What is Sonic’s Brand purpose?
In this article, Davide explains what sonic branding means to him and discusses his experiences creating sonic branding packages for several clients.
Sonic Identity, Music Branding, Sonic Branding and Sonic Logos have all adopted various meanings in modern times and can all mean the same thing or be interpreted in entirely different ways. Sonic Branding is an opportunity to create a unique set of notes and sounds that clients and customers will associate to your brand. It triggers emotions, enhances brand recall and gets more attention than visual identity.
Some famous examples include the well-known sonic logos of:
Taking the latter as an example, the ‘jingle’ as they were referred to then of Toyota in Australia was the vocal and musical ‘Oh what a feeling! Toyota’. This led many companies to produce vocal jingles and helped establish the acceptance of a sonic logo that could be used at the end of radio and TV advertisements.
Due to the ubiquity of the ‘jingle’ sonic logo of the late 20th century, companies began to seek more subtle and refined sonic logos that were not as obvious in their branding. The most famous of all was the four-note sting of IBM that helped establish the current design ethos for sonic and sound logos.
My introduction and experience with Sonic Branding.
My first introduction to sonic branding was working as a producer and composer at a London based music production house Delicious Digital. The CEO, who had worked on the sonic identity of the BBC for many years was militant about all Audio being ‘on Brand’. This was unusual for me as this type of focus on branding was usually limited to graphic design agencies. On my first job writing music for the BBC, I was given a mood sheet, or rather a sonic branding guideline document which stipulated everything, from which musical scale to be used, which notes to avoid and what type of instrumentation. This was to ensure any composer could be used and everything would sound like the BBC. Viewers would become emotionally attached to the BBC’s brand through its music and sound. To this day, I have not seen such a well-implemented and adhered to sonic branding package.
Before there were sonic logos, there were jingles.
Today, companies require a unique approach primarily based on modern sound design techniques. There are only so many combinations of notes you can use (particularly using western based music scales), and there are only so many times you can use a piano and guitar before it all begins to sound the same. Hence the reason I think it’s very important to create something that has never been heard before. And the only way to do this is by:
Using a confluence of musical notes and unique sound design
Steering clear of conventional musical shapes
Avoiding piano or guitar
Using microphone techniques to record new sounds
Recording unconventional sound sources
The issue here is demonstrating the early design stages to a client that may sound too musical or designed. Let’s take an example of a successful sonic logo that I designed which is currently being used by Metro Trains in Melbourne. In this instance, we joined forces with a branding agency called FutureBrand in Melbourne, which was contracted to develop the new branding. We discussed the possibility of having a friendly aural and visual representation of the brand, or a ‘Sound of Melbourne’ instead of standard announcement tones, which will help endear travellers on their network. The first stage involved pitching some loose melodic ideas. However, the client struggled with the idea of having a ‘jingle’ as a sonic logo that could be used as an announcement tone throughout all their advertising and communication. So, we demonstrated other examples currently in use by similar transport networks. Barcelona has a well-recognised Metro sonic logo, as does Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris. Providing these industry-relevant examples allowed the client to see the value in having their own multipurpose sonic logo. We now had a clear direction of what type of tone and sound they would buy into.
There were many things to consider early to ensure we didn’t get trapped by selling them something that couldn’t be used effectively. Important things like how we get a sound to work across all environments – a tunnel, an outdoor suburban station, a station with ten platforms and multiple simultaneous announcements! We also needed to consider the frequency of the sonic. It would be heard over a thousand times a day.
To accommodate these considerations, we realised that we needed to create something unique. This realisation led us to design our own synth for the project. A tool that would enable us to create a sound based on some simple sine waves that were easy on the ear, palatable and clear. Although this process took quite a bit of time, it was invaluable towards the project’s outcome.
Once we had the sound, it was time to put together the musical part. Rather than coming up with a sequence of notes, we created a music bed that culminated in a sonic logo. Metro Trains loved the unique approach of the custom-designed synth with the electronic playfulness inspired by the Barcelona and Charles De Gaulle Airport examples.
We presented them with five options, all using the same sound design:
A neutral sound designed logo
An acoustic based logo
An experimental logo
A major key ‘positive’ logo
A typical and obvious logo
We quickly narrowed these down to the shape and sound of the final logo. There were now just two variations, one more resolutely major in key (and more positive) and the other more neutral. Clients naturally want everything to sound positive, so Metro Trains preferred this option. But I felt strongly that the more neutral, less positive version would have more legs and become less grating. To demonstrate this, we recorded a voice-over, simulating an actual announcement in a real environment with real noises and pinged one or two logos playing overtop. It became clear to all of us that the neutral version worked best.
Ideally, you would test the logo across many environments. Unfortunately, like with many jobs, sound can be de-prioritised with so many other things to do! However, we did find out the speaker type and broadcast rates that are typically used and did some testing of the logo ourselves in indoor and outdoor environments. We feel very proud of how well the logo works across all environments, whether in a tunnel in the city loop or outdoors at a suburban station. It remains effective when several trains arrive at once with hundreds of people at a station and equally so on an empty platform with one train.
Making of the Metro Trains Sonic Logo.