How the evolving popularity of sonic branding has impacted the commercial music industry

How the evolving popularity of sonic branding has impacted the commercial music industry

Back in the days when the Spice Girls had multiple endorsement deals and Microsoft paid the Rolling Stones millions to use Start Me Up in its Windows 95 ads, musicians rarely wanted anything from brands except a big cheque.

Today, more collaborative partnerships have become the norm, with brands wooing stars with opportunities for creative input and raised profile rather than cold, hard cash.

Most recently, for example, Coca-Cola partnered with Tyler, the Creator for its campaign, ‘Open That Coca-Cola’. Tyler, the Creator created an exclusive track for the campaign, overlaid with sounds that represent the enjoyment people experience when drinking Coca-Cola, such as “Ahhh!”, “Ooooh!”, “Yeah!”. In this way, the campaign still conveyed the brand feel, while incorporating Tyler, the Creator’s unique input as well.

In fact, the relationship between brands and the music industry has long been intertwined.

Lured by the exposure offered by a £6m campaign—a media spend few record labels could ever match—both Fyfe Dangerfield and Ellie Goulding recorded cover versions for John Lewis Christmas campaigns (of Billy Joel’s She’s Always a Woman and Elton John’s Your Song, respectively), and were rewarded with the biggest hit singles of their careers.

Somalia-born rapper K’Nann’s Wavin’ Flag had been a hit in his adopted homeland of Canada on its original 2009 release but made little impact elsewhere. Then he recorded the song with 12 international duet partners for Coke’s $300m World Cup campaign, performing it live at FIFA’s World Cup Kick-Off Celebration Concert. The result? A massive worldwide hit.

Countless examples of collaborations display brands’ ability to catapult a musician to superstardom—remember Sony’s Bravia Balls TV commercial by Fallon which transformed the career of José González by using his version of the song Heartbeats?

Success lies in the power of music within branding.

If brands can get the music right, it supercharges the message. That creates an emotional connection with the customer, and the music industry is drawn to that.

Brands once relied on the music industry to drive the music for their campaigns forward. Today a sea-change is occurring in which the balance is tipping. Brands are becoming more responsible for the evolution of the music industry and moulding it more than ever before.

Big organisations such as W Hotels, United Airlines, Build-A-Bear and Toyota have built their own record labels, with a goal of expanding their music strategy beyond just commercial syncs and one-off artist endorsements, by pursuing both intellectual property ownership and long-term funding in underground acts’ careers.

The surge in industry investment can be explained by a growing understanding of the art and science of sonic branding. 

Historically, the vast majority of brands focussed their branding energy and resources on the visual look and feel, often overlooking audio experiences or, at best, restricting the sound of a brand to a radio jingle.

As we move away from linear television viewing where spot advertising dominated, and towards audio-visual app experiences, mixed media UX, smart speakers, interactive voice technologies, and touchless technology, brand visual identities are no-longer the focal point of branding. 

The proliferation of new technologies means brands need to be thinking about how they sound holistically across all consumer touchpoints if they are to be recognisable.

In this context, licensing the latest pop single for a one-off advertising campaign doesn’t necessarily fit the brief. That same pop single could be used by a multitude of brands, it’s not recognisable in a world of increasingly invisible consumer interaction points. Moreover, it may not feel authentic or credible for the brand that buys the licence to a fleeting audio relationship.

A growing number of brands are adopting a more comprehensive approach to sonic branding to keep pace with technology and customer experience developments. An integrated sonic branding approach requires a truly multidimensional sonic expression of the brand, or as we call it, a 'Sonic DNA' that runs throughout every touchpoint of a brand, instantly recalling positive associations within the consumer.

This strategic approach lies behind the desire to work with musicians either to create a strategic sonic identity or to create work that fits more naturally within the architecture of a brand’s values.

Amp’s own research, Best Audio Brands 2021 shows evidence that companies investing strategically in developing high quality and owned audio assets—such as sonic identities and music specially created for brands—have gained significant ground on their rivals. 

Of the top 25 companies in the 2021 Best Audio Brands ranking, fifteen now have a sonic brand identity. 

Amp has a global artist network of incredibly talented and diverse musicians, delivering truly genuine and creative music to the highest standards to clients that are striving to build a sonic identity.

Take Mastercard for example. It's invested in a “comprehensive sonic architecture”. 

Its 'Sonic DNA' can be found in every touchpoint the brand is present in, whether that be the hold music that customers hear when they ring customer service, point-of-sale transactions and even employee ringtones. By embracing a holistic sonic strategy consistently, it has enhanced recognition, engagement and awareness of the brand.

Beyond this, in 2020, Mastercard released original music with its first-ever music single, “Merry Go Round” by Swedish artist Nadine Randle. The single organically and authentically integrated the company’s brand values and sonic identity into the track, including the same elements from the 'Sonic DNA' that interweaves throughout all of its communications. The brand is working on a full-length album featuring artists from different musical genres and cultural backgrounds. Non-intrusively and subtly integrating the Mastercard sound into the album enables the people listening to become more and more familiar with Mastercard melodies, igniting that all important trust and recognition.

The launch of this sonic-integrated song project signals the way that music and consumer consumption is changing. 

As technology continues to evolve and sonic branding becomes more crucial, brands will increasingly become “bands”, making a significant impact on what we listen to on Spotify, the radio, or YouTube.

In fact, the next number one hit single could be by your favourite chocolate bar, the next Grammy winner could be the brand-new car you just bought. 

If a brand can tap into sonic branding, there’s a door to a new world of communication opportunities with its audience.

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