Brands and Music




Using music to give a brand an additional emotional dimension makes good sense. Ideally, however, this process should only be viewed as an additional branding feature: it is a component in multi-sensory communication strategies, and employing audio branding can complete a comprehensive brand image.

Audio branding is the most common, yet not the only term to describe the use of acoustic elements as part of brand communication done in brand development and brand management. It is a component in multi-sensory communication strategies, and employing audio branding can complete a comprehensive brand image. By using instantly recognizable melodies and audio sequences selected to represent the brand's values, the practice rounds off brand identity in a distinctive manner. Typical examples are the audio logo, the jingle, the recognizable voice, the brand song or a distinguishing tonal backdrop known as a soundscape.

History of acoustic brand management

Parts of this song by Billy Murray served as the jingle for the Oldsmobile Division of General Motors for decades. The song was first introduced for advertising purposes by the then up-and-coming automobile industry in 1905. "In My Merry Oldsmobile" formed the foundation of the corporation's marketing communications.

Nonetheless – taking into consideration that the history of acoustic brand management dates back so far – comparatively few brands make use of their audio potential. The reasons? During the era of print media, the focus was on a brand's visual appearance. Furthermore, with regard to commercial exploitation and research in general, audio branding is still a young discipline that has not yet established a standard practice. Only with the present trend toward multi-sensory brands and the idea of brand experience has audio branding really started coming into its own.

Background music creates vibrations without any further purpose. It fulfills the same function as lighting, warmth and comfort in all its manifestations.

In 1920, the French composer Erik Satie started composing repetitive, atmospheric music. He was the first musician to arrange a tapestry of sounds without a clear progression which resulted in the construction of "musique d'ameublement," literally furnishing music. In a letter to Jean Cocteau he explained that: "The ‘musique d'ameublement’ creates vibrations without any further purpose. It fulfills the same function as lighting, warmth and comfort in all its manifestations." It is empirically proven that music has a particularly strong impact on sales. Almost 70% of purchase decisions for fast-moving consumer goods occur at the Point of Sale, and since music can enhance the customers' state of well-being – thereby lengthening their stay in the shop – it increases turnover.

The positive effect of music on consumer buying was demonstrated impressively in a study that took place in an American wine store. The study compared the influence of classical and pop music on consumer behavior. In sheer quantity, playing classical music in the background did not influence the number of bottles sold; however, the amount of money each client was prepared to spend on average increased threefold when listening to classical music. Apparently the more sophisticated background music influenced the clientele to behave accordingly, and they subsequently chose significantly more expensive wines.

Similarly, functional music has been produced by the US company Muzak since 1934. The company makes background music that the customer is supposed to perceive at a subliminal level. The intention is to make the recipient feel cheerful and create a relaxed atmosphere either in a shop or at the office. Yet a change in people's response to music starting in the 1970s torpedoed the Muzak concept as a marketing instrument to increase consumption. Muzak did not have enough substance to survive the new expectations consumers placed on music: Music, even just background music, could no longer simply be random and empty. Instead, it had to have some sort of identity, represent a certain lifestyle.

The new approach to implementing music is clearly visible in the commercials of the late 20th century. With increasing frequency, popular songs were employed to set the mood, though these songs were not always established chart breakers from the outset; sometimes the process was actually reversed, and new hits resulted from music originally created for a commercial.

Rounding off the brand image

It is clear that brand experience can be completed with musical accompaniment that is perceived more or less consciously. Giving a brand an emotive effect by adding music has become a favorite ploy in the field of communications. Powerful brands such as Coca Cola are wealthy enough to have their music composed for them specially, or to buy the rights to an existent title.

The song "Summer Dreaming" by Kate Yanai is the perfect example of how a new hit can result out of a tune that was originally composed for a commercial. Originally, Kate Markowitz, the singer's real name, sang a one-minute accompaniment to a Bacardi Rum commercial in 1988. The Bacardi attitude toward life – packaged in a compact ditty – was catchy, broadcast frequently and became so popular that French composer Olivier Bloch-Lainé wrote advertising-free lyrics for it afterwards (Bacardi Feeling suddenly became Summer Dreaming).

The song became the summer hit of 1991 and Bacardi profited enormously, because the generic version of their brand song stayed in the charts for weeks. Three years after launching the "Bacardi Feeling" concept, the melody was so firmly anchored to the brand that everything that followed was free advertising.

Despite continually sinking sales in the music industry, neither the interest in music nor its consumption is declining in the least. The force of music is timeless and indisputable, and brands can harness this power for their purposes. Music triggers an emotional response, thereby quickly creating consumer identification with a brand. As a component of a comprehensive brand management, music has a high emotive impact across all target groups and can be employed in a variety of ways. From the logo's sound device over to the telephone's on-hold music, commercials and image films, radio advertising, trade show acoustics, backdrops at stands and in stores, and homepages – music is everywhere.

Idle brand potential can be tapped into through using music for differentiation, recognition, and creating emotions, all of which significantly benefit the entire brand identity. It is, however, important to remember that – as in all other aspects of branding – a solid strategy is essential for audio branding to create a significant contact point with the public.

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Comments (1)

Jordan Stevens | 24.01.2013

Thanks for publishing this Olivia. You are dead on about the power of music and its connection to brands. More so is the way we react to music. For instance people tend to move a the speed at which music is played. Of course this has many uses for retailers and restaurants.

Thinking strategically about sound is vital for companies who want to succeed today. Thanks again.


Olivia El Sayed

Olivia El Sayed

Olivia El Sayed studied German and French at the University of London. Initially employed by a music label in Germany, she also worked as an editor for various online media. Starting with Branders in 2008, she assumed responsibility as Editorial Manager of The Brander publication effective January, 2011.

The Brander is a publication of the Branders Group