Meanings made: branding and sound

Radio_3These things we hold to be incontrovertible:

    that brands are made of meanings

    that meanings are made of images, words, and sounds

    that sounds are the poor relation of the lot

Several weeks ago, I met a woman named Audrey Arbeeny who runs a company called Audiobrain.  She did a great job persuading me that sound is indeed the neglected opportunity in the marketing world, especially when it comes to meaning management.

We spend vast amounts of time and money constructing brands but only sometimes do we thing about what Audrey calls the "sonic" signature of the brand.  There are exceptions and the Sony Play Station sound is a good one of these.  Truly, it makes "live in your world, play in ours" work in ways it could not otherwise.

We are logo-centric, we are image-idolatrous, but sound, not so much. (How many bloggers use sound?) Weird.  Anyone curious to see what difference sound can make may wish to go to Audrey’s website and look at the video clip she has there for the work she has done for HBO.  Have a listen with your speakers on "mute" and listen again with the volume turned up. The HBO spot is here.

Happy Thanksgiving from Grant, Pam, Molly and the boys at the lab.

6 thoughts on “Meanings made: branding and sound

  1. Jüri Saar

    What about smell?

    Isn’t there a certain expectation for burger smell in McDonalds or the whiff of coffee eminating from a Starbucks? And the smell of fresh print in new books mixing with coffee in your local B&N?

    Any person who’s traveled by Aeroflot (in the TU-154 or IL-96) planes remebers the smell of cheap plastic disticntly – even if they flew on the plane only once.

    Ok, smell won’t travel through a visual medium like TV or Internet (yet!) but for me many places are tied to smells and experiencing those smells somewhere else reminds me very distinctly of certain places and products. There’s also plenty of research out there that pretty much says that smell evokes memories and experiences more vividly than either images or sounds.

    If you take away the smell or change it something seems to be…a miss. Isn’t a connection to a brand therefore formed?

  2. Marcus Alfonsetti

    Hi Grant

    On this note you may find another company in the
    UK called Sonic Brand of interest. They’ve been in the audio branding game since 1999. Nice web site ( – sonically branded naturally – with a glossy book (Sonic Branding, Daniel Jackson) to match

  3. Grant

    Juri, scents are key, but so much harder to attach to the brand. Thanks, Grant

    Marcus, thanks, very helpful and interesting! Best, Grant

  4. Graham Hill


    Take a look at Martin Lindtrom’s book “Brand Sense” and accompanying website at He describes how all five senses can be brought into play in communicating brand promises.

    However, even the addition of all five sense won’t help marketers if their carefully crafted and communicated brand promises don’t match the reality of consumption. Sadly, research suggests that over 80% of customers don’t expect brand promises to be actually delivered. And 80% of customers will still be disappointed! At the end of the day, the brand ONLY exists in the mind of the consumer. No matter what us marketers think.

    Neurobiologists like Damassio & LeDoux show us that meanings are locical constructs created by the conscious brain. Brands are much more about promises, which are a combination of logical and emotional constructs. But promises are worthless unless they are deliverd as promised. This is where the real work of marketers lies.

    Graham Hill
    Independent Marketing Consultant

  5. steve

    Once more, I call for a retro solution: Jingles! I can still remember jingles for products from my childhood, many no longer produced. The mnemonic and mood-carrying power of a musical ad should not be underestimated. It even works for phone numbers (hence Tommy Tutone’s plea, “Ricky, don’t change that number”).

    Somehow, ad people today seem to think that such aural flypaper is beneath them. Hence, no more jingles. Even as aurally potent a campaign as the AFLAC duck’s quack was looked down upon within the ad community, I have read, despite its lethal effectiveness. Jingles and other sonically memorable tricks need not be naive. They can encompass irony or humor. Someday, they will return.

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