Coca-Cola’s World Cup Ad: How Sonic Branding Can Fuse Utility and Emotion


No one argues with music’s power to elicit an emotional response. Yet brands so often fail to use audio to emotionally connect with customers. And as the Internet of Things becomes a reality and machines need to communicate with their human counterparts, sonic branding is more important than ever. 

As a part of being the brand’s FIFA World Cup sponsorship, Coke released the “Happy Beep” video, using the brand’s iconic five-note audio mnemonic to turn everyday beeps of a Brazilian grocery store’s checkout barcode scanner into a moment of surprise and delight. It’s difficult not to smile as the familiar Coke musical notes, which also played a role in its 2010 World Cup campaign, materialize.

But sonic branding goes beyond audio equivalent of visual logos and advertising. It’s not just the NBC chimes, Justin Timberlake’s  “I’m Lovin’ It” jingle for McDonald’s, or the MGM lion’s roar. It is about managing the ecosystem of sonic elements that a brand has at its disposal—which is only going to increase as everything gets connected. These sonic elements can make experiences more intuitive, navigable and aid awareness of a brand’s presence. To see something, we need to be looking where as we don’t need to be actively listening to hear.[more]

Siri’s trademarked icon and rapid two-tone repetition of the note G# may become more ubiquitous than any other sonic logo as it gains utility in our phones, homes or cars. Wearable biometric devices will be embedded in our clothing, and devices will be connecting with us through audio and haptic feedback. Everything from smart tennis rackets to health trackers, thermostats to pill bottles, dishwashers to toothbrushes, will be communicating with us through sound or feel. Companies have dozens of sonic touchpoints—from IVRs to event music to retail—that rarely align.

Technology brands have the opportunity to integrate all their products through the use of a cohesive sonic landscape. They will also be able to use audio mnemonics to signal presence of their brands as reminder of their presence; historically successful for Intel, Nokia and even AOL’s exciting/annoying “You’ve got mail”. Gaining brand attribution for a product or service will be increasingly difficult in the post-digital age. And the difficulty remains in being invited into the lives of customers, not rudely inserted, shouting for attention. A good sonic strategy will be identifiable, go beyond language, add utility, and compliment the existing brand personality.

The challenge in building equity often lies in consistency and alignment within various business units who are all developing their own technologies, products and services. Investment in a sonic strategy at the corporate level and the creation of assets for distribution will enable cohesion across large organizations. Coca-Cola would not be able to put a smile on our faces with five simple notes had they not been seeded and repeated until we all had the emotional connection with the Coke brand.

Engaging with customers through sound and music is not a new idea. Starbucks has always embraced music as part of the brand experience, selling CDs and giving away free iTunes download cards in its stores. Audio component retailers like Beats have been able to create unique brand experiences through music in their environments. More and more, the experiences are moving online. Mercedes-Benz has been able to connect with younger audiences with its “Sound with Power” site– beautiful images and a curated beat mixed with the AMG engine create a sharable custom mix and video. And not to be outdone in the car category, Honda recently won a D&AD Black Pencil for the “Sound of Honda” digital marketing campaign.

As brands strive to create meaningful connections with words, behaviors and visuals. Every brand has brand guidelines showing the correct way to use their color or logo, yet few brands dictate how to use music, logo animations, digital navigation sounds, voiceovers, etc. Music and sound affects us emotionally, cognitively, and physiologically. It is worth the investment to make customers smile.