Sonic Branding for the Modern Marketer

I’m not sure when the word “jingle” went from being a popular way to promote your brand with music to a dirty word, but it happened.

There was a time when having a jingle was important to a brand. When the Oscar Myer jingle, the Klondike song, and others were expected and worked wonders as they infiltrated pop culture. Now we’re hearing people talk about sonic IDs, sonic branding and mnemonics—approaches that, in many ways, have replaced the jingle.

While I started out in this business, I worked as a broadcast producer at a large agency that supported the McDonald’s account. We were working on a music-driven campaign that McDonald’s wanted to not only be on people’s minds, but stuck in their heads like an ear-worm with their new I’m Loving It sonic ID. They even went as far as (once they chose the now-famous five notes) to have Justin Timberlake create a song that introduced the concept to the world. Hard to believe it was over 15 years ago that this spot was released.

This took a concept Intel had become famous for and raised it to new heights by incorporating a full-length branded song and a true identity that music (specifically pop music) was embraced by the brand. Of course, such a strategy can just as easily not work, as there are many examples of brands that went down the road of sonic branding only to regroup and try something else. It’s not an exact science.

So, how do you know if you should add sonic branding to your marketing plan and budget? Looking at it from this side of the business, here are a few questions you might ask:

Is your brand big enough to support mass distribution of visual and audio cues? If you are and the approach is sound, it’s likely to fly because you can saturate the market with media. If you are a smaller brand, you can still build recognition for your sonic ID locally so it sticks in people’s minds. My favorite example of this is the old Wachusett Mountain theme, which became so well known in New England that when they proposed a change, there was a public outcry. 

Do you want a sonic ID or a song? This is an important question, as sonic IDs/mnemonics are typically short pieces at the end of a spot. So, many brands opt for a song that immediately tells you it’s their advertising. Home Depot and Burger King are good examples of this. Whatever you choose needs to fit your brand personality across all forms of advertising. Target is a brand that is has been consistent in pushing the envelope on sound. By writing something original that sounds like it could be a single or licensing a cool new band/artist, their audio tracks support their vibrant, modern esthetic. The important thing is that they license relatively unknown artists so the song isn’t the brand, the sound is.

Why not use a big-name song? Because time and again, it’s the artist who gains recognition from that move, not the brand. There are a few exceptions, but rarely will a big-name song deliver the ROI from the money you’ll spend on it. Often, different brands license the same song many times over (I’m looking at you, KT Tunstall). Where is the brand equity in that?

Applying music to your brand can be a daunting endeavor because it’s so subjective and so broad. Just as you would when embarking on any new strategy from creative to media to production, talk to those with expertise in the business and talk to them early. You’ll be amazed by the results.

HiFi Project is a creative music studio and IHAF member company, delivering original music composition, supervision, sound design, artist-direct projects and client-direct music strategy services to in-house agencies and client-side marketers.

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