linked in facebook twitter rss

  • Interbrand
  • Brandchannel

your chance!
your chance!


  Sonic Branding Finds its Voice   Sonic Branding Finds its Voice  Kim Barnet  
Sonic Branding Finds its Voice Although not a new phenomenon, sonic branding is becoming an increasingly strong vehicle for conveying a memorable message to targeted consumers. As traditional media grows into non-traditional sectors, today’s savvy-eared consumer is accessible anywhere. From non-lyrical sound bites to catchy snippets of tunes, these sonic brands take advantage of one of the brain’s most powerful memory senses – sound.
What exactly is sonic branding? In short, and as defined by Managing Partner Bill Nygren of Boom Sonic Branding (Boom), “A sonic brand is the aural equivalent of the graphic logo.” In other words, “sonic brands are sound identities that penetrate the emotional and logical mind. A hybrid of voice, sound design and original music, the sonic brand works by harnessing music's power to trigger an emotional response.” As is seen with the rapid development of online advertising, although limited as recent industry trends have shown, the development of technology and web or wireless-based communications has allowed companies to break the sound barrier and reach the consumer anywhere. From the shop floor to the cell phone to the television set, the consumer is within earshot of a booming brand.

As Lisa Lamb, Head of Sonic Branding for Interbrand, pointed out, sonic branding allows “increased brand recognition across a variety of platforms, since people will hear things where they are not necessarily looking. One does not have to listen to hear, whereas one does need to be looking in order to see.” Sound, particularly music, has a strong memory trigger that heightens the brain’s ability to recall. That’s why, according to Boom, a sonic brand delivers “a share of mind that visual branding alone cannot achieve.”

It is for this very reason that not only are traditional industries such as retail using sonic branding, but also why industries such as tobacco have been restricted from the use of sonic branding in the US. In 1970, the US Congress voted to outlaw the use of sound to sell tobacco, hence the reason why no one in America has heard a radio or television ad for tobacco since January 1, 1971. (Although certain restrictions do apply for print media, tobacco advertising is not outlawed outright.)

Sonic branding has no doubt been a part of our lives for decades, whether it is the jingle from an ice cream truck or a theme song for television shows such as the nightly news or the Simpsons. But sonic branding in the multimedia world has transcended the visual image by either complementing it through sound or creating a new aural brand all together. One of the most recognized sonic brands is Intel’s musical string of bleeps. Lamb noted that although many people may not be able to draw the Intel logo or even know what a Pentium chip is, they are more than likely able to be able to sing the soundbite or recognize the sound as that belonging to Intel.

This brings to question what makes a sonic brand effective? When working with a client, the Boom team look “for emotional touch points within the target market.” Based on the desired clientele, they create “a blend of sounds and mix some retro sound triggers that cater to that market, while making sure the client message is interwoven within that message.” Sonic brands are inherently scalable. Therefore, “they can be manipulated to intensify consumer/brand interactions, from a website mouse-over to broadcast messages and beyond.” However, as Nygren noted, the challenge is to ensure that the sound is harmonious with the product or brand.

The objective is to create a “memory trigger, intrinsically linking a product name, service or benefit with a pleasant memory.” Starbucks is a successful example of making its service and product an experience with a particular feeling across an international level. Through an agreement with Hear Music in 1999, Starbucks uses compilations of soothing jazzy tunes to entice the customer not only to stay for a cup of coffee, but also to identify a level of sophistication with the company name. Boom has come across many retail companies going beyond the Starbucks approach by having music specifically composed for the feel they are looking to portray. McDonald’s and Coca-Cola have been successful in this field, using “fantastic composition with a message so intrinsically woven through it that, although they change it regularly, they hit spot on.”

Aside from creating an emotional response or building a mood around an image, sonic brands also simply create familiarity, whether it is the Windows’ ethereal opening or Nokia’s over-played ring rap or AOL’s email announcement “you’ve got mail,” that relate to a certain function or activity. Dave Chaimson, Director of Marketing for Sonic Foundry, which develops digital media and Internet software tools, says that regardless of intended impact, the ultimate goal is to provide the consumer with a “new dimension setting a certain tone or mood” that offers an “aided awareness” to the product or service in question.

Much like the beauty of music, sound as a whole transcends language and cultural barriers, allowing easier delivery and reception of the message. This is complemented by the fact that the modern IT world is increasingly border agnostic. Therefore, whether you are Chinese, German or American, if you are a businessperson with access to modern communications you are certain to share commonly recognizable sonic brands with international peers.

Yet despite the world trend toward borderless business, certain challenges to sonic branding remain. The obvious being access to communication and modern technology. A successful sonic brand is one that is identifiable through traditional and non-traditional mediums, but if the latter is not available or lacks the necessary bandwidth then the extent of reach for the sonic brand is limited. What’s more, as Lamb states, a company has to be careful “not to pollute the sound,” or take it to a point where it is not complementary to an already existing brand.

