Using audio to cement a marketing message is as old, at least, as the jingle itself. But in an era when every touchpoint is a marketing opportunity and sound is everywhere, the idea of having a signature sound has been cranked up to 11.
Brands whose ads used sonic branding were over eight times more likely to be recognized and correctly attributed than those that did not, according to Ipsos research. Yet, according to the same study, only 6% of the more than 2,000 pieces of video creative reviewed contained sonic branding, while 91% contained a logo.
That gap is one of the reasons WPP recently saw fit to acquire amp, according to Michele Arnese, the sonic branding agency’s founder and CEO. Looking forward, amp sees a role for sonic branding across every facet of a brand and is betting that artificial intelligence can boost the strategy by enabling marketers to tailor a sonic brand while maintaining consistency.
“If you look at a lot of brands today, there are many that have a sound, but they don’t know how it's coming to life in all of the communications,” Arnese said.
Every sound counts
Think about the sound an Xbox makes when it powers up, or a Tesla when it backs up, or, in one of the more comprehensive campaigns amp has worked on, the six-notes a credit card reader makes after completing a Mastercard transaction. All of these are examples of sonic branding, because they are sounds that exemplify the brands in every area, Arnese said.
“A good sonic brand is one that is both instantly recognizable and flexible enough to be adapted to many purposes,” Arnese said. “Good sonic branding will allow a brand to utilize core melodies and riffs in global markets. This may involve the commissioning of well-respected artists in certain localities to reinterpret a brand’s sonic identity in an authentic and culturally relevant way, all while preserving the brand’s core sound.”
Arnese points to amp’s work on Mastercard as an example of such flexibility. The brand is about halfway through a 10-layer sonic branding plan that began with a signature melody and has evolved into an album of songs inspired by the signature created by artists from around the world.
“Sonic branding can, and should, exist throughout every facet of a brand. From consumer touchpoints to internal communications and beyond, a brand should be as sonically immersed as possible,” Arnese said. “Every sound shared by a brand should be intentional and connected to a greater sonic identity.”
Indeed, many brands are already creating sound palettes without realizing it. One of the reasons WPP acquired amp is so that clients can be more intentional in all of the ways they reach consumers, per Arnese.
“We are bringing the opportunity to not consider sound as an afterthought,” he said. “If you launch a campaign with a [signature] sound, you are making it more thoughtful.”
Turning up the volume
The thoughtfulness needed for strong sonic branding will take a new turn as amp, which will join WPP’s design unit, Landor & Fitch, brings more AI into the mix. The brand is set to release a new toolset, Sonic Hub, that will use AI to create and manage sonic assets at scale. The approach uses AI to ensure that a brand’s audio content is consistent yet tailored to diverse audiences and touchpoints.
“AI is not replacing what we do; it’s a helper,” Arnese said. “It is helping differentiate different moments of the process, recognizing uniqueness and converting that into different emotions … It helps to create something new out of something existing.”
This opportunity to use AI for sonic branding will likely amplify its potential to be used as a marketing tactic.
Meanwhile, new data is demonstrating that closely aligning a brand with a signature sound is a tactic that works. A study by Sentient Decision Science and sonic branding agency Made Music found sound can influence engagement with a brand – both positively and negatively – by 86%. Another study by Audacy and Veritonic found that podcast and radio advertising using sonic branding had 14% higher ad recall and a 2% increase in purchase intent than those that did not.
“Many people think that sonic branding is nothing more than a ‘jingle,’ however this couldn’t be further from the truth,” said Arnese. “This may have been the case in the era of limited radio advertising, but now, with the addition of so many new audible customer touchpoints, brands need to build differentiation through audio recognition in many different ways across an entire brand ecosystem. This is where a modern approach to sonic branding comes to life.”