Agile brands focus on audio

The best brands display agile characteristics; they recognize that to keep up with the modern speed of business, they can no longer be set in stone. Instead they need to be designed and built to flex. Agile brands are multifaceted, working across all communications platforms and engaging all of the senses.

Our technologically advanced world is helping create rich brand experiences; brands can engage people quickly with digital content whether with words, sound, or imagery. Despite this, last year the Harvard Business Review  concluded that, considering the current audio-enabled world we live in, sound is one powerful branding tool being overlooked.

Sound stirs emotion

Given the importance and ubiquity of technology it is surprising that more brands aren’t using sound as a key brand touchpoint or signature. Sound has the ability to move people; through it we define ourselves with playlists on Spotify and ringtones for phones. Brands obsess about creating emotional connections with consumers but neglect one of the most emotive senses.

Intel®: Leap ahead™ | Music and Theme

The idea of sonic branding or the creation of “sound logos” for brands isn’t new. Intel’s five-note mnemonic is over twenty years old and Nokia’s ring tone first appeared in the early 1990s. It’s surprising that more brands haven’t tried to extend brand experience to sound.


Sound helps make sense of brands

In my opinion, brands often confuse sonic branding with jingles and music. In the case of jingles, there is a fine line between creating a brand asset and a public nuisance. Music can enhance a TV ad, making it more memorable, but does it really help leverage the brand?

An intelligent use of sound builds on and helps make sense of a brand. A personal favorite of mine is the opening sound sequence for cable television channel HBO. To me, its sonic logo signals the start of another brilliant television episode. Scratchy static gives way to a satisfying melodic hum. In just five seconds the brand establishes its exceptional credentials; this opening sequence is a crucial part of my viewing pleasure. And, it can’t just be me; one video of the 5-second sequence has been viewed 144,000 times on YouTube.

HBO Ident

Honda is another brand that makes use of sound to position its brand. At the end of its most recent adverts, a snippet of an Formula 1 engine roars and is suddenly spliced with a digital tone. It is so brief you barely comprehend it, but once your brain catches up, Honda has reinforced that it is much more than the saloon car you saw in the preceding commercial. Instead the brand is built on innovation and has a stellar track record across F1, robotics, and aviation.

Interestingly, while Honda establishes its technology credentials using the sound of an F1 car, the F1 sport has its own sound problem affecting fans’ experience. New engines have lowered the decibel level of the cars, which has led viewers, drivers, and team owners to complain that the sport has lost some of its spectacle.

Handcrafted sound

Given that sound plays a significant part in the auto industry, it isn’t at all surprising that auto brands are effectively using sound signatures. Bentley is another brand that has explored sound, but not by focusing on the engine. Instead, it has used sound to improve the experience of driving its Continental GT model.

Continental GT - Grey Violet (1)

In line with the brand’s handcrafted and refined image, bespoke sounds were created to play when turn indicators and seatbelts are in use. Live recordings of antique clocks and metronomes were digitally remastered to create a sense of authenticity through sound. These sound logos add another sensory layer that adds to the driving experience.

Gibberish and silence sell

From the refined sounds of a crafted piece of machinery to the gibberish of a bright yellow plastic toy. The Minions brand shows little sign of diminishing in popularity; the brand is seemingly everywhere after establishing partnerships with the likes of McDonalds, Kinder, Tic Tac, Twinkies, and Chiquita to name just a few. An incredible feat for animated characters that talk utter nonsense. While advocates of the Queen’s English might be horrified, sound has played an integral role in turning the Minions into a marketing phenomenon with kids (and adults) everywhere.

Thankfully, silence can still be found. The Tesla brand is one of the challenger brands using technology to change an industry. While Honda, F1, and Bentley are using sound to position themselves, Tesla uses silence. Given the fact that it produces electric cars, it can’t outroar the competition, but it has its own way of differentiating itself. It establishes excitement and elevates the driving experience through verbal branding.

Who needs a roaring engine when you have a button marked “insane” that unleashes hidden horsepower like a space ship? Quietly exhilarating.


First published as “For brand agility, listen to audio,” by Marketing Interactive.

© 2015 Lighthouse Independent Media Pte Ltd.