What Is Sonic Branding? Part 2
If you read Part 1 of our Sonic Branding series, you may be wondering if brands should bother investing in a sound logo (aka audio or sonic logo). The truth is, there’s no single answer – it depends on your brand. But an audio logo can be both a highly functional brand asset and a foundational tool for defining a sonic brand identity. Here, we’ll review three different approaches to designing an audio logo.
But first, a quick word on audio logos vs. jingles. “The best part of waking up…”? That’s a jingle. While a jingle is a form of sonic branding, it’s structured more like a song with vocals and lyrics that include the brand name and tagline: “... is Folgers in your cup.” However, jingles are less commonly used in contemporary marketing, where the ad lengths on TV, digital, and social are getting shorter and shorter.
So what’s an audio logo then? Like a visual logo, an audio logo is a distinct and ownable brand asset that represents a brand’s personality through sound. An audio logo is generally very short in length, running 2-3 seconds, and is often placed at the end of a commercial or other brand messaging. An audio logo is also often paired with an animated version of a visual logo to help build brand awareness.
A melodic approach to an audio logo is closest in spirit to a jingle, in that it’s centered around a hummable melody often composed of 3 to 5 notes. NBC, Intel, T-Mobile are all examples of melodic instrumental audio logos.
Many of the most recognizable current audio logos actually originated as jingles. Brands like McDonald’s and State Farm have built substantial equity and recognition over decades through their consistent use of a melodic tagline (“I’m Lovin’ It”; “Like a Good Neighbor…”). Both jingles featured the brand name or message being sung through a longer-form music composition. But as content has gotten shorter with the rise of digital and social channels, many legacy brands like McDonald’s and State Farm have successfully adapted their well-known melodies to better suit new and varied formats.
A melodic audio logo can be an effective way to build brand recall, but can also be challenging to integrate into a wider range of content and moods. For example, if the audio logo is super upbeat and playful, that won’t work if the music or content is more serious or somber. One solution is to create a set of logo variations, where the core brand melody always remains the same, but the musical instrumentation or underlying harmonies are altered to better suit the mood.
While some brands focus on brand recall when composing a hummable 3- to 5-note melody for a audio logo, others prioritize mood or emotion through a more textural approach to sound design. For example, the Netflix “ta-dum” audio logo is highly recognizable even if it’s not hummable, due in no small part to its consistent, repetitive use (it’s played every time new content is streamed), but also as a result of its distinct cinematic sound design. The percussive and weighted audio logo, paired with the dynamic visual logo animation, conveys a sense of excitement and anticipation through an energetic, propulsive textural sound that conveys the filmgoing experience.
Since it’s less reliant on a core melody, a textural audio logo tends to be more neutral and can therefore be more easily woven into a wider range of content. In the case of Netflix, the audio logo can fluctuate between adding dramatic weight or upbeat energy to the beginning of a viewing experience. Textural audio logos are often even shorter than melodic ones, sometimes clocking in at 1-2 seconds.
A textural logo can be an effective way to convey mood and energy, and with less reliance on melody, it can fit more easily with a range of music and key signatures. But it can also be challenging to create a textural sound that is ownable and differentiated from the competition.
Textural logos can sometimes be confused for a sound effect and not perceived as a distinct sonic brand asset. That’s why it’s critical at the beginning of the design process to determine the brand’s key personality attributes and intended mood in order to develop a set of distinct sonic ingredients related to tempo, rhythm, motion, or tactile elements that can be used to express the brand and that can be layered into a sonic brand texture to build something that stands apart.
Melodic audio logos might be more hummable and textural audio logos might better capture mood, but they’re not the only approaches to an audio logo. A more recent pattern has emerged – for product-focused technology brands in particular – where a sound that is heard in the product is also used as an audio logo. For example, Google has been using the startup sound of Chromebook and notification sound of Google Assistant at the beginning of their ads. Using a product sound as an audio logo helps reinforce the product truth and brand personality, and holistically connects brand and product experiences through repeated use of the sound across platforms.
A product sound doubling as an audio logo can be an efficient and effective way to build brand recognition. However, audio logos and product sounds are usually designed with a different intention and different design specifications, which can sometimes make it challenging to integrate a product sound into ads or brand content. Product sounds usually serve in support of a visual experience or user interface, so they’re designed to be highly functional and concise, using minimal instruments or very few layers of sound in order to achieve the intended result.
A sound that works effectively within a product might land a little flat when it’s placed in an ad that has fully arranged music and sound design. One way to optimize a product sound for use as a logo is to design a variation of the product sound that has additional layers, musical instrumentation or texture to add fullness, weight, and distinction so that it more easily integrates into content and stands out as a signature brand sound.
Ok, so every product-driven brand should also design their own product sounds? You may be noticing a pattern in this series – the answer really depends on a brand's business priorities and where sound can have the biggest impact. In Part 3 of this series, we’ll dive into product sounds and explore how they’re utilized to build a sonic brand identity.