Is Sonic Branding Dead in the Digital Age?

I heard a fascinating piece of trivia the other day. The start up sound for Windows 95 was created by none other than Brian Eno of Roxy Music fame who also produced David Bowie and U2.

Which got me thinking about sonic branding (a.k.a. sonic logos or jingles) and whether they have any relevance in these days of digital marketing.

Well, major brands including McDonalds, Intel, and Apple seem to think so.


So what it is it about these little soundbites that make them so important?

They give a brand personality

In his book ‘Brand Sense’, Martin Lindstrom explores how for brands to grow, they need to take a multi-sensory approach to their marketing. By connecting to all of a potential customer’s senses, a brand can induce a strong emotional connection. When using social media or websites to advertise a product we cannot stimulate a customer with touch, taste or smell and therefore rely heavily on visuals and sound to form a relationship with a potential customer. Therefore by ignoring sound we are choosing to ignore a vital piece of our brand’s personality.

You know the brand without seeing it

Some sonic branding, like McDonalds’, ‘I’m Loving It’ are so ingrained in our minds that you don’t have to actually see their commercial to know exactly who it’s for and to be reminded of the brand and its values. This makes them very useful at the beginning of social media ads that can be skipped within a few seconds.

They belong to your brand and nothing else.

There has been a rise in recent years of brands licensing popular music to back their advertising; either using the original version or re-recording it to suit their own purposes. Famously, Moby’s album, ‘Play’ licensed every track for commercial purposes. The downside of this is that popular music often has an emotional connection to something else other than your brand. Far better to create your brand’s own sonic branding, and then it belongs to the brand only and its power cannot be diluted by competing emotional tugs.

They create an emotional response.

Music, even brief snippets creates a mood which the listener reacts to. Imagine: the opening sequence to ‘Jaws’ to the theme of Eastenders. Or what about the opening sequence of the Simpsons to the theme tune of the Archers. And would Darth Vadar be so menacing if he dominated the screen to sound of Chesney Hawkes singing, ‘I am the One and Only?’ They don’t work because the feel of the music is at odds with the images. We are programmed to respond to musical styles in a certain way. Therefore, a sonic logo can say so much about your company on an emotional level without actually saying anything at all.

They bring consistency to all your advertising.

Again, using McDonalds as an example, they use a range of creative treatments in their advertising depending on who they are targeting and whether they are promoting burgers, nuggets, coffee, ice cream, Happy Meals etc. What gives their advertising consistency is their ‘I’m Lovin’ It’ strapline coupled with their five note sonic brand logo.

They proactively engage with the consumer

This takes the initiative rather than expecting the consumer to passively engage with your brand first. Just by hearing the opening bars to Coca Cola’s, ‘Holidays are coming,’ evokes images of a long, lit up truck and warm fuzzy emotions linked with Christmases past.

They are highly memorable.

I can still sing the ‘Finger of Fudge’ or ‘Shake and Vac’ jingles that I grew up with. I didn’t set out to purposefully learn them. They become ‘ear-worms’ burying their way into my long term memory all on their own

Watch this short video of Mike Shinoda talking about how he developed Mastercard’s New Sonic Brand Identity.

Which begs the question, if sonic branding is so powerful and being used by some of the world’s biggest brands… why isn’t everybody else using them?