10 November, 2007

DOOH idea

The Digital Out Of Home (aka public or in-store TV) industry is booming, and The Sound Agency is flattered indeed to be featured in DOOH guru Adrian Cotterill's blog here; also I did a long interview with David Wiseman that he's boiled down and run on his Minicom blog here. They're running a competition with some signed copies of my book as prizes.

I believe the digital signage/DOOH industry is approaching a crossroads with a major decision to make about sound. It can either add to the noise of modern living, turning on speakers in lifts, shops and even toilets and driving even more people to take refuge in their iPods, or it can make visuals work with audio to create a carefully-crafted, pleasing, appropriate, effective environment in every space. This means creating the right background first, with ambient visuals (they don't even have to move!) teamed with ambient audio, ideally generative. Then and only then should designers start to think about foreground sound, delivering it according to our four Golden Rules: make it optional (or at least targeted); make it appropriate; make it valuable; and test it often.

The analogy is creating a picture: you make the background first, and then you make the foreground object stand out by using contrast but always acknowledging the tones, mood, elements and movement in the background.

I hope to see and hear a world of moving wallpaper and helpful, appropriate foreground content that offers us guidance or advice just when we need it in either visual or aural form, or both, as appropriate.

The dark path, of course, leads to noise (in every sense) - a random mush of competing messages that bombard people everywhere in ever-more shrill and frantic tone. Let's not go there!
Martin Lindstrom opened the field up for us all with his important and very readable book BRANDsense. Every month that goes by, my news and blog feeds are giving me more and more hits as the message spreads: brands exist in more dimensions than vision alone! We have five perfectly good senses, so why do many organisations still spend millions on how they look and nothing at all on how they sound?

Here are some recent fish my trawls have caught...

Business Week featured the rise of sound as a major consideration for business with an article on Ford upgrading its in-car warning tones here, backed up with a pleasant, if rather perfunctory, slide show on product sound here.

The subject or brand sound is cropping up in more and more blogs. Recent examples include Chief Home Officer, Ready To Spark and Personal Branding Summit. This mirrors the trend in business: more and more boards are talking about multi-sensory branding in general, and brand sound specifically.

The latest major sonic logo to launch is Mercedes: you can hear it at the end of this German ad. To me it sounds like something from The Exorcist, and I am very confused about its relationship with the traditional Mercedes brand values... other blogs like BurstLabs and Autoblog seem to agree. Maybe it's a grower...

06 November, 2007

The logo is dead - long live the logo!

In a world of increasing visual clutter, has the traditional logo lost its impact? If so, what can marketers turn to next in order to identify and differentiate their brands?

A visual logo is not a brand, of course. Its job is to represent the essence of its brand’s character – to introduce it if we don’t know it, or to remind us of it if we do. As a photograph is to a person, a logo is to a brand. Visual logos are proven, effective and ubiquitous – which is where they have started to run into rapidly diminishing returns.

I call the problem ‘overmessaging’. Each of us now encounters a staggering 30,000 commercial messages every single day, and the vast majority of them are visual. This means that for the next few years at least, sonic logos – by which I mean short sonic mnemonics that are the exact audio counterparts of the visual logo – are going to be worth considering simply because they are relatively rare and can thus act as powerful differentiators. But there’s more to sonic logos than curiosity value: used wisely, they work exceptionally well. They also have a surprisingly long pedigree.

Sonic logos have actually been around for hundreds of years: street calling used to be the main way tradesmen advertised their services, as wonderfully romanticised in the film Oliver. It’s not so long since that practice died: I can remember the ‘rag-and-bone’ man’s mournful shout of “anyoldiron?” from my childhood in London. The modern-day equivalent is the ice cream van: just watch the cathartic effect of its chimes on surrounding buildings on a hot summer’s day to see the potency of sonic logos deployed in the right place at the right time. Most ice cream chimes are generic, but in Sweden the Hemglass ice cream tune is a universally known and loved sonic brand.

As soon as the advertising industry got sound to play with, it saw the potential of memorable music/voice combinations and the jingle and tagline were born. The dividing line between jingle or a tagline an a sonic logo is blurred. In general, jingles and taglines come and go with campaigns and rarely live for more than a few years. Even the most memorable usually get retired. “For hands that do dishes…”; “It’s the real thing”; these and many more once-mighty jingles or taglines are now languishing in retirement homes, though the brands are still very much with us today. Some taglines are so strong that they have become sonic logos. One in particular has outlasted entire generations of customers: Tony the tiger has been saying “they’re gr-r-r-r-reat!” since 1951. This is probably the longest-running sonic logo in the world, and it has now outlived its voice-over artist. Thurl Ravenscroft was famous for many Disney voices but Tony was his greatest legacy. He voiced the tiger for 54 years until his death in 2005, when Lee Marshall was appointed to carry the tradition forward.

Over the years, some sonic logos have even been registered as trademarks or service marks: the roar of the MGM lion and the old NBC three-tone chime are two examples.
These examples notwithstanding, it wasn’t until the 1990s that sonic logos started to be taken really seriously and their use considered by many major brands. The sea change came with Intel. Its five-note sonic logo, composed by Austrian musician Walter Werzowa, has become one of the best-known sounds in the world, and has spearheaded Intel’s extraordinary success as a brand – given that this is a product nobody ever sees and nobody ever buys.

Today, sonic brands are more in play then ever before. UK insurance giant Direct Line has a sprightly bugle call, which speaks volumes about urgency, assistance and playfulness in just three seconds. Apple has its comforting, uplifting start-up sound, engineered in 1991 by Jim Reekes and still shipping 16 years later. (It is inexplicable that the mighty Microsoft has never seen the value of a single start-up sound; the sound of Windows has changed with every successive version of the software, so that now there is no sound of Windows. They may be learning through: huge amounts of time and money were invested in ‘a language of sounds’ for the Xbox 360.) Lufthansa has invested in a corporate sound, comprising four rising tones that are aimed to convey feelings of taking off and wellbeing. Siemens has recently added a seventh element to its branding: sound has now joined logo, claim, typeface, colours, layout and style as one of the basic building blocks of the Siemens brand. The company has created both an ‘audio signature’ (aka a sonic logo) and also some mood sound as part of its new palette. Even political parties are joining in: Wales’s Plaid Cymru has a short sonic logo to welcome you in peace and harmony to its website.

The evidence is that more and more major brands are creating a sonic logo as a matter of course. With the continuing rise of mobile devices (along with custom ring tones and downloaded digital sound) I believe we have not yet scratched the surface of the sonic logo.

Is it time your brand found its voice – before your competitors find theirs?