From insurance carriers to credit cards to snack chips, a growing number of brands are developing sonic identities to work in concert with their established visual images to help drive brand recall. While most brands have invested in visual identities, many are just now figuring out to personify their brand in sound. This has spawned an industry of audio agencies that specialize in developing sonic branding and comprehensive audio strategies for clients.
“There are so many emerging and existing platforms that are audio-only and many brands haven't really thought about what they sound like in that space and how they make sure they’re clearly recognizable if you can’t see the brand,” says Vijay Iyer, CEO of Detroit-based agency amp sound branding, which counts MasterCard, Indeed, Mercedes Benz, General Motors and various Kraft Heinz brands among its clients.
A strong audio identity is more than just a catchy jingle at the end of an ad. It involves audio that can be watermarked into the brand experience. For example, Philadelphia, the Kraft Heinz cream cheese, has a specific audio element for what it sounds like when you spread its cream cheese on a bagel to bring that sensory experience to life in audio.
The goal, says Iyer, is transferring the sensory experience into audio to make the brand clearly recognizable among all of its competitors. The combination of voice, sounds and music “lead to a much stronger engagement,” he says, “But it requires that you find the place of what your brand sounds like versus other brands.”
PepsiCo. has worked to ensure its marquee brands like Doritos, Tostitos, and Fritos developed strong sonic identities to match their own well-established visual images. For example, Tostitos was challenged to develop a sonic identity after the world reopened following the depths of the pandemic. PepsiCo saw that the occasions of people consuming Tostitos were moving back out of the home and into restaurants and other places beyond the home unit. The goal was to recreate the sound and feel of the moment when people come together “around the bowl,” using sound and music. Working with Made Music Studio, the brand produced an award-winning, music-based sonic brand that combines three sounds – the chip crunch, jar top pop, and the musical tone of using salsa jars as a drumkit.
To create sonic identities for clients, amp has a full production studio with composers on site. It employs an A&R team that works with artists around the globe for large multinational brands such as Indeed, so their musical identity can be culturally adapted to India, Germany and other regional markets.
Shaken, Not Stirred
Amp has looked to none other than James Bond for inspiration when it comes to creating sonic identities. The iconic film franchise has a long, storied history of reinterpreting its signature theme music with each new release while still retaining instantly recognizable elements. Amp employs a similar strategy when building audio toolboxes that brands can use in ad creative, a jingle, or a mnemonic that sounds at the point of sale or other stops along the path to purchase. It’s all meticulously researched throughout the process.
The importance of sonic branding isn’t lost on audio analytics and research platform Veritonic, which produces an annual Audio Logo Index of top audio logos as measured by logo recall, correct association to the brand and industry, and creative resonance – a measure of such elements as uniqueness, trustworthiness, and innovation. Folgers coffee, whose audio ad had a recall score of 94 and beat out all other spots created by consumer-packaged goods companies, came out on top in its 2022 index. Folgers was followed by three insurance companies – State Farm, Liberty Mutual and Farmers Insurance – with KFC rounding out the top five.
Adam Pleiman, Sonic Strategist and Creative Director at Cincinnati-based Play Audio Agency, which works with numerous Procter & Gamble brands, global nutrition company ADM, Sports Clips, and other major advertisers, says many brands have yet to take the sonic logo plunge. “There's still a lot of room for improvement when it comes to which brands have an audio logo,” he says. “It’s our belief that everyone should have one. There's a lot of room for others to step up.”