Sonic Logo, or Sonic Trash?

By Joel Beckerman, Founder, Made Music Studio

In the glamorous cacophony of the 2024 Oscars, amid the shimmering gowns and the tearful acceptance speeches, lurked a less conspicuous yet equally pervasive spectacle: the parade of Sonic Logos in the commercial breaks. As brands battled for the spotlight, their audio signatures echoed through our living rooms, begging the question: are we experiencing a renaissance of Sonic Branding or simply drowning in Sonic Trash?

In my book, ‘The Sonic Boom: How Sound Transforms the Way We Think, Feel, and Buy,’ I critique the overabundance of what I call “sonic trash” – which amongst other things includes some of those sparkly collections of notes or sounds that, while pleasing to the ear, are devoid of meaning.

This year’s Academy Awards broadcast on ABC was a smorgasbord of branded sounds, but without distinctiveness or meaning, these jingles could easily be shuffled between brands without losing or gaining any distinction. But there were some great sonic branding and sonic logos too! Solutions that could bring long-lasting value for those brands.

Getting sonic branding right really matters, especially on Hollywood’s biggest night. In the world of compressed attention there’s never been more at stake. According to the market research firm Ipsos, when artfully created and executed, ads with sonic branding cues see an 8.5x uplift in branded attention. There’s an enormous payoff. Also, Sentient Decision Science research shows that the emotional response to sound is 86% correlated with a consumer’s desire to engage or avoid an experience. In a nutshell: brand love.

As for the Sonic Branding and sonic logos from the Oscars on Sunday, the solutions fit into three categories: The great ones that are likely to be effective, those that are invisible, and those which I might describe as well-intentioned.

The Great

State Farm Insurance

State Farm has the tiger by the tail. The quirky mashup of the State Farm instrumental jingle with decades of equity, along with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s self-effacingly singing in his signature Austrian accent (“Nayyybahhh!”), and you’ve got it all. Melodic collective memory meets pop culture. Bravo.

Southwest Airlines

Rounding out the group is the transformation of the Southwest ‘bong’ and the sound of the seatbelt sign. Created by Made Music Studio, it’s transmuted into a simple rhythmic sonic identity which makes for a lighthearted punctuation at the end of ads. The creative solution was to create syncopated rhythmic elements by adding two simple hand claps, signifying the excellent service you receive on Southwest flights. A simple solution that builds equity and lends itself to theme executions — both functional and emotional — which can easily be integrated across messaging and marketing channels.

The Well-Intentioned

Chimes Abound!

Executions featuring tones and “chime” sonic logos abound, and do very little to build attribution or market distinction. Infinity, Polestar and Discover Card all traveled down this route. They may be cool sounds, but this sound design-based solution is too common to cut through the clutter.

With chimes, there’s a lot of “memory trigger” baggage to overcome. Perhaps the only brand that can get away with a chime is Taco Bell — because the chime is actually their namesake bell!

Don Julio

Can Don Julio “own” a bird call sound effect? Unlikely. Any brand could use a bird call sound. Or a doorbell. Or a big orchestra note. You get the idea. Diegetic sounds can’t be “owned” by a brand and identity and attribution can be seriously compromised.

Even worse, non-specific or jarring sonic logos can contribute to sonic trash. It’s not so much about the sound, but more about the experience. Sound either elevates or lessens experiences which add to sonic trash.

Here’s an olive branch. Great sonic branding isn’t easy. It’s hard. And creating a sonic logo that works hard for your brand takes a great deal of rigor, creativity and stakeholder commitment. Meaning, concept and execution is a lot to pack into 1.5 seconds to reach the highest level expectations of effectiveness for sonic logos.

But let’s not despair! Let’s not allow our brand experiences, and our lives, be degraded into a forgettable and annoying jingle jamboree. Instead, let’s champion the cause of meaningful, memorable Sonic Branding. Because in a world increasingly cluttered with noise, the last thing we need is more sonic trash.

A truly effective Sonic Logo isn’t one that just sounds “nice” or “cool.” It’s a sound that embodies the essence of the brand, telling a story and evoking emotions specific to its identity. Imagine a Sonic Logo so distinctive that merely hearing it transports you to a specific emotional space that could only be for one brand. A space inhabited by all the positive experiences you’ve already had with that brand. And when we get it right the effects are cumulative. It’s a giant step toward brand love. That’s sonic gold, not trash.