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.
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.
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.
McDonalds are doing some more music stuff. That’s about all we know at this time apart from it has something to do with their big digital push. In probably one of the most lacking bits of reporting for some time various marketing blogs are reporting that McDonalds are doing some music stuff and far be it from me to not join in the party. There is not really very much detail on what is going to be on offer.
In the not so distant past McDonalds did some work with Music Dealers around the Winter Olympics and then there was that time on band camp… I’m really sorry but all I can tell you at this time is that there is a big digital push that will bring together loyalty, mobiles and music. McDonalds certainly knows the power of music so I would expect something significant to be in the offing.
How do you create content around vaping?
Its a little bit of challenge, despite the claims that you are not selling smoking you really kind of are and then you are into a whole fun world of regulation and social stigma. So interestingly e-cig brand Blu has decided to create a documentary series about the evolution of the UK DJ scene. What has this got to do with puffing on a cloud making battery? Well not that much but then might be some sense to this seeming madness. Firstly, it is definitely targeting a more mature audience, even I am not old enough to remember some of the things they are talking about so nobody can say they are going after the teenage market. Then there is a kind sub-plot about changing tech, you know smoking to vaping tenuously links into vinyl to digital, maybe it is a little bit of a post-rationalising stretch. Finally, the target audience is probably spot on, old clubbers looking to clean up their lives while clinging on to the pleasures of their youth.
I have no idea if this is going to work but hats off to Blu for trying something a little different in the vape market. It probably didn’t cost a fortune, it is nicely put together and hopefully it will be successful for them as it is good to see a bit of experimenting. Looking forward to moving on to the next episode.
I think in the spirit of journalistic integrity I will own up to the fact that I like the work of Eric Serra so when I heard he was doing Kia’s “sonic branding”, apparently that is what they have called it, I was a little scared. Either I’ll be forced to throw the towel in and accept that Mr Serra will now dominate the world of “sonic branding”, maybe I should adopt this catchy term, or I’ll cry into a bucket as one of my favourite composers sullies the name of “sonic branding”.
As with all “sonic branding”, I’m really liking that name, the key to success is in the brief. They seemed to be on the right track by calling the project “The Art of Surprise”, an interesting angle for a car brand. But then something emerged that made me a little sad. For the last month I’ve been working on some “sonic branding”, I’m now really sold on that name, for a client and I know how tempting it can be to stick meaningless words into brief that help gain sign off a little quicker. It is crucial to resist this urge and instead look for the true values of the brand, the ones that really make it different, make it a surprise. So when I saw the word “distinctive” in the core elements it did make me wonder how desperate they were to get the brief signed off. Who sits around in a brainstorming meeting and says “You know what we stand for. We stand for being completely indistinguishable from the next brand”. Distinctive as a brand value is a given, there is no need to have it on the list. Right back to the “sonic branding”, I think I may name my next pet that.
Anyhow they have created a track called the “Advent of Kians” which is apparently their first brand identity song. It’s meant to be pretty “ear-catchy”, their term not mine.
I’ll let you decide whether Kia and Eric Serra have nailed this. All I will say is that I’m not very surprised but hats off to them for investing a lot of cash and time into this thing they call “sonic branding”. The key thing now will be how they use their new “sonic branding”, implementation will determine whether we are all humming the “Advent of Kians” while we wash our Kias. Check it out on their website, watch the wonderfully generic mood video and then download the Irish version of the track as a ringtone. Here is a link to the webpage.
You can read the article about it from USA Today here.