This edition of The EarBlog comes from Eardrum Europe’s Creative Director Paul Wauters.
These are exciting times for audio and radio people, suddenly we’re in demand and almost cool! But how do brands live in a world where eyes are given a rest, and voices and ears take over? Surely we were prepared for this? Let’s open the brand book and skip the visual identity to go straight to… hold on, where’s the chapter on audio identity?
Nope, there isn’t one.
Fortunately, many brands have been using radio, so they’ve been building their consistent brand sound with a distinctive image and personality.
Ahh, no. Wrong again.
If this sample taken from last week’s French airwaves is anything to go by, most brands on radio sound exactly the same.
1. The Sonic Logo
Okay, so it’s time to think audio brand personality. Some brands have seen what’s going on and rushed to their local audio logo shop. These sonic brand triggers, audio logos or eh, jingles, are going on every piece of communication; at the end of an ad, or all across the longer version. They become the telephone hold music, at the point of sale, digital or physical, and now they can accompany a podcast or streaming service ad, and, of course, integrate nicely into the world of Alexa etc.
But for some reason, no matter how many months work or Grammy award winners they throw at these projects, the majority of sonic logos end up sounding a little like the Grand Daddy of them all – Intel.
There’s so much more sonic territory to explore. Maybe we can learn something from producers like Pharrell Williams, who ‘signs’ each song he produces with four beats. Mike WiLL, American hip hop record producer, slips a not so very subtle “Mike WiLL Made it” in. Jahlil Beats incorporates a production tag into all his songs of his 3-year-old niece ordering “Jahlil Beats holla at me”.
Interesting, because they don’t interrupt but give a hint of personality. Creating a little phrase or even an animal call can do a good job at instantly positioning a brand. I liked the old Yahoo sound logo for this reason, perfectly in line with their mission: have fun exploring:
I also love these ones, at the end of Rick & Morty.
But there are signature sounds that comfortably nest in our brains and take us to a brand instantly: the sound of a Harley engine, the Mac opening sound, the old Nokia earworm; sounds that are so closely connected to those brands, that wherever they are heard, it’s a little ad floating through the space you hear it in. This is certainly an area of opportunity: what does an Otis elevator sound like, what does a Peugeot horn sound like, what do you hear when you insert your Marriott hotel room key?
3. Creating Sonic Celebrities
Voice-overs are rarely part of the brand ambassadors club, but if they are, it’s incredibly powerful. I can’t think of a better example than Motel 6; they have been using Tom Bodett since 1986. His is the voice of their wake-up calls and he’s the host of their podcast. More often than not though, most voice-overs sound like voice-overs, they inform, but barely contribute to the brand personality.
Today, more than ever, brands use three basic emotions: joy, joy and joy. The tone of voice of 90% of all brands is confident, optimistic and happy. We need emotional diversity or brands become interchangeable. We all like the bad guys and fruitcakes. Head & Shoulders showcased some interesting “different” personalities in this campaign:
You know where your brain goes when someone says “shaken, not stirred” or “Doh!”. Some brands have phrases that find their way into popular culture, too, and it’s not always the brand tagline. ‘Wassup’ lived on for many years after the campaign ended. ‘I’m loving it’ has made its way into our daily lives with some help from Justin Timberlake. Having a catchy brand name helps, but if you don’t have one of those, you can create your own brand vocabulary. “Hello Moto” was brought back for the relaunch of Motorola in 2016, and is regularly used by deejays. “Like a girl” is also now synonymous with Always. Hearing those words, even out of context, will take us there every time.
Verbal identity, the way a brand expresses itself is being added to the list in certain award shows, as part of the design category. Volvo got the treatment in 2017 and took out the Grand LIA at the that year’s awards.
The importance of a certain way of speaking: smart, elegant, daft, cold, simplistic, staccato, flowery, witty, engineery. A brand in the audio world could do with a clearly defined writing style, to feed that audio personality. So that people can say “that sounds like something brand X would say”.
So, when you break down all the elements that go into it, it’s not surprising that many agencies and brand identity specialists struggle with creating a brand’s sound. Which is why they’re teaming up with audio specialists such as Eardrum. Together we can make a brand come to life in every sense.