Ultimately, there is the matter of keeping the sonic brand in harmony with the overall brand. As illustrated by Nygren, if you click on a website for an insurance company and are met with a lot of flash and bleeps, it does not make sense for the product. There are also numerous examples of institutional sounds, such as a Beatles song being used in commercials, bringing to question whether the sound is being transferred to the brand at all. Hence the need for companies to look into creating original sounds that convey their own message.

The point is to avoid creating disconnects. According to Nygren, in order for such an avoidance to happen “new media needs to evolve to the point where traditional media is today in terms of presentation.” In addition, as Chaimson has experienced through the application of Sonic Foundry’s software, “the more these tools are pushed into the hands of creative people the more apt they are to use them in presentation.”

The average eardrum out there may not be consciously aware that it is being bombarded by sonic brands daily. This is in large part because reception of aural presentations is subliminal in nature, and therefore, the message is processed on an emotional rather than rational level. Just as traditional media is looking toward non-traditional media for branding, and vice versa, aural and visual branding are becoming increasingly complementary. Striking the right equilibrium is the trick. Striking the right eardrum is the magic.    



Kim Barnet worked as a consultant in risk management at Claydon Gescher Associates in Beijing for the past four years. She recently moved to New York and is currently seeking new job opportunities.

 commenting closed Add Social Bookmark bookmark  print
 suggest topic  recommend ( 12 )  email

