When it comes to audio branding there isn’t much that Coke has not excelled at. From its multicultural anthem about buying the world some fizzy pop through its omnipotent open happiness, the vegetable flavoured soda pop has long understood the power of music to sell. So with a new marketing strategy doing the rounds its no surprise that they are dancing to a new tune.
I have no idea what the brief was for this but what they have created feels a little miserable for a brand known for preaching happiness. Rather than worry about whether images of protest communicate joy and togetherness, lets focus on the music. Well my response there is pretty much the same. I’m sure someone will do some nice piece of research that says the new aggressively happy Coke has changed perceptions, reached out to the millennials and made Coke the drink of the bearded wonders but it just doesn’t feel right. Coke is generic and that is not a bad thing, so this attempt to create communications that exclude rather than embrace audiences feels a bit wrong.
I guess you have to admire the bravery but being brave doesn’t make you right.
While we wait for the outcome here’s something that is happy.
The regular readers amongst you will be aware that when it comes to covers in ads I am more than a little sceptical. There are two main reasons for this:
1. Covers of tracks that were the soundtrack to my youth, the originals are always better;
2. John Lewis Christmas Ads.
I was a little concerned when I heard that for the new Lynx ad Big Sync Music had chosen a cover of Guns & Roses’ “Welcome To The Jungle”. John Lewis’ cover of The Smiths was bad enough but could I cope with this truly massive track from Axel and Co. being reinvented? And if the idea of the cover wasn’t challenging enough then factor in that it has been done by a fella called Novo Amor who is known for his “captivating ethereal, folk songs” rather than aggressive metal moments.
You know what, I think this is a brave and impressive cover. I don’t know which came first, the visuals or the music, but they work beautifully together. The surreal, filmic nature of the ad makes the reimagining of “Welcome to the Jungle” fit comfortably. The track is challenging which fits well with Lynx’s move away from its Lads Mag past.
Am I going to re-evaluate my issues with covers? Nah, after all John Lewis is currently planning their Christmas 2015 ad which I am sure will feature some version of a pop track from the 90s. But what I will do is acknowledge that covers can be really good if someone sticks their neck out and tries something a little more challenging.
Now, enough about the cover, its time for a classic.
SONIC BRANDING: To sing the right song for brands
Here is an article I wrote for BranD Magazine, a bi-monthly publication from Hong Kong that is published in English and Chinese. The next edition is called The Narrative of Art and will be in really really good design and book shops soon. Thank you to everyone at BranD for giving the practice of sonic branding a chance to be heard.
Brands love to make noise. It is in their DNA to try to get as much attention as possible and the easiest way to do this is to shout. The issue is that with so many brands shouting and consumers having greater control of what they listen to, it is becoming increasingly important to shout the right things. As the relationship between brands and consumers becomes more personal, the guardians of brands have woken up to the power of probably the most creative and emotive media available to them; sound and in particular music.
Since the concept of branding emerged, people have all learnt to understand the communicative powers of logos, colour schemes and fonts. Brands have always found it easy to sit down with their colouring pens and knock out the visual assets they need, but when faced with the opportunity to convert visual assets into sound they have often struggled. Why has sonic branding been so difficult for brands to embrace and how can we solve this problem?
To answer the question, we need to know first of all what sonic branding means. Sonic branding can simply be defined as the communication of a brand through the use of sound, i.e. voice, sound effects and probably most importantly music. Here we will focus on music as the main audio platform. The good thing about music is that we all have an instinctive understanding of it whether we are classically trained musicians or, like me, unable to play a single note. Sound is the first sense we develop; while still in the womb we experience sounds and start to develop an understanding of what certain sounds mean. The heartbeat of our mother is likely to be the first sound any of us hear and provides a sense of comfort and security from that moment on. With sound available to us from such an early stage, it is no surprise that our brains are hard wired to interpret it and we never need formal training to understand its meaning.
Now that we have covered some of the science, we can explore the practical power of sound and in particular music as a communication platform for brands. Many people define sonic branding as the creation of bespoke sound for a brand such as sonic logos, short audio interpretations of a brand identity. Probably the most famous of these is the Intel logo created by Walter Werzowa in 1994. Walter’s four notes became as valuable to the brand as their visual logo and for years were a ubiquitous part of television and radio advertising for computers. However, sonic branding is not just four notes. Sonic branding should be defined as any time a brand uses sound to communicate whether that is through advertising, on the phone, in the retail environment, online, the list goes on. When Intel commissioned their sonic logo, there were very few ways to deliver high quality audio to an audience. Therefore, sonic branding was mainly designed for traditional advertising media but as technology has advanced, the opportunities for brands to use sound have expanded.
