Quality is a low hum: the new frontier of audio branding

  • Brand
  • November 22, 2012
  • Dennis Kibirev
Quality is a low hum: the new frontier of audio branding
ky_olsen via Flickr

“Snap, Crackle & Pop”

"This is an update for the sensory geeks in the audience", said Hester Cooper, research director - sensory evaluations, to the affirming whir of the projector's cooling fan as she proceeded to go over the recent developments happening in audio sensory research as they relate to branding and marketing. Hmm, not many sensory geeks in the audience then, but definitely enough people who wanted to find out more about the intricacies of audio branding.

"Sound branding is relatively new," she said and, while audio sensory research goes back to the 1940s, companies in New Zealand haven't actively utilised it for their branding efforts. Ian Mills, managing director, added: "When rolling out brands, sometimes [companies] overlook the more subtle elements of what's going on with their brand". And during a typical creative agency meeting, such ‘subtle elements’ will most likely be anything that doesn’t directly relate to the visual aesthetic, sound included.

While you may not typically think that Rice Bubbles were revolutionary in any way, Hester disagrees. The 'Snap, Crackle & Pop' soundscape supported the offering in a way that turned this supermarket brand into a food icon for several generations of Kiwis. Rice Bubbles prove that "the sound of your product can be as distinctive as the look". Hester went on to say that "companies are paying more attention to everything that's become the brand and that's why … sound has become a hot topic", and "it is emerging as a new branding frontier" for those looking to gain a competitive edge in the market.

Is it the ‘right’ noise?

Hester "had a colleague who spent ten years of her life doing research on: ‘is it crisp?’, ‘is it crunchy?’" Similarly, Lexus engineers supposedly took six months to get the sound of the car door ‘right’. As a busy marketer, you will probably get fired if you spend such an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out whether your brand proposition 'rings true' with your target audience, yet sound is a necessary component of this. For instance, a ‘sound logo’ is meant to "augment the brand identity" and if done right, it can become an indispensable part of the overall message.

"Sound is part of the experience and we don't notice it so long as it's 'right'", said Hester. As well as a 'right sound', there can also be a 'wrong sound' and she advised that, "it usually jars and makes you ask, ‘what's that?'" However, when it comes to sound, it's hard to be objective: "If you love a sound, you love it [and] if you hate a sound, then you hate it". Hence, it is tricky for a marketer to make objective decisions when it comes to evaluating the sounds 'emitted' by a brand without following some sort of rigorous research methodology. Fixed criteria needs to be established for such evaluations and the target audience must be involved in the listening process. 

Aural pleasure

"Don't forget your ‘brand soundscape’" seemed to be the main outtake of this presentation. And bring back the jingle was what I read between the lines. If this talk wasn't a sermon to the power of the good ol’ advertising jingle then I must have misinterpreted Hester’s statement that “brand sound cues don't need to be complex, they can be simple. However, they need to be memorable.” That sure sounds like the definition of a great jingle to me, and the content of this presentation must have surely been music to the ears of the Radio Network crew who were at the breakfast. 

And while the presentation was only a brief introduction to the topic of sound perception as it relates to branding, it certainly covered a number of bases related to the often overlooked, yet important, place that ‘aural pleasure’ has in crafting a brand identity. So the question becomes not only “how carefully are you listening to your audience?”, but also “how well can they 'hear' your brand and what sort of perceptions are its auditory cues creating in the target consumer's mind?”

So if you haven’t already, it’s probably time to book a meeting with your creative agency in order to talk about the ‘design’ of your sound logo. 

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