Sonic Branding: Boom or Bust?

July 6, 2022
Public Relations, Social Media
Clara Mattucci, Scott Pruden

In the business world, this instant sound recognition has been put to use by major brands who know how embedded in culture their jingles have become. Chances are you can’t hear the words “Like a good neighbor…” without hearing the State Farm jingle in your head. State Farm understands that, and realizes it takes only the first five notes of their classic jingle for your brain to fill in the “State Farm is there.”

The Sound of Memory

Sound plays an important part in our emotional lives. Chances are you have an early memory of one of the first songs you remember loving as a child and how it made you feel. Or perhaps there are sounds and music associated with specific events, time periods or people in your lives that instantly trigger feelings of nostalgia, happiness or longing every time you hear them.

These responses are often generational and call back to sounds that in many ways are lost to history. One age group might better appreciate the sound of a radio tuner going up and down the dial. Others, the distinctive noises of a computer modem connecting to the internet. And still others the branded ring of their original late-’90s mobile phone or the tone announcing that the doors of the subway are opening. Some generational sounds make a comeback, taking on new cultural meaning when they’re featured in an updated context.

The New Oral History

On a recent panel discussion on sonic branding, Lynn Pine, vertical manager for health and pharma, global business solutions at TikTok, talked about how the surging popularity of TikTok, a “sound-first” platform, calls back the ancient tradition of oral history and lore. “Sound is culture,” she said.

How can you tell? Think about how you or someone you know responds to a “TikTok sound” – either on TikTok or a similar platform like Instagram Reels – that remains static and unchanging but is repurposed in dozens of ways to serve the goals (comedic or otherwise) of the platform’s creators. Every creative contribution expands the cultural canon and shared meaning.

Sound as a Trigger

Another panelist, Ryan Billings of Organon, shared the fast impact of audio: “It takes only 0.164 seconds for sound to register in our brains – more than 18 times faster than visuals.” Consider how pop culture has filled our minds with sounds we can immediately identify and understand in as few as two “notes” – for instance, the ominous “Jaws” theme music or Darth Vader’s respirator.

So, how can your business use sound in your marketing and promotions efforts?

  • Start with your office phone system. What’s on your hold track? Does it accurately represent your business?
  • Choose a unique sound effect to kick off a podcast episode or segment to create anticipation.
  • Jingles still work, and today evoke feelings of nostalgia. Brands that have invested years in building their reputations should use these wistful feelings to their advantage.
  • Building a TikTok presence? Understand which sounds are popular and why, then customize your video and captions around those sounds to relate to your business or message.

So, what are the next steps for your business to better use sound in your marketing and social media? First, listen. Think about the ambient sounds that form the basis of your workplace. What do you do there? Is it more of a starship bridge or cartoon industrial site? What’s a single chord or group of notes that you feel would represent your business? In short, what does your company sound like? What emotions do you want your brand to trigger? Fun? Gravitas? Nostalgia? That’s the first step of understanding how your company will be able to represent itself sonically and potentially fit into sound-based social media platforms and marketing.

Want to chat about ways you can use sonic branding for your business? Connect with us on LinkedIn: Clara Mattucci Scott Pruden

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