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Impact of Brand Sound Elements on Consumers

Info: 5449 words (22 pages) Dissertation
Published: 12th Dec 2019

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Tagged: MarketingBranding

Executive Summary

With increase in competition and the number of media vehicles available, it has become essential for brands to establish powerful memory triggers in the minds of customers. Although, our relationship with sound is largely unconscious, sound is one of the most powerful and least explored senses in advertising and branding. India being a country with a very rich oral culture has numerous examples of sound identities created in religion, culture, traditions etc. Many smaller vendors and peddlers of India have also very effectively used sounds to differentiate themselves. Many companies are now starting to realize the effectiveness of Sonic Branding and the need for brands to have a sound identity. Some examples of famous and efficient sound trademarks are the Intel jingle, Nirma jingle, the Yahoo yodel, Apple computer sounds, Harley Davidson engine bike sound and Nokia’s ringtone. From just using jingles and music, sonic branding has moved to the use of sounds in various other platforms such as intrinsic product based sounds, soundscapes etc.

This research aims to explore the effects of sound triggers or stimuli applied on customers to gauge the emotions and memories it evokes and hence understand how the trigger can affect the respondent. Brands across four broad categories have been considered for primary research according to the four quadrants of the FCB matrix. Various projective techniques have been used to find the associations created by the brand sounds of these chosen brands. Opinions of a few experts from advertising agencies and a few music composers have been taken to understand the phenomenon better. The findings have been analysed using the AIDA model, CAB model and also compared with similar examples from everyday life. The insights obtained have been used to come up with a framework for future companies to effectively implement sonic branding.


The impact that sound creates on anyone is profound. Sound being one of the major five senses plays a vital role in everyone’s day to day activities. In a country like India, which has an extensive oral culture where even a form of medication has been passed on to the next generation orally; sound is something that matters to every single soul in one way or the other. Sound is prevalent in almost all traditional forms in India ranging from festivals to discourses. In a vast country like India, each state has its own culture and each culture has its own representation of sound in its own unique ways. Right from the birth, where a special song is sung to represent the birth of a new child till the death, where in some states there are different instruments played during funeral. There are different sounds that represent different emotional states and thus it is a part of everyone and each variation of it causes a different impact.

Every religion has its own usage of sound, for instance, ringing of bell and chanting has always symbolized the Hindu religion, similarly Sunday carols and Friday prayers at Church and mosque respectively. In a similar fashion and following the trend, various brands have started using sounds in all possible ways ranging from ad jingles to brand name associated music like the one Nokia has been using for years now. The main reason behind brands using sound although visual medium is still in vogue is because of the impact a particular sound creates on the user and the association with the brand name. Association of a particular sound to a product stays longer in a person’s lifetime than probably a logo that one would associate with the same.

There are sounds that one can easily recognize like that of a police siren or one from the ambulance which creates the sense of emergency and this sound creates a deep impact at least for a small period of time. Sound can be regarded as the best medium to communicate as the auditory signals can spread through thin air reaching a lot of people around and unlike vision which is restricted to the view of the reader. This way the reach increases and the impact is so huge that many companies have started using sound as their important means of communication.

There are cases where the usage of sound has proven to increase the brand image and brand association of a particular product with the sound ,for example Kellogg’s hired a Danish Lab to design a specific crunching sound for their cereal so that the customers will be able to differentiate their product from their counterparts’ based on the sound. Similarly, Nestlé’s Kit-Kat has used the wafer cracking sound in its advertisements’ extensively thus bringing in an association between the cracking sound and their product.

Sound Association with products has become so common that there are lots of products in the market which can be associated with its own song, jingle or even simple theme music. The underlying fact is that the sound that one experiences once stays forever in the minds and thus strikes a chord whenever they come across the product. This long term impact of sound makes it a more viable option than other means.

There are cases where silence is the last thing customers would want, like in the case of a lounge where a mild music would help the customers ease out. This is probably the reason why a convention of sound based alerts in an elevator has come up to reassure people that they are safe even when they are alone. In the same lines was the first personal stereo developed because of which a person will not feel lonely and that sound will help him overcome his loneliness which eventually became an all time super hit product.

