Audio Branding. How to use sound and everything at your disposal.

By Tom Dougherty

How effective can audio branding be when using sounds, jingles and audio cues?

Consider this:

You take out your brand new, MacBook Air, flip open the screen and turn it on.

What do you hear? You hear audio branding.

That’s right, it’s that wonderfully evocative Apple chime. A one-of-a-kind sound that represents the invigorating coming to life of your personal computer. And you love it. As does everyone else who owns a Mac.

Or how about this:

audio branding is a strong tool in your list of marketing tools
Acoustic brand cues help us remember

It’s been a long week of work. You feel like you’ve earned your Friday night and are ready to spend it relaxing in front of your TV. Your plan — to watch a good, “no-brainer” kind of film. That feels perfect to you. So, to get the night started, you get your remote to turn on the TV and slide a disc into your Blu-Ray player. Seconds later your ears perk to life as they’ve become engulfed by the whirling and massive sonic introduction of your DHX surround sound system.

And you feel like you’ve arrived — and your home theatre confirms just that. And now, you are completely convinced that you are in for a fantastically lazy night of movie watching. That is audio branding.

Or think about this one:

It’s a hot summer’s day and you’ve just returned from a few hours at the local pool. As you are hanging your wet towels on the clothesline, you hear the whimsical melody of an ice-cream truck in the distance.

You are immediately brought back to your childhood, of a carefree kind of time and it makes you smile, if just for a moment. You remember that sudden race of running home to ask your mom or dad for a buck, hoping all the while that they had one for you. And if they did, that race continued as you tried your best to make it back to the ice-cream truck to get yourself a Bomb-Pop before its music faded down the street.

Mnemonic Marketing and Audio Branding

And as you hear that melody, part of you still would like to run to get a Bomb-Pop —even today— as you listen to that memorable song play in the distance. (Read more on how people learn here)

Do you remember this from HBO?

There is so much personal and emotional content that can be internally stored when we deal with the concept of sound. Incidentally, it is nearly incalculable how beneficial sound can be to a brand. Sometimes, as is the case with the ice cream truck example, our aural memories remain even when they were planted nearly half a lifetime ago. These are important triggers when looking for ways to do mnemonic or audio branding.

Make your brand memorable through audio branding
Sounds are emotional cues

Why is sound important? It’s important because it is visceral. It is tangible, and a necessary building block in creating a personal and lasting attachment to a brand.

Yet, despite these obvious truths, the use of sound, whether embedded as part of a tagline for a product or in the composition of radio advertising or even programed within a product — as is the case with Apple chime— has not become commonplace. What a sad disservice to one of the key building blocks of brand recognition.

I can remember an example of this back in my days as a copywriter. I can still clearly remember the glum faces on many creatives when they were assigned by their creative director to work on a radio campaign for a product. Sure, everyone wanted the big TV gig — those made you feel a bit like a Hollywood elite and instantly important. But at the same time, all these wonderfully talented creative minds would do almost anything before allowing themselves to really sink their teeth into a radio script.

What a shame. That is what audio branding is about.

One of my guru’s in this business — William Thompson Ong —a copywriting wizard from the hey-day of the creative revolution (remember the Crest commercial with Bill Cosby? That’s one he wrote), once shared with me many lasting lessons on the importance of radio campaigns and of the impressionable personal effect that sound can create on an individual.

William Thompson Ong used every tool to make his messages work including audio branding
William Thompson Ong

One of those lessons is as follows, said Ong: “There are many painters in the world. And most of them can paint of pretty picture of a downtown cafe. The truly gifted painters can paint a pretty picture of a cafe and make you want to eat there too.” He continued, “But the best painter of all is the poet who does not even need paint to create their picture, as they can do it with sound and words alone.” A brilliant lesson if you ask me.

To illustrate his point, Ong then told me a story of one of his favorite radio campaigns. This script, without reciting it line by line, was created for an ice cream company. It played on the grandiose stage that a creative can create when delving into the dramatic world of sound. In this commercial, a racket of dump trucks and other carpentry vehicles and machines can be heard in the background. Then a foreman comes into play. He whistles and the yells to his crew to, “Bring on the Ice Cream!” With this, we then hear massive sounds — the groaning and beeping of a crane — then the whooshing release and rumble as a massive heap of ice cream as hits the ground. Then, the crew is ordered to “bring on the chocolate sauce.” For this, we hear the mighty pouring a chocolate waterfall on top of the ice cream. Lastly, we perceive the giant kerplunck of a cherry as it lands atop this gargantuan mound of ice cream. Needless to say, it was a sundae to remember.

I ask you this? In what other medium are we given the opportunity to create such dramatic, memorable, creative and legendary scenes?

Which brings us back to the brilliance of those companies that have made audio branding a part of their brand. The Apple start-up chime, The DHX surround system, even down to the “Snap, Crackle and Pop” of Rice Krispies; all these bring lasting meaning to your personal experience with that particular brand. (Read our detailed market study on the cereal market here)

Don’t believe me? Just think about where that insurance company would be without that squawking duck… you know, the one that quacks.