Recently, mobile phone network Vodafone launched its latest brand campaign called “Firsts”. As you have probably worked out from the title the brand wants to present itself as an innovator, not just in providing new services but also in using those services to help people create, try and enjoy new experiences. As part of the campaign, it teamed up with artist Neil Harbisson who suffers from a condition that he sees everything in black and white. To help him appreciate colour, Neil wears a device attached to his skull that translates the colours into sound. With the backing of Vodafone, Neil visited the Palau de la Musica in Barcelona and “listened” to the colours of the building. Then he composed a piece of music based on colours he heard. He taught a group of musicians and singers how to translate colours into sound in the same way as the device attached to his skull. Then rather than providing sheet music, he gave them connected tablet computers and displayed colours on them to conduct the performance of the piece. This is a great example of how sonic branding has developed over recent years. The core of the concept is based on translating a visual element into sound, something that is often a key part of developing traditional sonic branding. At the same time, Vodafone is using this innovative way to create music to demonstrate its own brand values of being progressive and creative. It is reaching out to its audience with the message that mobile phones are not about handsets and transmission stations, they are about experiences and sharing them.
One of the wonderful things about the Vodafone example is that it provides us with a chance to explore how sonic branding can be used in today’s multi-platform media environment. While Intel had to focus on using their sonic logo on radio and television, today brands can use their sonic branding on almost every available media. The music created by Neil Harbisson could be experienced by a selected audience of Vodafone VIPs in the live environment of the concert hall. This experience could then be broadcast live to cinemas and on television, radio and online. Films about the creation of the project could be made available through the company’s website and video sites like YouTube and Vimeo. The music from the event could be made available through music sites like Spotify, iTunes, Pandora and Soundcloud. Vodafone could create an app allowing smart phone owners to use Neil’s technology to create their own music based on the colours around them. The list of opportunities is endless and all because music is at the heart of it. Music provides the ultimate creative playground for a brand and allows it to engage with an audience through something that is a key part in their lives.
Today sonic branding is no longer limited to the creation of bespoke music for a logo. It has expanded into every opportunity where brands can interact with music and how they can use it to provide an experience to its audience. From sonic logos on advertising to live concert experiences, such as the Red Bull Music Academy, the core idea is to tap into our love of music, our inbuilt understanding of the emotional and rational information it provides and of course that basically music is cool.
Sonic branding may have been around for as long as humans could sing and make drum kits out of rocks and twigs, but it is only now starting to really discover its full potential. We can all expect the next few years to be filled with noise from brands. Hopefully, they will be the good, well-thought-out noise.
I know it is Christmas and I should be focusing on the enormous budgets of the big supermarket and perfume campaigns but through a combination of events I’ve skipped the lead up to Santa’s big day. In summary, Sainsbury’s got beaten up for exploiting the Great War, John Lewis went merchandising crazy, Tesco took use back to a brighter past with Flashdance, Aldi got out the crown Jools and the list goes on. I would say it is a mixed Santa sack this year, some big budget, some more sensible, some very safe, some just safe.
Sitting amongst all things festive there was this little bundle of joy in the form of the new Freeview ad from Leo Burnett. Foreigner’s “I Want To Know What Love Is” is the kind of track that sets a real challenge to ad creatives. It is a huge song, massively uncool and yet everyone knows the words, immediately sings along and deep down loves it. How do you make an ad that isn’t in the shadow of the music? How do you avoid using the track as a backing to some schmaltzy montage of sad then happy beautiful people?
They have overcome all the challenges and created a piece of creative that should become the official music video, the competition for this role is not fierce, just see below. In field dominated by big budget Christmas ads it is hard to grab people’s attention but the Singing Toys have managed it, who doesn’t love the bit with the Wrestler toy. Well done Freeview and Leo Burnett, you have made Christmas better without even mentioning it.
While deep down I’m hoping that Christmas isn’t just around the corner, that would mean 2014 is all but done, it is hard to ignore the fact that Santa is on his way when the big budget Christmas ads start appearing. Like last year let’s start with Debenhams.
The ad depicts a bunch of kids in a closed department store looking for stuff they want to receive for Christmas. I’m sure if this was taking place in Tottenham it would be called looting but don’t worry they are all in the their pyjamas and dressing gowns and this is crime Debenhams style. But wait, the soundtrack to this jolly caper is the socialist anthem “We All Stand Together” by Sir Paul McCartney and Rupert Bear, so I think we should take this japery a little more seriously. Clearly these kids in their nice fluffy slippers are working as a team, coordinating the whole thing through Snapchat and BBM, and while the cameras are on they are only going for the cuddly toys but I bet they later moved on to TVs and trainers.