As we all know that radio is one of the most welcomed invention and the reason why it is still popular even after the invention of television and other fancy gadgets is because of the ease of use and because sound does not require one to sit tight to get the fullest experience, a person driving his car can just tune into his favourite station and keep listening while doing the driving and so is the case with a housewife who can listen to it doing her daily chores alongside. This is one reason why people are still happy advertising through a radio.

Considering Cinema, the impact that the sound creates and the value add that it provides to the movie experience is huge. Imagine a horror movie without sound and the impact it creates is not even half when compared to the one with the soundtrack on. There are many interesting cases which proves the point that sound is really a factor in any one’s business; one such example would be the case of IBM’s introduction of new range of ‘noiseless’ typewriters in the 70’s which did not sell well in the market. The reason that they found was that what they termed as ‘noise’ really turned out to be a core attribute of the product and hence they re-launched the product with an artificial sound which simulated the original one.

There is also the case of Las Vegas Gambling machines which were made coinless and hence the absence of the sound made by coins inside the slot machines shooed away the customers thus resulting in a drop in the revenues. There are certain products which are so attached to sound used by the vendors to sell the products that the change in the sound or absence of it might pose a threat to the product. The best example is the roadside pushcart seller who uses his distinctive voice to cry out loud and sell what he has got. There could be no better way to sell ice creams or cotton candy’s without using the bell attached to their push cart.

When we look at various commercial products, like say a coke tin when broken open gives this unique sound which reassures the buyer of the freshness and quality of packing involved and same applies to various other food products. This kind of a sound association with every attribute attracts the producers to give more and more importance to the involvement of sound in their products.

There are other instances which acts in the exact opposite fashion from what we have seen so far, the negative impact of sound associated with a product. An example to quote here would be that of a computer which produces less noise or no noise at all. In that case also sound association plays a vital role but in the opposite sense, that is, no sound or silence. Another major example here would be that of a generator which is more welcome when it produces less noise than one with a lot of sound. In this way even the absence of sound is associated with a select few products. Hence here sound might produce a negative impact on brand image.

There are certain products where the sound association comes in the form of sound made by the product itself, like for example, a motorcycle which has its own distinct sound by which it is well recognized in the society. It is imperative that for these products the sound attribute must never be replaced with or removed from the product.

If we run a search on product promotion using sound, there is no escape without going through our own traditional methods of product promotion or brand strengthening using sound as the major medium. Right from selling fish in a market till promoting a political party, Oral culture seems prevalent throughout our country. Processions, awareness campaigns all use sound to promote their products or ideas.

Literature review

Introduction to sonic branding

The branding of a sound stimulus is called as Sonic Branding, Audio Branding, Sound Branding or Auditory branding, interchangeably by different authors.

The power of music and sound to create a worldwide emotional response is unquestionable, but there is only little research that has been conducted to understand this phenomenon of sonic branding.

Jackson (2004) defines Sonic branding is defined as the structured process, in which the acoustic becomes a part of the brand and its brand identity. “….it may consist of an audio logo, a short jingle, or a brand theme”.

Roots of sonic branding

Sonic Branding has been prevalent over centuries. The first sonic brand created was in 1859 when the chime sequence and the Big Ben bell was installed in the Westminster clock in London. Even today, whenever the chime is heard whether in grandfather clocks or mantel piece heirlooms, the City of Westminster is remembered around the world. (Stewart-Allen, 2006)

Sonic branding seems to have its roots around the time humans discovered or developed music, and later used music to peddle our wares. Even today vendors in the markets who shout out to customers, ice cream trucks that ring a bell as they move, giant wheels and merry-go-rounds in village fairs have a unique sound attached to them which created fond memories in people. Jackson (2004) says “…in spite of all these, sonic branding has gained recognition as a separate business discipline only in the last few decades… and has gained sophistication only over the last few years.”