  brandchannel home archive   2013  |  2012  |  2011  |  2010  |  2009  |  2008  |  2007  |  2006  |  2005  |  2004  |  2003  |  2002  | 2001  | 
Dec 31, 2001 Opportunity Rings: Branding Through SMS -- Kim Barnet
  More and more brands are connecting with customers using SMS and other mobile messaging systems.
Dec 17, 2001 The Chocolate Market Unwrapped -- Stephanie Margolin
  Unwrap the global strategies of Nestlť, Cadbury, and Hershey to discover the rich, and at times nutty, formula behind each brand.
Dec 10, 2001 Krispy Kreme on the Rise -- Robin Rusch
  Krispy Kreme heats up its plans for global rollout. We check in on the brand and see how it stacks up against Dunkin' Donuts.
Dec 3, 2001 Intel Outside -- John Karolefski
  Did Intel venture too far “outside” with its brief extension into consumer electronics?
Nov 26, 2001 The UK Attempts a Royal Come Back -- Nick Thornton
  In response to last yearís terrible blow to tourism, the UK is unveiling a campaign to promote Britain to its citizens and closest neighbor, Europe.
Nov 19, 2001 Will Green Brands Continue to Grow Strong? -- Ron Irwin
  Brands get back to nature with a trend toward all things green. But can this last without preservatives?
Nov 12, 2001 What Makes a Brand Great? -- Vincent Grimaldi de Puget
  Building a great brand is a blend of art and science.
Nov 5, 2001 Putting the Heart in Branding -- Nick Thornton
  From Coke and Abercrombie & Fitch to GE and Morgan Stanley, we look at the shift in branding strategies following the September 11th attacks on the US.
Oct 29, 2001 Foster's: Australian for Wine? -- Nick Thornton
  Pop the cork on a tinnie of Fosterís? The next shout just might be a middie of fine wine from the Australian brewer.
Oct 15, 2001 Tapping into the World Market -- Kim Barnet
  Competing brands Interbrew and Heineken pursue completely different branding strategies. Is one approach better than the other?
Oct 8, 2001 Can Airlines Weather Turbulent Times? -- Nick Thornton
  What will be the new brand strategy as commercial airlines struggle to recover from a nosedive worldwide?
Oct 1, 2001 Operation Clarity: The Politics of Naming -- Yannis Kavounis
  How powerful is a name? Witness the recent efforts to brand a military campaign in Operation Clarity: the politics of naming.
Sep 24, 2001 Riding the Next Wave -- Robin Rusch
  Forever young? How do edgy independent brands like Rip Curl remain credible as they grow older and more established?
Sep 17, 2001 From Sea to Shining Sea -- Robin Rusch
  After the September 11 attacks, America needs to define its image both for its citizens and the global audience at large.
Sep 10, 2001 Is the Hog's Future Roadkill? -- Nick Thornton
  Will the road end for Harley-Davidson as its demographic dies out? The aging of the Harley rider spells bad news for the classic hogs.
Sep 3, 2001 The Rise & Demise of a Brand Trend? -- Robin Rusch
  Some companies are scrambling to disassociate from their .com ending, while others are proud of the online positioning.
Aug 27, 2001 Patents Cause Drug Headaches -- Nick Thornton
  Multinational pharmaceuticals face damaging PR over fat profits, but the realities behind R&D and promotion make the issue a bit more complex.
Aug 20, 2001 Brand on the Horizon -- Ron Irwin
  Kellogg may be number two in the cereal wars with General Mills, but as Avis taught us, being number two sometimes means trying harder.
Aug 13, 2001 Beijing Stretches its Image to Fit Through the Olympic Rings -- Kim Barnet
  Beijing will need to get on the treadmill if it wants to win the gold for image by the 2008 Olympic Games.
Aug 6, 2001 Flying Foul: Ryanair Flies in the Face of Good Taste -- Nick Thornton
  Ryanair is committing a flying assault and daring Europe to take offence. Do airlines need to work on their brand or is it all about the low fare?
Jul 30, 2001 World's Most Valuable Brands: A Closer Look at Measuring Brands -- Robin Rusch
  Download league tables from Interbrand's annual World's Most Valuable Brand Ranking for 2001, and take a closer look at brand measurements from awareness to value.
Jul 23, 2001 Time Changes Everything: The Mao Brand Evolves -- Kim Barnet
  Mao Inc churns out memorabilia from the Cultural Revolution, but it also illustrates the Chinese confidence in their brand of Communism.
Jul 16, 2001 Europe Cuts the Power -- Nick Thornton
  The GE-Honeywell failed acquisition should be a good learning experience for multinational marketers worldwide.
Jul 9, 2001 Rabbit in Citi Clothing -- Ron Irwin
  How has the Rabbit managed to survive in the wild? Our South African correspondent stalks the beloved yet elusive brand.
Jul 2, 2001 Sick of Ads? -- Nick Thornton
  The Italians and Canadians are breaking new ground in the quest for acceptable ad space. But is a hospital a healthy place to build your brand?
Jun 25, 2001 Brands Get the Blame -- Ian Cocoran
  Is all publicity good publicity? Studies show that people do buy with their conscience, and brand owners are proactively starting to take notice.
Jun 18, 2001 Blue Skies Ahead -- Robin Rusch
  We investigate the turbulent process of developing the JetBlue brand.
Jun 11, 2001 Painting South Africa Red -- Ron Irwin
  Coca-Colaís brilliant branding campaign in Africa would do well to inform its strategy for the rest of the developing world.
Jun 4, 2001 The Great Whitewash -- Paul Lukas
  How many different names can one brand squeeze out of the same tube of toothpaste?
May 21, 2001 Brazil's Most Valuable Brands -- Robin Rusch
  We present the findings from a recent study of Brazilís most valuable brands and offer the results in Portuguese and English.
May 14, 2001 A brand in the life of Bachchan -- Raju Bist
  Former Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan has successfully repositioned himself over a 30-year career to become one of Asiaís hottest TV hosts.
May 7, 2001 De Beers in Need of a Polish -- Ron Irwin
  As De Beers arranges to sell its brand, we explore its nefarious past and interview managing director Gary Ralfe on its future.
Apr 30, 2001 Luxury Brands Snub the Web -- Ian Cocoran
  Are luxury brand owners afraid to do business on the web? Does it weaken the brand to sell online?
Apr 23, 2001 Does AOL have a brand to stand on? -- Robin Rusch
  Why is AOL the leading Internet provider in the US? And will the rest of the world buy the ďAmericaĒ in America Online?
Apr 16, 2001 Ford Bags a Landy -- Ron Irwin
  Land Rover continues to conquer the African bush even as it switches drivers from BMW to Ford.
Apr 9, 2001 A 'Real' Steal -- Edward Young
  Intellectual property protection is becoming big business in China where no brand is safe from replication.
Apr 2, 2001 Branding on a Shoestring -- Robin Rusch
  Is your brand on the recession chopping block? How can you leverage your brand during an economic slowdown?
Mar 26, 2001 What've the Scots Got Up Their Kilts? -- Ian Cocoran
  Irn-Bru, ďmade in Scotland, from girders,Ē is, of course, the Caledonian nectar, but will the rest of the world warm to this quirky brand?
Mar 19, 2001 The World's Greatest Sports Brand? -- Robin Rusch
  Are the All Blacks the worldís greatest sports brand? Letís go to the pitch and find out.
Mar 12, 2001 Do Breasts, Blitz & Blood Make a Brand? -- Martin Croft
  Itís got gore and itís got legs, but does it have brand? A close look at the computer games industry.
Mar 5, 2001 Smoke & Mirrors -- Nick Thornton
  Are tobacco transnationlists sinners or saints? Your view may depend on the tobacco marketing laws in your country.
Feb 26, 2001 Levi's: It Ainít Easy Being Blue -- Ian Cocoran
  Read our riveting article on Leviís attempts to recapture the jeans market.
Feb 19, 2001 Uncorking the Spirit of South Africa -- Ron Irwin
  South Africa invites the US to a wine tasting. Uncork a bottle of Kaapzicht and read about how winegrowers are setting off to promote brand Africa.
Feb 12, 2001 Happy Brand Val-entine's Day -- Ian Cocoran
  Some brands make the most unlikely bed partners. Yet many are matching up in an attempt to attract consumers in search of the perfect Valentine.
Feb 5, 2001 Globalized Guinness Draws a Half Pint at Home -- Nick Thornton
  Guinness takes its brand out of the warm pubs of Ireland and into the hearts of drinkers worldwide, from Kathmandu to Rio.
Jan 29, 2001 Selfridges & Co. -- Caroline Wilson
  The great makeover of Selfridges started with a bespoke branding campaign.