As Voice Continues Its Rise, Marketers Are Turning to Sonic Branding


Why Visa, California Closets and more are rethinking audio

Sound is a powerful tool that can trigger specific memories or emotions. It’s a staple for marketers who have used jingles (think, “I’m a Toys R Us Kid”) to connect emotionally with consumers, whether on TV or radio. But as technology like Amazon’s Echo or the Google Home Assistant become more embedded in our daily lives, it’s becoming increasingly important for brands to create those same emotional connections without visuals, just sound.

Cue sonic branding—the use of a sound, song or melody to help reinforce a brand’s identity.

Visa found that sound could make consumers feel safe and secure in their transactions, and that 81 percent of shoppers would have a more positive reaction to Visa if it incorporated sound or animation into its marketing or shopping experience. With that in mind, the brand released a special sound in December. After using a Visa card, either in a digital or physical store, customers hear a chime of sorts, signifying a secure, speedy transaction. Eighty-three percent of respondents said Visa’s new sound sparked a positive perception of the brand.

“As you think about payments becoming much more frictionless, potentially more embedded in experiences and new places, we started to think about how the Visa brand might manifest itself in formats that are quite different from a shop or a digital website,” said Lynne Biggar, Visa’s chief marketing and communications officer. That could be in your car, in your home, through your smart home devices or even a Fitbit, she explained.

Visa isn’t alone in its decision to refocus on sonic branding, or the “use of sound to reinforce a brand identity,” as Audrey Arbeeny, founder and executive producer of sonic branding agency Audiobrain, described it. That sound could be a jingle (think “Nationwide Is on Your Side”) or a mnemonic (like HBO’s static or NBC’s chimes).

In recent months, streaming service Pandora has ramped up its work with brands—including Ziploc, Dawn, Cascade and California Closets—to develop audio-driven marketing campaigns with a specific focus on how brands think about the sonic identity.

“We are now in a currency of language and sound, as opposed to screens,” said Lauren Nagel, group creative director at Pandora. “I think for a lot of folks the sound of your brand is still a bit of an afterthought, and as we move more toward a voice-activated world, sound is becoming even more important.”

California Closets has capitalized on an increase in podcast listeners and the rise of streaming by joining forces with Pandora to take some of its TV spots, “California Closet Stories,” and turn them into audio-driven work. At first it simply took the soundtrack for the TV ads and ran them on radio, but then Pandora helped the brand think about its entire identity in an audio setting.

Pandora “added ambient sound, which made a huge difference in terms of understanding the story. I never really thought about that, but it really makes the stories come alive—someone is talking about having friends over and you hear the friends in the background,” Samara Toole, CMO at California Closets, said.

When the brand runs these tailored audio campaigns on Pandora, Toole said California Closets sees a huge boost in web traffic, but could not disclose specific numbers. Toole noted that the brand is planning to develop an audio logo—something like Intel’s famous chimes or “I’m Lovin’ It,” courtesy of McDonald’s—in the coming months, too.

Lauren McGuire, evp, managing director of strategic sound and music studio Man Made Music, has worked in the audio space for over a decade now and echoed that it is more important than ever for brands to consider sound in their marketing mixes.

“If music creates emotion, what we see is brand favorability increases, brand consideration increases, metrics that really apply directly to ROI. When it comes to all experiences, brands are realizing that emotional connection is more important than ever,” said McGuire.

This article first appeared in

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