What is Debenhams saying with this music choice? Is this a rallying cry for the disenfranchised youth of today? Unlikely. “We All Stand Together” is certainly festive, after all it charted two Christmases in a row back in the 80’s, plus it has a choir. The problem is that nothing about this ad is surprising it feels like a Christmas shopping list written in May and completed in September. Maybe they could have tied the visual more to the music or possibly done something new with the song but as it is I’m not convinced I’ll be heading to Debenhams to do my Christmas shopping, after all I could be pick-pocketed by the Artful Dodger and his mates.
If you can’t face being a witness to the mindless looting of a Debenhams, simply watch the original video featuring the wonderful dapper Rupert Bear in a swamp.
How to market headphones
OPTION 1 – BIG BUDGET
1. Get a bit name celeb, ideally a sports star, to wear your headphones wherever they go.
2. Put a big name sports star in a really long music based ad, aka a music video.
3. Make the headphones really expensive.
4. Give your brand a sub-title featuring a hip hop star name.
OPTION 2 – LITTLE BUDGET
1. Try something creative.
Looks like Sennheiser have gone for option 2. Their products are not known for their bling value and so they have relied on things like sound quality and build to get them fans. In their latest marketing campaign they are trying to add some sex appeal, I’m not sure if you are into little moustachioed man dressed as headphones while he caressing a big ear. It is nice to see Sennheiser trying something different in the massively male focused world of big headphones for its launch of the Urbanite product line, lets hope it works as I’ve always thought they were way better than many big name medically backed products.
To build on the fun fetishistic ads they have also added a social campaign called “The Golden Ears“. Basically you use your Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr account to access the location of one of the Golden Ears in London or New York. Run like the wind to the location, find the Golden Ear and boom you get a lovely pair of £200 cans. If you get there a little late then you can still win by posting an Ear Selfie on Instagram. Its pretty simple, its not the most original idea but its simple and fun so it deserves some love and maybe a some “forbodan pleasure”.
Fun and nicely integrated, the campaign chips away at Sennheiser’s grey plastic image. It is always nice to see something different in the headphone space, Beats has become such a juggernaut that it is difficult for other brands to push to the front of the queue and it is also good to see something that doesn’t focused on the intensity and pain of being massively rich and famous.
If you have nothing to do this week and fancy winning some nice cans click here, take a photo of your ears, you know they are sexy (said in pseudo sexual German accent).
WARNING: ADVERTORIAL (My version of it)
It is rare that I get a chance to showcase creative work that I’ve delivered for a client. As I’m not a musician or sound designer all my work is done in the shadows so I wanted to share this recent work for the new Hudl 2 tablet from Tesco. The device has been getting a lot of rave reviews since it launched a couple of days ago and a lot of them have focused on the physical design, which is impressive. What people have not yet talked about is the audio experience of the new Hudl.
The Tesco Connected Devices team were very thorough in their approach to creating the Hudl experience and left no stone unturned in making sure everything communicated the values of brand and the purpose of the device. A key part to this communication are the sounds that the device makes as it does its thing. Not happy with the stock Android sounds they instead chose to create a unique sound world for the Hudl so that what the user hears matches what they see.
I was lucky enough to work closely with the device development team to create the sound of the Hudl. They embraced the whole process of translating the brand and user experience into sound and with the composition and sound design talents of Paul Sumpter of The Futz Butler we made the Hudl brand sing (and beep). The best thing about it was that rather than explore the safe and the average we were given the freedom to really experiment, you can read more about Paul’s work here and watch a video of him smashing things up in a calm and non-aggressive way.
A lot of the sonic branding created today is bland and generic because while its starting point is one of exploration the end point is usually one of mediation. For the Hudl sonic branding the aim was to simply communicate the brand and with that in mind we were allowed to focus on creativity and values rather than compromise.
I’m really proud of the work and I want to give huge thanks to the Joe and Danny from the Hudl team for their commitment to eating stinky lunches in the studio and allowing us to experiment, Martin Lawless for his amazing insight into the Hudl brand and reflections on the Hacienda days and Paul Sumpter for his superb creative work and comfy packing crates.
The best way of checking out our work is of course to go and buy one and if you want to learn more about how we created the sound of the Hudl or want to know more about sonic branding feel free to contact me.