Not Just Eyeballs, But Ears: Appraising the Role of Sound and Music in Brand Management

Written on
Oct 18, 2006 
Cindy Gallop  |

What’s the sound of your brand?

Interesting, isn’t it?

Most marketers will find it pretty easy to articulate what the look of their brand is; its feel; its tone; its personality; its values. But I suspect not many people would have an immediate and very definite answer to the question, ‘What does your brand sound like?’

Which is curious given the crucial role sound and all auditory components play in any form of emotional engagement or relationship. We make judgements of people based on what they sound like; we are attracted to people with pleasant voices, and repelled to varying degrees by less pleasant ones (nasal, whiny, shrill). We allow our emotions to be deliberately manipulated by film and television soundtracks, which ensure we get fully caught up in the action and feel fearful/jump in shock/feel moved/feel stirred and inspired/get teary on cue.

And yet, for virtually all brands, the work that goes into positioning and communicating them for maximum emotional engagement hardly ever includes developing, identifying and executing ‘brand sound’ as part of a brand marketing strategy that usually includes as a matter of course brand look, feel and tone.

I should be clear here that when I say ‘brand sound’, I am not talking about what tends to be the most obvious characterization of music as branding — the selection of a compelling song or soundtrack that appears on the TV commercial, which then (yes, it’s usually that way round) is also the soundtrack for the viral video, the radio ads, and comes up when you click on a banner or go to the website, often accompanied by some kind of co-promotional deal with the artiste or artistes concerned, which then gives way to a whole new music/soundtrack approach when the next marketing campaign gets underway.

I’m talking about something that in my experience very few people consider — the idea that the strategic and creative development process for brand marketing should involve, right from the get-go, a strategic approach to defining what the brand should sound like, and an actual sound/music strategy that then feeds into the auditory component of every single experience of the brand.

If you know, as part of defining the identity and personality of your brand, what it should sound like, then you have the opportunity to build a sonic brand identity that provides a filter and criteria for all ‘soundtracking’ of your brand going forwards. And a new dynamic for emotional engagement that can be played out powerfully in, for example, what your customers hear when they walk into your store or wait in your reception; what callers to your offices hear on ‘call waiting’; what might form the auditory background to sales conferences, presentations, analyst calls and shareholder meetings; as well as what sounds through or accompanies your advertising, your promotions, your website, your sampling exercises, your events, your TV programming.

And the great thing for today’s marketers is that digitization makes it easier than ever before to be able to marry music with emotions and desired responses, and to generate the right music for the brief.

In 2003 Advertising Women of New York voted Cindy Advertising Woman of the Year. Cindy resigned as chairman of BBH US in 2005, after sixteen years with the agency, in order to focus on finding something different to do for the next chapter of her career.

Reader Comments.

For Cindy Gallop

Loved the article about ear-balls

My company might interest you from that perspecitve. A bunch of Oxford Univestity techys wrote the code – we make music free by ad insertion of demographically and location sensitive ads in between the tracks of a ‘play list’. Try it and download some music – it works. Free, legal music. We have discussions going with several major music companies and ad agencies. I am in NY today if you would like to know more.

best rgds

Posted by john taysom | 1:21 pm on October 18, 2006.

Hi Cindy,

GREAT article. As I wrote a few weeks back for ADOTAS with “PodBranding,” people need to consider what their brand sounds like for the modern consumer or their competitors will.

John C. Havens,
About.com Guide to Podcasting

Posted by John C. Havens | 1:48 pm on October 18, 2006.

Hi Cindy,

Such a good article ! I’m involved in the launch of my own company in sound design, especially for brands. I’m from France and It’s hard to get informations in this market. So, thank you very much, I’m a young contractor and each experience is a real good thing.

Best regards,


Posted by Nicolas Lordier | 4:45 am on October 25, 2006.

Great article Cindy. We are experiencing a lot of brands paying a lot more attention to their sound from a 360 degree perspective.

You are dead on regarding the ability to emotionally engage with customers using music. There’s not a more powerful tool to evoke emotion than music.

Posted by Jody McKinley | 1:50 pm on February 5, 2012.

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