Home / Tech / Big brands including Mastercard, Visa, and Pandora are all trying to conquer sonic branding, the latest frontier in digital advertising

Big brands including Mastercard, Visa, and Pandora are all trying to conquer sonic branding, the latest frontier in digital advertising

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  • Major brands including Visa, Mastercard and Pandora are increasingly using sound to reinforce their brand identities and positioning, just as they would use certain colors, designs or words.
  • While sonic branding isn’t new, the rise of smartphones, voice technology and other digital devices and voice assistants have made marketers realize that they not only need to be seen, but also heard.
  • Brands are getting savvier about their sonic logos in terms of the processes they use to make them and how they tailor them to different audiences and situations.

  • Brands should ensure these experiences aren’t interruptive, though, say experts.

Last month, Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda collaborated with other artists and musicians around the world on a new project. It wasn’t an album or a concert — but rather, a sonic melody for Mastercard.

The resulting tune — which Mastercard plans to use everywhere from its commercials to when a customer completes a transaction — is one of the most recent and prominent examples of brands diving into sonic branding.

Major brands including Visa, Mastercard and Pandora are increasingly using sound to reinforce their brand identities and positioning, just as they would use certain colors, designs or words.

“Voice and sound have become a part of the cultural zeitgeist,” Greg Hedges, VP of emerging experiences at ad agency Rain, told Business Insider. “Brands are realizing that a signature sonic logo can represent their brand the same way that an iconic visual logo like the bullseye conveys that it’s Target.”

‘We are in the midst of an audio and voice renaissance’

To be sure, sonic branding isn’t new. NBC and Intel have consistently used their “Chimes” and “Intel Inside” sonic logos for decades.

But with the rise of smartphones, voice technology and other digital devices and voice assistants like Siri, Alexa and Google Home, marketers realize that they not only need to have distinct visual identities to be seen, but sonic presences across non-visual touchpoints to be heard.

“We are in the midst of an audio and voice renaissance,” said Lauren Nagel, executive creative director at Pandora, which just rolled out its sonic logo this week. “Consumer behavior is shifting toward sound and audio more than ever before.”

There will be 22.7 million people using smart speakers to shop in the US by the end of 2019, making up 32.5% of US smart speaker users, according to eMarketer. And voice shopping is projected to reach more than $40 billion in revenue by 2022, according to OC&C Strategy Consultants. 

“In places where we have visual real estate, we have optimized for our logo. But if there’s no visual real estate, like on smart speakers, then it’s all based on sound,” Raja Rajamannar, Mastercard’s chief marketing officer, told Business Insider. “That’s why we came up with Mastercard’s sound identity, our sonic brand.”

Brands are getting savvier about their sonic identities

Research shows that sonic logos not only help marketers tap into people’s emotions but help drive brand recall and strengthen affinity. They’re inherently designed to form implicit associations with a company in people’s minds.

“Sonic logos are a tactical asset,” said Pandora’s Nagel. “Brands that can harness the power of sound can then drive attention, recall, perception and even purchase intent.”

Brands, therefore, are getting savvier about their sonic logos, both in terms of how they’re derived as well as how they are tailored to suit different audiences and situations. 

Pandora, for example, took six months to develop its sonic logo, first identifying its core brand principles and then turning those principles into a pnemonic that communicated its brand, said Nagel. The company narrowed down 200  iterations of its logo to four through user-testing. It is now planning to turn this expertise into another revenue stream, helping other brands craft sonic identities. 

Mastercard, on the other hand, started off by creating one base branding sound, then adapted it to different cultures, scenarios and activities.

Swiping your Mastercard at a coffee shop for instance, would sound different than using it to shop online. The brand also created versions for different moods and musical genres, such as operatic and playful, as well as EDM and cinematic.

Demand for sonic branding continues to swell, but brands should be careful

Janet Levine, managing director of Invention+ at Mindshare, said that she had noticed a sizeable uptick in clients asking for audio strategies and sonic logos in recent months, and that she expected the demand to continue as these channels become more mainstream.

“We have regular workshops with a suite of exercises and mechanisms aimed at helping our clients break down their visual identities and generating ideas in voice and audio,” she said.

Dexter Garcia, co-founder at audio agency Audio UX, agreed, saying that he had seen a 75% increase in clients asking for audio strategies and sonic logos. But he warned against brands going for the overkill and using logos excessively, saying that they should first and foremost serve the user.

“While consistency is key, sonic logos must be optimized for different touchpoints,” he said. “Your flagship sonic logo should sound different on a flash briefing on Amazon Alexa versus your connected car.”

Ultimately, successful sonic logos should not be interruptive but give people experiences they want to repeat over and over, said Joel Beckerman, founder of global sonic studio Man Made Music.

“It’s not about producing ear candy; it’s about curating the experience.”

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