Scale, Social & AI: Sonic Branding in 2024

By Amy Crawford, Executive Creative Director, Music Products, Made Music Studio

It seems like we were just pondering how sonic branding would impact brand marketing and creators in 2023, and here we are again: the industry has come a long way in a short period of time, with the advent of new audio-first platforms and tools for both brands and consumers. As sonic branding has become more recognized for its strengths, we no longer need to start with defining what sonic branding is and its potential to flex across a brand’s entire ecosystem. Over the past 12 months, sound has become much more than an afterthought — it’s a valuable brand asset proven to boost KPIs. As we head into 2024, the acceptance and expansion of sonic branding as a creative & strategic practice will open up new opportunities and present new challenges as we look to use branded sound and music in exciting ways.

I’ve outlined a few key areas where I predict audio will make an impact this coming year:

Brands Will Need Support Scaling Sonic Branding

No longer an emerging trend, sonic branding has become a proven tool in the brand marketer’s toolkit to increase brand recall and build emotional relationships with consumers. We’ve found that when added to broadcast advertising, a sonic logo can boost brand recall and appeal with recent results showing a lift by nearly 40%. But as consumers view, like and share more content than ever before across social and digital platforms, a singular sonic asset – while proven powerful – may not be enough to cover all of a brand’s sonic needs and maximize the effectiveness of a sonic identity. How should a brand scale a sonic identity system and flex it to reach billions?

As use cases, platforms and audiences grow and become more diverse globally, brands need bigger, more flexible toolkits of music and sound. They need the ability to not only leverage their owned sonic assets, but identify and license additional on-brand music — both hit songs and library/catalog tracks — that resonate with their brand and boost appeal across all audiences. As the “sides” of social platforms become more defined (and new sub-cultures emerge on the daily), scaling the management, curation and production of branded and on-brand audio that audiences feel is “for me” will become critical in this next era of sonic branding.

AI for Creativity Gets Hotter

2023 was a year of big, disruptive shifts in tech that have left music creators feeling like they are, once again, having to advocate for their value and rights as creators of intellectual property. In just the final quarter of 2023, we’ve seen SAG-AFTRA strike over the regulation of artificial intelligence in film & TV; a leader in generative music AI resign in disagreement over how to define “fair use” in training data; and tumult at OpenAI seemingly over the future of technology & society. Will AI music tech be able to build enough trust with the public in 2024? Can these companies become more transparent about their data sources?

If generative AI tools are meant to elevate beyond the viral curiosity over a “Fake Drake,” courting and building trust with fans and artists will be critical to building trust and appeal. As Dream Track in YouTube Shorts rolls out in partnership with big names like John Legend and Sia, and artists like Lauv release tracks in other languages using “voiceprints,” the industry will hopefully find ways to build authentic, authorized artist-fan connections with AI that support creativity and human-crafted artistry. The world of TV, film score and production music will also need to continue the hard work of advocating for its key value in storytelling, experiences and art.

“Sound-On” Social Finds Its Stride

We know through our research that sound has the power to influence how we think, feel and behave. Broadcast media has long succeeded in influencing our thoughts and feelings. Social media has made an unprecedented impact on our behavior, with audio and culture as the spark.

Social media clearly solidified the “sound-on” paradigm in 2023 and we’ve only just begun to see brands authentically leverage their sonic identities in this context. As creators generate increasingly topical, authentic and culturally relevant content for their audiences, the savviest brands will expand their sonic toolbox on social as well and operate more like those creators who have dominated the social landscape. Our clients at Tostitos put the ingredients to their sonic identity in the hands of fans on TikTok this summer and we anticipate more will follow suit as sonic branding continues to demonstrate ROI. With nearly half of all Americans on TikTok, it’s clear social & digital isn’t a trend – it’s the most important place brands can show up in 2024, no longer an afterthought. Expect to see more branded audio memes and more interactive sonic brand content and user-generated content (UGC) as brands look to deepen their emotional connections with Gen Z in particular.

Immersive Experiences Surge

Last year we were hot on the metaverse, but as things have cooled down in Web3 we’re observing a double-down on location-based entertainment and experiences that immerse audiences with sound.

After so many years of virtual interactions, our bodies, minds and ears are craving IRL shared moments – and museums, theaters, theme parks and pop-ups are back with major upgrades. In NYC alone, there are at least 12 immersive pop-ups currently pulling in curious audiences seeking shared, tangible, and often Instagrammable experiences.

Educational institutions have also had time to step back and reimagine themselves over the last few years. Both The American Museum of Natural History and The Franklin Institute have emerged with major, sound-led exhibitions designed to attract young adults and families. Expect to hear about more sonic transformations of spaces as venues work to capture public attention and build appeal with next-gen audiences in 2024.