When Thomas Edison sat down in 1878 to invent the phonograph, it’s doubtful he recognized the importance his new device would have on the world 150 years later. Today, through multiple evolutions of the phonograph, sound has taken a new form that is all around us, including in the shape of sonic branding. Sonic branding is the use of sound to evoke a feeling of familiarity with a brand or company. Some iconic modern examples you are likely familiar with include the Microsoft power-up sound and the McDonald’s “do-do-do-do-do”. Eventually, over time these sounds become synonymous with their representative companies, allowing keen ears everywhere to pair the sound with the brand.
But, before there was sonic branding, there were jingles. Who can forget the infamous Mr. Softee music ringing through your neighborhood on a hot summer’s day? Braver companies even went as far as creating partnerships with popular musicians like Pharrell Williams (Burger King) or Alfred Newman (20thCentury Fox). Regardless of the method of delivery, one thing is certain: music/sound evokes a visceral response from consumers.
Sonic branding through the years
Across industries, big brands have fully embraced sonic branding and made it their own. Perhaps the best example of this has been the 20th Century Fox Fanfare sound heard before every movie produced by the studio. Any frequent movie-goer will recognize this sound when they are one room over waiting for their popcorn to finish before their movie starts. Apple also is a leader when it comes to branding for our sense of hearing – who can forget their Mac’s classic start-up chime lighting up our eardrums over the years?
What about brands today? Earlier this year, MasterCard began their very own iteration of sonic branding, with a cheerful “Acceptance” melody. This distinct and memorable tune will provide a seamless experience for those familiar with the brand, regardless of the environment at hand. Part of this strategy is being mindful of the overwhelming number of consumer messages that we all wade through daily. Sound creates a new brand dimension that keeps MasterCard effortlessly top of mind. MasterCard made this move one year after another financial services brand, Visa, implemented their own two-tone friendly brand sound.
Sonic branding in the age of globalization
Sonic branding is a perfect way to stand out in today’s modern, global marketplace. Given that certain images or logos have different connotations based on the culture they live in, sound is a perfect way to ensure you are communicating clearly and effectively when it comes to the global rollout of your advertising campaign.
This technique is also a smart pivot from partnerships with musicians. Whether you like it or not, pairing your brand with a band can mean that if they make a public gaffe, your brand is at risk. By controlling the audio associated with your brand, you can avoid this potential headache and build ownable brand value.
How to manage your sonic brand
With the 21st century ushering in a new wave of audio experiences, how brands continue to manage their sound will continue to be front of mind for marketers. From podcasts to smart devices in your home like Alexa or Google Home, sound is another touchpoint for your brand that needs to be used consistently. After all, if someone asks their Amazon Echo what time their favorite HBO show is on, wouldn’t it make sense for HBO’s fanfare noise to play? But how do you ensure that every time your brand is heard by consumers, it remains consistent in both sound quality and length?
Sonic branding can be strategically managed by proper brand governance. Since sound is a unique attribute for your brand, making sure employees understand how to properly implement the sound is key. Ideally, each new use would be subject to the approval of the brand team, likely through a form that asks permission for the sonic brand to be applied to an asset. Once that is reviewed by the branding team to ensure it is up to snuff, the sound could be incorporated into marketing assets. This minor but vital detail can be the difference between ongoing strategic sonic brand placement and lost opportunities to build brand equity through sound.