new thing. As long ago as 400AD, Roman senator Paulinus of Nola introduced church bells into the Christian church to encourage worshippers to come to prayer. In the 1500s, jingles came to light on the streets of London, as shop owners sang ditties to attract people to their wares.  In 1922 elevator music first came to use, soothing fearful passengers who were using these futuristic things for the first time. Ten years later, in 1932, national anthems were first played at the Olympic Games medals ceremony, with sound used to honour nations and elevate their athletes to national heroes.

"Sound is powerful. Capable of eliciting strong emotional responses in people"

Jingle ubiquity

Fast forward to 1984, and Michael Jackson was performing his infamous moonwalk in the midst of Pepsi’s ‘The New Generation’ TV advertisement, an ad which was so successful it had thousands of listeners calling radio stations to request the ‘Pepsi song’. Since then, sounds such as advert jingles, supermarket or train station announcements, the familiar trills and twangs of television networks, even the ping of a washing machine as you input the setting, have become familiar and ubiquitous, bringing what is now known as sonic branding to the forefront of consumer consciousness.

The approach to sound across multiple touchpoints

So, what exactly is sonic branding? And what’s its purpose? Sonic or audio branding is the holistic approach to a brand’s use of sound and music across all touchpoints. Firstly, it’s important to understand that sound doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It’s collaborative. If an explosion occurs with no one around to hear it, science would not classify this as ‘sound’ because it’s not being received by an eardrum.

"Sonic branding is the holistic approach to a brand’s use of sound and music across all touchpoints"

Interactivity is key

Sound is an interaction between the thing that produces it and the thing that hears it, and it’s in this that the power of audio branding lies. The human brain interacts with every sonic event that it witnesses and links this event to an intuitive reaction. Hear something, feel something. Feel something, buy something. It’s not rocket science. Yet many brands are still yet to fully utilise sound’s inherent force.

"Hear something, feel something. Feel something, buy something"

The different elements of sonic branding

Sonic branding can be broken down into different elements, while different sounds or instruments can provoke different reactions in people. Individual elements include sonic logos, jingles, navigational sounds, soundscapes (used when interacting with a brand in a physical space), and actual voice-overs (think the vast power of David Attenborough’s voice for BBC). Some brands create longer-form sonic expressions, entire brand anthems that can be adapted for use across all touchpoints – for the logo or website, for advertising purposes, retail experiences or events such as trade shows.

The art of audio branding becomes even richer, as different sounds are used to provoke different feelings. Strings create a feeling of warmth and security, for example, horns can create a feeling of courage, whereas drums can bring forth something more primal. This is why sonic branding agencies now exist to help brands turn their sonic ambitions into an intellectual and strategic approach. To not just use sound to provoke isolated reactions, but create an ongoing emotional story, and through that story create lasting brand loyalty.

"The art of sonic branding becomes even richer, as different sounds are used to provoke different feelings"

The sonic superheroes

As for brands that do it well, this article would be missing something without mention of McDonald’s, with its ‘I’m Loving It’ jingle transcending cultures and continents. Disney is another frontrunner for the breadth and depth of its sonic ecosystem, producing entire sonic identities for every movie it makes. Apple and Amazon are also busy shaping the future of sound, with their AI-powered, voice-assist technology, namely Siri and Alexa, enabling our lives in extraordinary ways. Smaller brands can learn a lot from these audio branding behemoths, not just finding, targeting and captivating their audiences, but using sound to change the world as we know it.

Inspiration. Persuasion. Activation.

Sound, as we’ve seen, affects consumers immediately – an invaluable marketing tool  because of its ability to invoke memories, elicit feelings and provoke actions, whether that means children running out into the street at the sound of an ice cream van, or Mastercard dropping a music record to transform the way customers interact with its business. Sound can educate. Sound can move. Sound can inspire. Sound can persuade. Sound can create a connection between a consumer and a brand that has the power to last a lifetime. So now’s the time for every brand, big and small, to recognise and utilise sound for its enormous potential.

Illustration: Gosia Malgorzata