Company logos expand into sonic realm

Audio branding is moving beyond television and electronics into banks and appliances as companies seek to build consumer allegiance through sound.

Kai Ryssdal: You talk to a marketing professional about how to sell more or how to build consumer confidence in whatever it is that you sell and they'll say at some point in the conversation -- brand, man. You gotta build your brand.

And that's fine as far as it goes. But branding is becoming more than just what you see or read. It's also what you hear. Audio branding's not new -- think of the NBC chimes or the tones computers make when they boot up. But companies have started to really invest in creating sonic affinity for their products.

From New York, Marketplace's Sally Herships has the story.


Sally Herships: To understand one of the newest trends in branding we have to do a load of laundry.

Alex Moulton: I just got a new washer/dryer.

Alex Moulton creates audio branding for Eyeball, an advertising agency in New York.

Moulton: It sings a little melody at the end, so when your wash is done you hear -- ding, ding, ding.

Moulton says what his LG dryer is playing is a logo. Like a visual logo, but in sound. Brands are trying to squeeze into every crevice of our sonic lives -- into our cars, our washers and driers. But not, and I’m really sorry to do this, with sounds like this:

Sound of clothes drier

Why scare shoppers when you can soothe them? When UBS customers in Switzerland use an ATM inside one of those little vestibules this is what they hear:

Audio Consulting Group, the company which composed the music, says UBS wants its customers to listen to it and get its brand values: clarity, truth, confidence, success.

Paul Kalbelfeish: I don’t know too many things that get people emotionally committed to something like music does.

Paul Kalbelfeisc is a branding consultant. We use music to drum us into war, to pray, to rally around political causes, even sports.

Kalbelfeish: I don’t think it’s that big of a shift to say if it can happen for allegiance to a team it can be used at a certain point to start aligning with certain brands.

Cornelius Ringe co-founded the Audio Branding Academy -- an industry association in Hamburg, Germany. He says audio branding got its start way back when merchants had to call out their wares to advertise.

Cornelius Ringe: It’s like in the jungle and the birds. If you make the best sound, the best message, people come and buy and so at the end you will survive.

And it used to be so simple to create audio branding. All you needed was a song.

Ringe: Tried Wheaties...

But nowadays branded sound is more subtle. The prices companies pay are not -- up to $500,000 for an audio logo. That’s because sound can be a brand’s superpower. Remember this?

"Don't You Want Me"

That’s by Martyn Ware, '80s superpower. He founded the band Human League. Now Ware runs an audio branding company, Sonic ID. He told me about a soundscape he created for Hearts on Fire, a diamond store in Atlantic City.

Martyn Ware: It’s twinkling and sighing and beautiful slow changing, chord sequences that make you want to dwell longer, feel more magical and hopefully buy more diamonds.

That’s what brands are hoping for. But does it work? I stopped by a Hyundai dealership in Harlem to find out. Kirk Bishop, a real estate agent in the neighborhood, is looking for a new car. And the 2012 Sonata hybrid... comes with audio branding.

Herships: So what do you think?

Kirk Bishop: It’s pleasant.

Herships: But the real question is, would that make you buy this car?

Bishop: No, but it would be nice. It would be added value.

Not bad, for what seems like just a little song.

In New York, I’m Sally Herships for Marketplace.


About the author

Sally Herships is a regular contributor to Marketplace.

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