Sonic Branding

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What does your brand sound like? If you have no clue, you are missing an important part of an overall sensory branding effort. One firm that knows what its signature sounds are is Audi, which has gone to considerable effort to establish a sound style guide intended to function much like a visual style guide in maintaining consistent branding across media, campaigns, and locations. First, let’s watch an Audi commercial that embodies several of their signature sounds. See if you can pick them out:

Some of the Audi signature sounds included in that clip are a steady heartbeat, a breath, and a piano. I particularly liked the way that the sound tied into the visual elements. Rather than simply hearing disembodied breathing on the sound track, you can see the actor’s breath condense in the chilly air.

The SoundLounge blog, written by CEO Ruth Simmons, covered the Audi effort in Do you have a Sound Style Guide? Audi does and led me to this video explanation of Audi’s sonic branding efforts:

Simmons notes,

By narrowing their set of musical building blocks, they’re hoping to create a consistent brand sound for their otherwise consistent brand image. The end goal, of course, is for the audience to hear that heartbeat and think Audi.

Not every firm has Audi’s resources, of course. Nevertheless, establishing a consistent sonic identity isn’t out of reach. I’ve seen even small, local advertisers who included the same jingle or non-musical sound in each and every commercial; even though this may have been done without extensive research or development of a sound style guide, that music or sound did indeed become part of the brand’s identity.

Product Sounds

While much of the Audi effort focuses on created sounds like heartbeats and breath, the opportunity for a distinctive product sound shouldn’t be overlooked. As I noted in Audio Branding: ‘Tis the Season, mobile phone maker Nextel used that approach effectively:

While most cell features let the user choose from a range of sounds or ringtones, Nextel did something smart: every Nextel phone emits a distinctive chirp when in walkie-talkie mode. This chirp is unique and instantly recognizable by any other Nextel user. They have incorporated the chirp into their TV commercials, and one hears it often in public. This powerful auditory branding message cost Nextel nothing other than the courage to keep the sound consistent across phone styles and generations, and to not let users easily change it.

Here’s a commercial showcasing the Nextel chirp in a totally incongruous setting:

Sadly, between its smallish market share and acquisition by Sprint, the Nextel brand itself was unable to prosper in segments beyond its devoted base of team users in construction, field service, and similar areas.

Sound – As Important as Visual Elements?

Simmons quotes famed film director David Lynch as saying, “Films are 50 percent visual and 50 percent sound.” Do you agree that the same maxim applies to television commercials and other media that incorporate both visual and sound elements?

Image source: TheAlieness GiselaGiardino²³

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