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.
The dream of any music agency is to become the single supplier of a massive conglomerate and today Big Sync Music announced they are in dreamland by becoming the exclusive supplier of music services to Unilever.
It is a big step for Unilever, a massive opportunity for Big Sync and a huge challenge for both as of them as they try to herd all their marketing agencies through a single music channel. But as long as the agencies play nicely then Unilever will now be in a position to implement effective sonic branding strategy across countries, territories and the world. It is a bold move for Unilever to commit to a single supplier but a sensible one as they now have the capability to create consistent and efficient identities for their brands and develop music strategies that are global marketing campaigns in their own right.
Exciting and exhausting times ahead for Big Sync Music. Now please wash your hands.
Here is the full story in Music Week.
You remember that massive internet brand, Yahoo. The one with the fun sonic logo. Well they’ve recently been working on getting better at what they do and working out what it is that they do. As part of this today they announced a partnership with Live Nation to create the Live Nation Channel on Yahoo Screen, bit of a mouthful but I guess you have to spell things out at the beginning and we can always shorten it to LNCYS.
Yahoo is making a play into proprietary content and since music is the most consumed content genre online it makes a lot of sense for them to make it a significant part of their new offering. Live Nation are of course the enormous live entertainment company that put on around 23,000 concerts last year and so they have access to a hell of a lot of content. So beginning this summer the LNCYS will stream a concert a day for a year and they will offer additional content including access to the Live Nation back catalogue.
Now the brand part. Live Nation and Yahoo are of course out selling the platform to brands and they also announced today that they have brought on board Kellogg as their launch partner. According to Jon Suarez-Davis, Kellogg vice president, Media and Digital Strategy, they “know consumers are passionate about food and music”. This is of course the standard issue line from any brand getting involved in music, simply remove the word “food” and replace with the appropriate product category, the key point is that people are passionate about music as proven by Live Nation selling over 60 million tickets last year. Consumers, as suggested by their name, want to consume and if Kellogg’s can help feed them more of what they love, they will get the brownie points. It’s an easy model that simply needs to be backed up by the right activation strategy and delivery of relevant content.
The idea of a new online channel is not really that spectacular these days but the partnership behind this one is what should be focused on. If Live Nation provide great and exclusive content then this could become a interesting alternative to You Tube and Vevo for brands wanting to get involved in music.
You can read the official version of events here.
One of the more interesting projects that I worked on with my colleagues at Sonicbrand was for a leading toothpaste company who wanted to explore the “sound of clean” in the context of an electric toothbrush. The outcome of the project was more interesting on a theoretical than practical level as actually engineering a cheap electric toothbrush to sound like the equivalent of an oral Rolls Royce was pretty difficult. Therefore I was interested to hear what Colgate would come up with from their latest foray into sonic branding.
Colgate, a brand built around probably the most inappropriate colour for those thinking about cleaning their teeth (red), has been around for ages and has the luxury of being known by pretty much everyone who likes to avoid regular visits to the dentist. So it is interesting to hear the expansion of their brand identity through a new sonic logo created by CORD Worldwide .
Toothpaste marketing has often featured sonic branding through the use of jingles that either go on about how bad your breath smells or try to turn two minutes of scrubbing into a Glee type moment. Just check out Aquafresh’s Brushing Song. In the case of Colgate they have gone for something more global and subtle. Following some fairly extensive development work we have the Colgate sonic logo. Three seconds of audio that, if the various marketing agencies around the world use carefully, we will probably be hearing a lot more of in the future.
The use of the sonic logo in the new advertising campaign feels a little forced as it differs so much from the main ad music but that is not such a bad thing as it makes you more aware of it. The true strength of the logo will emerge over time as they make further developments and utilise the flexible nature of their new sonic branding to create an adaptive platform for the communication the whole Colgate brand.
This is one for all you sonic branding purists.