Power of Sound:

Music, the foundation for sonic branding, is a universally understood language and hence a powerful and feasible brand communications tool. Studies have shown that variations in the formal music structure of background music in commercials may have significant influence over the emotional responses of an audience. Music can evoke past memories, create nostalgia and transport the person to the past. The music evoked moods congruent with the feelings appropriate in such situations can be associated with increases in purchase intentions. (Alpert, Judy, Elliot, 2005)

Sound is hardwired into our emotional circuit and it can often be the decided factor in a consumer’s choice. Studies have shown direct correlation between the kind of music played in a store and the purchase pattern of customers. Hearing is passive and listening is active, and according to Lindstrom (2005, P. 73) “Even if we are more involved in hearing than listening, our mood is still affected by what we hear”.

While a logo is a graphical element of the brand, the sonic brand is the audio element of the brand. The objective is to create a memory trigger, linking the product name, service or benefit with a pleasant memory. Sound is also the simplest way to bypass cultural and language barriers and delivers a corporate message on a global scale (Beau, 2008).

Sonic branding and advertising

Every living being on earth has its own sonic signature. As human development spreads, the space available for animals and insects shrink hence there is less space for creatures that rely on sound to hunt and reciprocate. Brands face a similar challenge. Some of the acoustic principles of mature hence apply to brands also. (Franus, 2009). Apart from visual stimuli, Audio is the most widely used element in any advertisement or brand communication. In the book Sonic Branding, Jackson (2004) refers to auditory interfaces as “sonic touch points.” Radio, TV, cell phone, music played during telephone hold, and customer interactions in an IVR (Interactive Voice Response) system are but a few examples of the fourteen touch points Jackson identified.

Sonic Logo – ‘Sogo’

The most basic form of sonic branding is the sonic logo, a “sogo.” A sogo is a unifying, focal sonic branding device. Corporate identity literature defines a sogo to be a sonic branding device that plays the role of a short distinctive auditory signature lasting between three to six seconds. A sogo is the auditory analogue of a visual logo. For example the 5-tone (G?-C? -F? -C?- G?) Intel TM is a sogo. As another example, sonic branding for different models of the Nokia phones may be different but related musically as a family, signed off by the same sogo.

The sogo ‘activates’ the entire brand knowledge that includes brand attributes, brand benefits and brand attitudes. According to Roy (2009), jingles which were the most common type of music in popular radio and TV commercials of the 80’s and 90’s is slowly phasing out. One does not hear jingles like that of Nirma, Hamara Bajaj or Vicco Turmeric any more. The trend is moving towards more short, crisp and memorable brand sogos.

Global Examples:

The power of Tarzan’s call, the famous MGM lion roar are some examples of sounds that are famous globally. Later came Microsoft’s start up tone for windows which is even today heard by more than 400 million people every day. The Intel Inside tune has been around since 1998 that it has actually made the invisible chip visible via the short distinct sound used in all its brand-building campaigns. Realising the importance of sound, Daimley Chrysler established a new department within his company to work on the sound of their car door as it was found that the way doors close can be an important factor in the perception of quality. (Lindstrom, 2005, p. 19, 21)

Sonic Brands in India:

According to Sanjay Raj Kurup, India is a very sonic nation and [brand] advertising in India was founded on sonic elements. He goes on to say “Age old jingles of brands like Vicco Turmeric cream, Frooti (fruit drink) and Nirma washing powder have helped create strong brand identities and are remembered even today. Also, as a country, we love the voices of our actors and actresses, and any brand that uses a famous celebrity voice to promote its products has met with success.” (Khicha, 2009)

Further, Marketers in India have used music to sell everything from biscuits to bicycles. Britannia’s trademark jingle ‘tintin tri din’ or the patriotic tune of Hamara Bajaj still rings in our ears.

Khicha (2009) says “…today, in an increasingly cluttered media environment, jingles have been refreshed and modernized to hold the attention of customers. Tunes no longer just repeat the brand name, but are used in a manner where the core brand idea is tied to the music more creatively like Titan’s use of the symphony of Mozart”

Impact of Sounds:

According to Julian Treasure, sounds affect us at four stages:

Physiologically- Everyday life is filled with thousands of sound elements. From the alarm in the morning to the traffic and screeching of animals at night, every sound trigger creates a physiological impact on us. These impacts could include hormone sections, change in breathing, heart waves and brain waves. Unpleasant sounds like screeching sound, background sounds etc also affect us similarly.

