Why Sound Is More Effective Than Visuals
by Het Financieele Dagblad
Using a jingle to identify a brand – however annoying – is cheaper and more effective than a visual brand logo. Businesses that invest in audio marketing have known this for ages. Only now is science starting to understand why.
Less and less is being left to chance
Kamma-yaaya-yippie-yippie-yay! Hornbach is now a brand you recognise with your eyes closed, but that particular snatch of tune has precious little to do with DIY. With a little imagination you could hear something cowboy-like in it; something a bit masculine. But it’s mainly just a kind of audio nonsense, like the Dutch slogan ‘Retteketet naar Beter Bed’ (‘Retteketet, get to Better Bed’). The first word has no specific meaning at all – but it works.
It almost seems like it’s totally irrelevant what the brand sounds like, as long as that particular sound becomes ingrained in the target group’s ears. Once you’ve heard it ten thousand times, I’m Lovin’ It becomes almost as familiar as the famous McDonald’s golden arches visual logo. Five synthesizery tones are enough to tell many people: Intel Pentium Inside.
In reality, the development of a brand jingle – sorry, a ‘sonic identity’ – leaves less and less to chance. The music industry and academia are increasingly coming together in the area of audio marketing or sonic branding. Together, they are deciding what companies should sound like – from advertising music to a sonic logo, from a start-up tune to the sound of a car door slamming.
“You can get a long way by just consistently repeating something, but it does actually matter how well it fits the particular brand,” says Moos Lamerus, musician and COO at MassiveMusic, an international creative music agency located on the banks of the River IJ in Amsterdam. “People will more readily remember a sound that suits the brand, and make the link to the brand more easily.”
“We try to remove subjectivity from the choice of music,” he reveals. This spring MassiveMusic, who make music for the likes of Apple, Philips and the Olympic Games, launched MassiveBASS, a sonic branding tool in cooperation with SoundOut. This tool measures how well a sound is remembered, how distinctive it is and whether it is appropriate for a brand.
The two companies played hundreds of audio clips to more than half a million consumers. They evaluated the clips in relation to more than two hundred different attributes, including familiar, authentic, cool, seductive, daring or pleasant. So it was possible to identify which feelings were evoked by particular sounds.
The aim is to make it easier for marketeers, who don’t usually have a musical background, to pinpoint sounds that are appropriate to what they are trying to express. For BMW it’s all about performance, for Mercedes luxury and for Volvo safety. The tool developed by MassiveMusic gives the composer an indication of what musical genre, instrumentation, timbre and tempo fit the bill.
The small amount of research carried out into the effect of music or sound is nothing compared to the mountains of data on the effectiveness of advertisements, logos or graphic design. What little we do have tends to indicate that it does improve the impact of commercial messages. Marketing expert Les Binet, for example, found that TV advertising was 16% more effective when supported by appropriate music.
One year ago, analysis by research agency Ipsos showed that a characteristic brand sound was used in just 8% of adverts, while a brand colour was used far more frequently (69%), despite a sound being considerably more effective at grabbing attention. Advertising that includes audio appropriate to the brand being advertised performs eight times better, whereas with a brand colour the effect is not even one-and-a-half times better.
The reason for this is that consumers are engulfed every day by a tsunami of visual stimuli. “Sound is able to cut through the blur and evoke memories and emotions directly in consumers,” Moos says. “Marketeers want to get into our long-term memories. They can do this by adding emotion to an experience. Music and sound are supremely able to achieve this.”
What’s more, businesses are seeing an explosion in audio consumption, thanks in part to all kinds of technical innovations. Not only audio books, Spotify, TikTok, podcasts and earpods. This consumption is also being driven by smart speakers and audio assistants such as Google Home and Amazon Alexa, which make listening interactive.
Although music has played a commercial role since the radio jingles of a century ago, still surprisingly few companies are investing in a voice of their own. Research by the University of London suggests that the vast majority (87%) of brands are playing dumb, and not making any noise. The companies that are including audio in their massive brand books are among the avant-garde.
Two years ago, it was reported that MasterCard was spending no less than €15 million on a ‘sonic brand identity’ – the audio equivalent of the payment service’s familiar yellow and red circles. Even Mike Shinoda of the band Linkin Park got involved. The result is a rather nondescript series of tones, which thanks to MasterCard’s marketing clout will no doubt soon be an inescapable earworm.
Such a new, brand-specific sound is often accompanied by a sophisticated idea. In 2017, Coca-Cola replaced its audio signature with a five-tone melody that allows new slogan Taste the Feeling to be sung, and suggests the sound of the opening, pouring and drinking of a bottle of coke. Philips’ sonic identity consists of all kinds of sounds made by lightbulbs. Once you know it, you can hear it.
It’s important to avoid clichés when coming up with a brand sound. There are plenty of these around. KPN, Eyewish, Toyota Aygo, Iglo, Remia: all make use of the same cheerful melody. Hundreds of thousands are spent on audio logos for cars, but they all sound fast, masculine and metallic. Just like when it comes to perfumes, everyone always speaks in a whisper. “Another pitfall is to use a well-known melody or track,” says Marijn Roozemond, who with MassiveMusic has developed audio identities for companies such as Philips, UBS and ING. He believes it is better to compose something new that is completely your own, rather than use existing music, which people already have associations with. “Quite apart from the licensing fees this involves, it’s often very difficult to re-mould the existing associations and really tie it into your own brand.”
“The mere exposure effect is indeed an important social effect,” Moos adds. “The power of consistent repetition builds a certain familiarity and sympathy, which allows a strong brand to ask a higher price. This is where being distinctive is important. We investigated the Hornbach sound and found that it is distinctive; people recognise it as Hornbach.”