For nearly four decades, custom music and sung jingles were widely used in TV and radio ads. This shifted in the 1980s and ’90s, with the running time of ads dropping from 60- to 30-seconds. Custom music faded out and licensing music became the rage. The music was no longer the message – it was something to sell the message.
This approach created problems. It wasn’t uncommon for multiple brands to license the same music. And as a result, consumers didn’t build an association between the song and a brand. Licensing music is also very expensive and brands shelled out millions, but weren’t always creating an earprint. The media landscape also became fragmented. Today, brands need to create 30-second commercials and 60-second online video ads. They need to prepare for a voice-first future and creative which can be deployed on emerging technologies such as Siri and Alexa.
Brands now need to think differently about sound. Sound is not an illustration to the message – it is the message.
But why? Relationships are built on authenticity and consistency. When the same sound is conveyed in all creative, similar to the way a brand would use the same logo, an organization demonstrates consistency in its behaviors and actions. Brands may communicate different aspects of themselves using sound. For example, in the throws of a recession, a bank might want to convey a message of calm and expertise while another may wish to communicate approachability and responsiveness.
Brands also need to understand the type of emotional response they want consumers to associate with their brands.
In 2016, a marketing analytics platform for commercial music, surveyed more than 2,600 panelists and asked them to listen to audio logos, they recorded their emotions as the logos played and later tested which audio logos the panelists could recall. Nationwide and Farmers topped the list of the 10 most recognized audio logos, with Farmers’ new audio mark demonstrating unaided recall of 88%. For context, the top recall for 2019’s Super Bowl ads was Pepsi at 50%. Client research has also convinced us that when you use sonic branding elements within commercials they will return the audiences' attention back to the screen.
But, most brands don’t make it this far when considering the sound of their brand. Many have told us that, after months of working on a campaign, they have been forced to choose from three licensed tracks just days before the creative airs. They don't always feel the tracks work to support the narrative or the brand. This results in creative that underperforms and awareness that is below where it should be.
"After a refresh of our brand strategy, visual identity, and tone of voice, we saw that sonic identity was another opportunity to provide a consistent brand experience across all touchpoints. We had been inconsistent in our use of tones and voices --- going forward, sonic touchpoints are designed to reinforce our overall brand story." Neil Shah, senior director of global marketing, Shure
A sonic brand can help a business by making them stand out from the crowd and by clarifying their personality and values.
So, what does it take to make a sonic identity successful?
Exclusivity and consistency
If it's not exclusive, you're not helping your brand. If the music relates to something other than your brand, it’s dilutive. Your goal should be to grab attention and engagement in a landscape where competition is fierce. Sound should be utilized as a competitive advantage and a way to unify your identity over many touchpoints, including television and video ads, radio, event music, hold music and more.
Because media is so competitive, we have to cut through with differentiated visual and sonic experiences. We cannot leave our look, tone and feel stale for years at a time. We walked into it with the intention that the music had to work not only in broadcasts but also in promos, Alexa skills, podcasts and other emerging audio products." Meredith Conte, vice president, marketing, Tegna
A sonic branding system is a long-term brand asset that lasts and can evolve as the brand refocuses its positioning without sacrificing the brand equity that has been built. The top ad in the aforementioned list belonged to Nationwide, with a recall of 92%. The "Nationwide is on your side" jingle has been on air for more than 50 years and is still as relevant today as it ever was, according to this study.
Successful sonic brands have an unexpected element to them that makes them emerge from the background. Intel's sonic logo, for example, has a sound texture that doesn't blend in but catches your attention and indexes high on both innovation and excitement.
According to feedback from our clients, the number one challenge brands face when deploying sonic branding is securing internal support. If there's a lack of support from leadership, people begin to substitute other compositions.
Gaining internal support begins in the development process during which a cross-functional team should be brought in to weigh in on mood boards and initial concepts. It continues in the roll-out with "Making of" videos and Discovery Workshops. It can even encompass the external communication used to launch the brand in the outside world. Internal audiences are the most avid audiences for external PR.
"Our biggest challenge was time, buy in and implementation. We have more than 3,000 content creators that would need to use the sonic identity and it’s nearly impossible to give them all a voice in a subjective approval process. So figuring out how to create an identity internal teams would like while still surprising and delighting audiences was a challenge." Meredith Conte, vice president, marketing, Tegna