Psychologically- Music is the most powerful sound that affects our emotional state. Music is capable of changing the mood and mental condition of a person. Apart from music, natural sound affects our emotions too. Bird sound make many people feel reassured. Sound of traffic and horns increase tension and anxiety.

Cognitively: We sub consciously filter sounds and only listen to what you want. For example when our name is called out in a crowd, we hear it irrespective of the background noises. This is also the reason why productivity decreases in noisy offices.

Behaviourally: We move towards unpleasant sounds and move towards pleasant sounds. The best example of this is the fact that most retail sounds have a drastic effect on sales.

Analysis of Brand Sounds:

There are eight ways in which a brand can express itself using sound and every brand which does it has some fundamental guidelines at its centre. (Treasure, 2009). The eight ways or platforms are:

Measuring Senses

The main problem with conducting a sensory audit is that “People tend to think about the sensory experience only in terms of the primary sense involved in the experience” (Lindstrom, 2005, Pg 139). Hence it now becomes a challenge to identify the component parts of the sensory experience. The Brand Sense study (Lindstrom, 2005) covers the differences between the brands based on the senses before getting to the core of the questionnaire focusing on the senses and specific brands.

Measuring Emotional response is trickier and is beyond the scope of a simple survey. Hence emotional responses are validated by starting on a simplifying assumption that emotion is related to a good or bad stimulus response. This hypothesis is later validated with the respondent. (Lindstrom, 2005)

According to Banks (2009), sonic branding is one of the most intangible and poorly understood forms of branding. At its simple form a sogo is just a memorable sound attached to an identity, but for a global brand the sonic strategy can capture the essence of the entire company.


A number of brands have implemented the feature of sound stimulus to facilitate marketing strategy and building a brand. In recent years, numerous companies have followed this way to gain reputation and trust for their goods and services. It has hence been proved that the particular sound of a product can acquire distinctiveness and become a valuable trademark. It is now time to awaken the dormant senses and further utilize their unique properties in the search for brand loyalty (Fulberg, 2003)

Recent Trends

Use of Intrinsic unconscious Sounds:

Brands have now started using more unconscious sounds to cognitively connect to the customer. With BMW patenting the sound of its car door closing and Kellogg patenting the sound of its crunchiness, more brands have started realising the importance of product sounds in creating a brand image for the product.

Death of Jingles:

The 1990s were times when brands used long jingles with lyrics very successfully to connect to audience. Brands like Vicco turmeric, Hamara Bajaj have very successfully used this phenomenon. In current times very few brands choose to use a brand jingle and are moving towards signature tunes, sogos etc. The problem faced with most jingles was that there is no common language across India and translating jingles to regional languages did not work well except in rare cases like that of Nirma.

In Film Sound Placements:

Like product placements, sound placements are also entering films. For example in the recent Aamir Khan Starrer 3 Idiots, the Airtel AR.Rahman caller tune is played whenever a phone rings in the movie. This phenomenon is likely to increase in future.

Knowledge gaps:

  1. Analysis of sounds heard in our everyday lives as a part of our environment, culture, religion etc as a sonic trigger and understanding how it interacts with the listener.
  2. Semiotic Analysis of Sonic triggers to understand their meaning with respect to the context.
  3. Data analysis tool to measure the degree of interaction between the customer perception and the Brand Sounds.
  4. Metrics to measure the effectiveness of a sonic brand.

Research Problem

To understand the impact of brand sound elements on a consumer and to analyse how it affects their perception of the brand and further their purchase intension.

