The thing about being a musician in advertising is that it can be, well, difficult. I used to produce jingles at one point in time and if there’s any industry more influenced by personal preference than this, I’d be pleasantly surprised.
I remember once working on a radio jingle targeting 25ish first jobbers, and the agency I was collaborating with insisted that I be inspired by 70s Hindi cinema music. Why? Their client was a fan of the genre. Easy approvals, of course! Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I like 70’s Bollywood as much as anyone with a half decent taste in music and we all want to satisfy our clients. But the hard truth remains that most of us brand custodians unknowingly let our personal preferences in music take over the opportunity to make a better, and dare I say, a more wholesome ad. The idealist in me often wondered where emotional resonance and brand connect are lost during this process. Almost 10 years later, now on the agency side, selling ideas to brands all day, our decision making process usually remains the same. There has to be a better way, surely?
Back when we had 30 seconds to tell a story on TV or radio, we made use of catchy music or sounds so that consumers would remember the brand through these. Now in the digital age, we are making investments in capturing consumers’ attention and not on retention, which means we are neglecting emotion and neuroscience-led learnings. We seem to be playing to just one of the senses: sight and have optimised for visual consistency, but, new-age marketing has become a victim of what I’d like to call “branding indiscipline”, forgetting a powerful and effective agent of influence: sound.
Music is an abstract stimulus; one that can arouse feelings - especially of joy and craving. Think Pavlov’s theory of classical conditioning. Music and sound bypass rational thought and invoke memories, but few brands are using them in a strategic manner. Today’s internet-first brands don’t necessarily have a tangible presence and with much less scope for direct interaction with their consumers, any touchpoint becomes an opportunity to establish an emotional connection.
Case in point? Netflix’s mnemonic that plays at the beginning of their originals originates (apparently) from Frank Underwood’s double table knock in House of Cards. Did the brand do this willingly? Unsure. But users sure have gotten used to this as an indication of a Netflix original about to play.
Let me give you a homegrown example: Ola’s kweek-kweek sound that plays when the driver arrives at your location for example, is a simple, action-inducing sound that makes you aware of the car being ready to leave. Imagine Ola extending the auto horn sound from their films to the app to notify users when their auto has arrived. Now that would be an effortless addition making the user’s brand experience far better!
From what I’ve seen, most brands don’t give music and sound the importance it deserves either because they think no one pays attention (I’m sorry, but you are mistaken!) or because they struggle with the process and the fact that its benefits are not immediately obvious. In addition to this, with stock music being readily and easily available, agencies recommend slapping a track on that goes with the mood and vibe of the film. And what happens if the client doesn’t like it? Simple, just pick another track. No thought behind whether it’s furthering the brand story or not.
Brands need to wake up to the possibility of sound and work with specialists to establish their sonic personalities, just like they establish visual guidelines. Brand owners, custodians and stakeholders should spend time to translate their brand’s personality and align these to musical attributes. This alone will help them determine what genre of music, voices, instruments, time signatures and tempo is best suited to their brand. Not just that, it will even help them pick the right kind of stock music. Just like a visual mood board, every brand must work on an acoustic mood board, containing audio samples reflective of their brand’s personality.
One of my favourite brands Paper Boat, seems to have some sort of acoustic identity in place, but there’s scope to do a lot more and with consistency. I’ve put together a mini acoustic mood board for the brand, basis my understanding of their personality. Take a look:
Sonic branding is not just about creating an audio mnemonic. It is a process that brands should undertake to define what it sounds like to the world. With devices like the Apple HomePod and AirPods, smart watches and AI assistants like Siri and Google Assistant gaining popularity, the opportunity for brands to make emotional connections with their consumers is only increasing. In fact, I think the future of retail, healthcare, VR, in-app navigation and on-ground experiences will have much dependence on sound and we will be humanising all digital touch points, making them appeal a lot more to their consumers.
Brands must open their ears to sound and music (once again) to improve interactions (especially digital) and consistently make consumer experiences far more intuitive and purposeful. The key is consistency and evolution, to stay relevant. And this is not just a massive opportunity, but an effortless addition to craft a unique statement.
(The author is group account director at Dentsu Webchutney, Bengaluru.)