Published: 28th Apr 2023

Riding the sonic branding wave; the importance of using audio

Junjie Wei - Junior Strategist

Marketers underestimate the power of sound. According to research by Ipsos, fewer than one in 10 brand assets use audio cues despite the fact that they are, on average, almost three times more effective than visual cues. Meanwhile, most consumers recall audio cues better than visual cues and feel they know a brand’s personality better and feel more connected via music.

The strategic use of audio cues in the form of music, voice and sound to articulate a brand is defined as sonic branding. Classic examples include McDonald’s ‘I’m Lovin It’ jingle and Netflix’s ‘ta-dum’ introduction sound. Very soon, we expect sonic branding to play a bigger role in helping brands stand out from the crowd – but why?

Sonic Branding 1

Turning up the volume

Audio-only environments are dramatically increasing in number. Podcasts and smart speakers have exploded as new media for news and entertainment. Google allows people to search for a song stuck in their head by humming the tune.

OC&C Strategy estimates that 48% of UK households will own a smart speaker by the end of 2022. The voice shopping economy will rise to £3.5bn (about $4.3bn), from £0.2bn in 2017.

The crowded media landscape helps too. 15 years ago, a person was estimated to be exposed to 5,000 promotional messages a day. In today’s digitized world, dominated by social media, that figure must be far higher. Consumers are tuning out these messages. Distinctive audio assets present a good opportunity for brands to cut through the noise.

Sonic Branding 2

Top of the Pops: Mastercard and Just Eat

While sonic branding has been on the horizon for some time, only about 20% of the world’s top 100 brands have a definable sonic identity. Some brands see sonic branding as music production, rather than a part of the holistic and complete consumer experience.

A sonic brand should embody a brand’s unique proposition.

Mastercard introduced a sonic brand identity to represent its assurance of payment security, trust and acceptance with a unique melody that plays when customers interact with the brand online or in-store. Earlier this year, the brand released a music album, Priceless, featuring that melody in every song. The composers are emerging talents from various cultures, languages and genres.

The sonic branding evokes Mastercard’s network, bringing people, businesses and opportunities together.

Brand value is not built in a day. Building a recognizable sonic identity takes time. Mastercard’s chief marketing officer admits that it will take four or five years for a sonic brand to become ubiquitous. A long-term view is essential, along with proper discovery, research, strategy, understanding and technical optimization.

Mastercard conducted two years of research into audio brand building and worked with multiple parties, including artists, composers, musicologists and agencies. Sensitivity to cultural variation demands a step-by-step rollout after completion: it was first introduced in the US and then other markets such as Italy, Berlin, the UK and Spain.

Now consider Just Eat’s jingle ‘Did somebody say Just Eat?’ As the takeaway market consolidates, a distinguished and clear brand identity is essential. To celebrate the delight people feel when their takeaway arrives, the jingle’s melody is catchy and upbeat. This sonic logo has helped make the brand the most effective and recognizable of all UK brands.

Sonic Branding 3

Tuning up

Sonic branding presents an opportunity for brands to stand out from their competition and have a real impact on brand value. The rise of voice shopping further amplifies the value of sonic assets in brand building.

The first step toward success is adopting a long-term mindset. A recognizable sonic brand doesn’t happen overnight; it requires examining key aspects of branding, including purpose, brand value and audience.

Brands then need to translate assets into audio cues in a way that resonates with consumers. But this isn’t the destination. It takes several years to build a sonic identity as recognizable as a visual identity. All these efforts involve massive investment in both finance and time.

It’s paramount to remember the complementary nature of sonic identity to brand assets. A strong audio cue must fit with visual assets and be integrated into brand experience across all touchpoints. Otherwise, there won’t be any solid associations with that identity built into consumers’ minds. Brands must identify where audio assets fit in throughout the journey, and how these cues cooperate with other elements to deliver a unified experience.

Junjie Wei - Junior Strategist