Key Information Areas:

  • Study how many Indian and global brands have effectively used Sonic branding as a key branding element. (by analysing successful case studies)
  • To understand how people respond and interact with all the sonic triggers in their environment.
  • Impact on brand awareness, brand recall and brand loyalty
  • Relationship between sound element and perceived image of brand
  • Impact on attitude towards the brand
  • Emotional or memory triggers caused by the sound
  • To analyse the data obtained to extract the key insights or learning that is seen across all sonic brands studied. How are the insights from each brand, related to the brand’s core value? Are there any lessons for future brand managers?
  • How better can brands utilize it? Potential it holds for the future.
  • Develop a framework for future brands to successfully implement sound as a key brand element.

Rational for Research:

The radio boom, internet and social media have opened up many new platforms of advertising and leveraging the power of sound for advertisers and brand managers. Also studies have shown that music played in stores has a huge impact on sales.

This research is very relevant to the current times as every brand now has started recognising the power of sound in branding and is looking out for more opportunities to implement the same. There are consultancies that have come up, which specialise in offering ‘sound strategy’ to their clients. In spite of all these advances, there is still very little research conducted on the effect of sound triggers on customers and the emotional impact it creates. There is also no framework to plan sound triggers as a part of a brand.

Hence this research would be of tremendous benefit to Advertising agencies which create advertisements and also for brand managers as sonic branding can be made a part of a brand right from its very basic product manufacturing stage.

Research Methodology:

The research methodology consists of two stages: Secondary and Primary research.

Secondary Research:

  • Study of the various sonic elements found in Indian History, Culture, Religion and our environment. Understand their significance and impact (effectiveness) in the society?
  • Analyse some popular Indian and global brands which have successfully used sound as a brand element.

Primary Research:

The research will be primarily qualitative as we are trying to understand intangible factors such as the impact of a sound element on a customer.

Qualitative Research:

Depth Interview and Dyads to understand parameters such as:

  • The sensory impressions created by the sound brand element,
  • Memories attached
  • Emotions evoked.
  • Reaction to the stimuli.

Depth Interviews with experts in the Industry (Both Brand strategists and Music composers) to understand their considerations for building a sound element into a brand.

Primary Research Design

The FCB matrix developed by Foote, Cone and Belding of a market research agency in 1980, segregates the purchase of a customer into four different categories based on the involvement of the customer (high or low) and the motive behind the purchase (rational or emotional)

For ease of comparison and analysis of data, the sonic brands taken for primary research are from four broad categories which fall in the four different quadrants of the FCB Matrix as follows.

Reason for choosing the categories and test samples:

Majority of the brands currently using sogos and Brand sounds to market themselves are from the telecom sector. For example the Nokia ringtone is played 1.8 billion times a day and is the most played sound around the world today. Although the frequency of association with these category of brands is low for a consumer, these sound elements help maintain high brand recall. Hence telecom falls in the first quadrant of the matrix being a rational purchase with considerably high amount of involvement. The samples taken for primary research from this category are:

  • Airtel (AR Rahman caller tune)
  • Docomo (Signature tune)

Nokia (Ring tone)

Products which of high emotional value and have a high level of involvement with the customer are usually prized possessions close to the customer’s heart. To analyze this quadrant, examples of two wheelers are taken from the automobile sector. More than Ad jingles, it is known that the engine sound of an automobile plays an enormous role in creating an intrinsic emotional connect and a perception of the vehicle in the customers mind. Hence, engine sound being a product sound for these brands have been taken as a sample for primary research. The samples taken are:

  • Britannia (Sogo)
  • Kellogg (Crunchy sound)

Alpinliebe (Sogo)

Sounds can play a massive role in creating top of mind recall and desire to purchase in the category of foods and beverages. Huge brands like McDonalds, Britannia and Kellogg’s have very effectively tried to use this phenomenon in their communication. Although visuals are the most important sense to connect to when it comes to food, creating an unconscious sound trigger helps create a deeper association for the customer with the brand at a more cognitive level. In this category, brand sounds also help motivate impulse purchase. Hence, some of the product sounds and Sogos taken for research from this quadrant are:

  • Yo-Bikes (Engine sound)
  • Harley Davidson (Engine sound)
  • Pulsar (Engine sound)

