Breaking Through the Noise: The Use of Audio in Marketing
Jan 30, 2017
Gluten – it all started with gluten.
In 1926, General Mills was looking for ways to boost their product sales of Wheaties, amazing gluten-filled Wheaties —which at the time had been failing as a product line (I can hear Michael Jordan sobbing now).
One of General Mills’ executives decided to try a new approach to promoting the Wheaties brand in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, and thus the first radio jingle was born, “Have You Tried Wheaties?”
Just three years later, corporate executives noticed an uptick in sales, specifically in the regions broadcasting the new jingle. This ultimately saved the product and helped make Wheaties a household name.
It’s been a long time since consumers first heard “Have You Tried Wheaties?” on the radio, but the use of music and sound in marketing has never been more relevant.
The term “sonic branding” isn’t always something that’s immediately apparent to consumers and marketing execs alike. Why? Because you can see logos and read a quick catch-phrase or slogan—they are right in front of your face! Literally, right there instantly waiting for you to read and observe them again and again.
Music, on the other hand, is much more abstract, and comes with a very different set of inherent challenges. You can’t hold a piece of music in front of you (I’m not talking about sheet music here). You can’t touch it. You can’t hang it in front of you at your desk or put it on a billboard. To experience it, you have to take time to hear it. And if it’s repeated too many times in a short period, it can actually get annoying and actually cause an adverse experience for the audience. However, if you look at some of the world’s most iconic consumer brands, nearly all of them have a very clear sonic brand, despite these challenges
So why do brands find value in this? As General Mills discovered with Wheaties, music is something everyone can relate to. We have quite literally evolved to have an emotional relationship to sound. Seth Horowitz has an excellent book on this subject called The Universal Sense. In the book he describes the human relationship to sound.
Think about the last horror or action movie you’ve seen. These are typically mixed with loads of bass. This gives a sense of profound energy and power, sometimes it can even invoke fear. Why? Well one theory is that we as a human species evolved to fear things related to low and loud sounds—thunderstorms, earthquakes, volcanoes, large animals, you know, things that can actually kill you. So it’s only natural to utilize this inherent relationship in film.
Brands want to connect with their audience on an emotional level. Music is the most powerful way to do this. However, because of the aforementioned challenges with music, these companies must find a way to pack that emotion into something that can be as digestible as a visual logo or slogan. Something that is simple and relatable – just like a good visual logo. Here are a few earworms that you probably recognize:
Intel: A musical interval of an open 4th followed by an open 5th.
Windows 95: Composed by the iconic electronic music producer, Brian Eno.
THX: One of the first computer generated sound logos written in C (the programming language, not the key) with more than 20,000 lines of code.
Sonic branding has quickly moved beyond jingles and sound logos into every aspect of our technological lives – and it’s only going to become more pervasive. Just think about all the sounds you hear just scanning your groceries at the self-checkout, or the default ringtones on your new cell phone, or even what the inherently silent electric cars will sound like in the future.
This is an exciting time for the audio industry. Sound is no longer confined to video and radio productions, or even our own reality. What ways do you see music and audio promoting brands in the future? Tweet me @joebasilemusic or leave a comment on our Facebook page and let me know your thoughts.