Sonic branding — using sound to level-up a brand’s emotional connection to its consumers

Thom Dudley

To successfully connect and stand out in the sea of sensory input consumers are bombarded with, brands have to build emotional bonds with consumers. 

To start, they do this with storytelling, and the most immediate way to tell the story is through visual stimuli — text, type, the choice of colors and shapes and graphic elements. But the visual road is just one way to the consumer’s heart. To be sticky, meaning that our brand stays with people even after they’ve stopped interacting with it, we want to appeal to as many senses as we can. Food brands can appeal through taste and smell and electronics brands consider the heft and feel of a product’s surface, but these avenues are only available once the consumer is in close enough physical range to smell, taste, and touch.    

Enter, sonic branding, which refers to the sounds or songs associated with a brand, product, or service. 

“Sound is touch at a distance” 

~Anne Fernald, Professor of Psychology, Stanford University

While this characterization of sound in branding is new(ish) to the lexicon, jingles and theme songs go back to the early days of radio, so obviously this concept is nothing new. 

I’m sure you can think of a commercial from your childhood right now. Why? Because the emotional response to sound is extremely strong. A song you haven’t heard in decades can catapult you back to a specific time or place. Just think about the phenomenon of having a song stuck in your head —  a fragment that plays over and over again, sometimes to frustrating ends, only to vanish as quickly as it arrived. Most humans can identify the signature of a noise or song within 2/10 of a second. 

When you picture the MGM lion, do you hear that distinct growl in your head along with the image? If you read the line, “We. Are. Farmers…” do you automatically complete the “bum-ba-bum-bum-bum-bum-bum” of the insurance jingle in your head? 

Part of the strength of sonic branding lies in our very human desire to seek and recognize patterns. A strong sonic brand is unique enough to “feel” fresh and new, while tapping something deep and familiar. 

“The imagining of music, even in relatively nonmusical people, tends to be remarkably faithful not only to the tune and feeling of the original but to its pitch and tempo…Our auditory systems, our nervous systems, are indeed exquisitely tuned for music.”

~Oliver Sacks, Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain

To put a little data behind it, adding sound to a brand’s arsenal has proven effective — music can increase brand recognition by 46%.

So let us know. Is your brand using sound? To get a little taste of how we’ve been playing around with sonic branding at BRIGADE, take a look at this audio visual exploration our designers put together. 

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