Apart from large products and brands, there are numerous goods that brand themselves only using sounds in the environment around us. They are products with which we have very low involvement, but their effective use of certain sounds connects to people in a spontaneous and emotional way. For example, a person on the way to work may suddenly decide to polish his shoes on hearing wood tapping sound made by cobblers sitting on the platform. Polished shoes make him feel more confident of his looks. Another example would be of people’s immediate reaction to the pleading sounds of beggars even on a busy day. Some of the samples taken from this quadrant of the matrix are:

  • Ice cream trolleys (sound of the ringing bell)
  • Beggars (Sound made while pleading for alms)

Assumption of Research:

The basic assumption of this research is that the brands which fall in the four different quadrants of the FCB matrix differ in the ways and reasons for which sounds have been used to create a unique identity for themselves. The research tried to analyse the difference in the use of sound in these four quadrants based on this assumption

Sampling Design:

The observation and depth Interviews with vendors will be done in the cities of Ahmedabad and Chennai to observe the commonalities and differences between the cultures. The respondents will be chosen using the method of random sampling as follows:

Mix of users and non users of the brands. Preferably respondents who are aware of the brand.

(Note: SEC A+ and A and this particular age group has been selected based on the target users of the brands that are taken for primary research.) Expert opinions:

Apart from primary research with the customers, the opinions of three experts has been taken. Mr.Biju Dominic (CEO, Final mile) who has done deep research in the fields of neural sciences, Ms.Shally Mukherjee (Account Head, Leo Burnett) and Mr.Dominic (Music and Jingle Composer) have shared their views on the topic.

Findings from Observations

Watching respondents doing their routine work in the given context to derive insights about their behaviour is known as Observational research. The key advantage of this methodology is that the respondents are unaware of being monitored and hence behave naturally reducing sources of error in the data. To understand the effect of particular sound elements in our daily life, the following places were observed

  • Market Places
  • Residential Areas and inside houses
  • Railway Stations and Bus Stands

Market Place: The market place of any city, town or even village in India will be one of the most cluttered and unorganized place in that locality. With Large shops, medium sized shops, road side peddlers, beggars, mobile vendors and of course the people and the vehicles, a market place is just chaos especially at peak hours. In such a scenario, where any sound is considered noise, it becomes crucial for vendors and peddlers to use sound to break through the clutter and attract customers. Some of the key insights obtained from the market place are as follows:

The vendors who sell vegetables and fruits, call out to the female customers on the roads with respect using words like Didi, Amma etc. Some often repeat a list of vegetables that they are stocking currently. To push stocks, sometimes they repeatedly call out one particular vegetable or fruit announcing that it is fresh or that it is available for cheap rate. Thus by identifying what exactly the customer wants and needs to know to create a need for the product in the customer’s mind is done effectively by these vendors by using their voice as a medium of communication.

The beggars who are seen in large numbers near important places provide numerous insights on sound based branding. There are different kinds of beggars. Physically Handicapped, poor with children, group of blind beggars and transvestites. Although all of them ultimately try to evoke sympathy and persuade you to part with some money voluntarily, it is seen that each of them have their own styles of using sound for the same purpose. Transvestites use the hands clapping as a symbol of their presence and to make others feel uncomfortable about it. Blind beggars grouped together and sang devotional songs with a whining flute, handicapped beggars often made sounds by knocking their begging bowls with very few coins on the floor or wall to direct the attention of passersby to their state of being handicapped and poor. Beggars who used small children to beg used a highly emotion filled pleading voice in order for people to sympathise with them. In spite of different kinds of sounds being used, all of them make the listener feel that it is also his social responsibility to serve the poor in the country in some way. He is indirectly persuaded to part with some money.

This phenomenon can also work in the opposite way. Repeated exposure to these sounds can make respondents indifferent to beggars in which case no amount of persuasive pleading appeals to the respondent. The sound either becomes redundant, noise or irritates him.

The sales men similarly use their voice or recorded sound to create a mystery around the products being sold. Their calling creates a curiosity and attracts passersby to stop for his demo.


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