The pop of a champagne bottle signals a celebration. The sizzle of a steak makes you salivate. In the 1970s, the Big B’s baritone was a symbol of Amitabh Bachchan’s ‘angry young man’ persona. The sound of a leather ball on bat conjures images of a trademark Sachin Tendulkar drive. In our lives, sound has meaning—more importantly, it creates moods, feelings and emotions. The cacophony of patakas (firecrackers) heralds the arrival of Diwali, while the ringing of temple bells connotes prayer.
Audio power: Kamath notes that even silence can be a sound.
In the world of brands, too, sound can become a potent weapon for creating greater consumer engagement. According to Martin Lindstorm, “sensory branding” is the new mantra and sound is one of the five senses that can be used to greatly enhance the consumer’s experience of a brand.
We often speak of a brand’s look and feel. We often emphasize a brand’s style and attitude. Well, how about a brand’s voice?
Brands have always used sound in their communication, but primarily to aid recall through the use of audio mnemonics, or evocative signature music. The classical Titan soundtrack or Britannia’s tintin dri tin have made us remember these brands with almost Pavlovian conditioning.
However, in this age of creating powerful sensory connections, I believe brands must deploy sound to go beyond just aiding recall. Sound now needs to be used to evoke feelings and emotions around the brand. After all, the senses are the portals to our emotions—the distinctive throb of a Harley engine that means freedom and adventure to its riders. Or, the total peace and quiet inside a Rolls Royce—who can forget David Ogilvy’s legendary headline for the car: “At 60 miles per hour, the only sound you hear is the ticking of the electric clock”. That’s silence as a sound, if you like.
And, I’m not talking about using sound as an advertising device alone, but about building it into the overall brand experience.
Let’s take a look at some brands that have used sound imaginatively to create great emotional connections, and in the process have created a brand voice.
Brazilian beer brand Brahma owned and used the tssss sound of the cap coming off the bottle so beautifully that beer drinkers began mouthing tssss to be served a chilled Brahma at bars.
Kellogg’s built its Rice Crispies product around the magic of ‘snap-crackle-pop’ embedded in the product, and caught the imagination of kids the world over. I’m told Kellogg’s commissions consumer studies to explore the relationship between crunch and taste for its cereals business.
Closer home, Kingfisher, our king of good times, has made its jingle go beyond a nice piece of music, to actually evoke the brand’s values of fun, enjoyment and flamboyance. The reggae style oo-lala-la-ley-o transports you onto the beaches of the Caribbean, chilled beer in hand. Recently, at a beach in Goa, I actually saw a group of youngsters rollicking in the water, all singing the Kingfisher jingle.
Nokia’s distinctive signature ringtone has become a great calling card for the brand. Of the 400 million handsets Nokia has sold, let’s assume at least 20% users retain the default ringtone. That makes it 20 million consumers whose phone always rings with the Nokia tune. Assuming an average number of 11 rings per day at 4.5 seconds per ring, it works out to five hours per year, multiplied by 20 million! Now, that’s a huge amount of unpaid advertising! And, every time you hear that distinctive ring go off in a crowded public place, it subconsciously cues Nokia’s immense popularity in this society.
The crackling sound of the breaking of a KitKat is an intrinsic part of the ritual of eating the chocolate. The crackle is synonymous with the brand idea of ‘having a break’.
Or, for that matter, what sound does a computer chip make? Ask Intel. The semi-conductor giant has invested in the ‘wave sound’ as an intrinsic part of its branding experience. Every time you hear the wave, you feel the power of the Intel processor.
If used well, sound can make brands stand out uniquely in a visually cluttered world. Marketers and brand custodians need to spend quality time on understanding this. Semioticians need to develop effective research tools to study sound as part of a brand’s experience. And advertising creative directors need to stop treating these as ‘restrictions’ to their creative process, and start to think how they can use this very potent weapon to enhance the consumer’s relationship with their brands.
Perhaps, in addition to the growing breed of graphic designers who create the brand look, we need a new animal: the ‘sound designer’, who can give the brand a voice.
Subhash Kamath is CEO, Bates India, an advertising agency.