Why marketers should not neglect audio branding

Audio branding is often overlooked by brands, but with consumers continually bombarded with visual messages, it presents a real opportunity to cut through.

Companies spend billions developing the look and feel of their brand but just as important – however sometimes overlooked – is audio branding.

Music has the ability to create strong emotional reactions in people, so defining a brand’s audio personality is critical because one wrong note could be the difference between a customer who is happy and engaged with a brand, and one who switches off.

The rise of voice-connected devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home is only going to push the importance of audio branding up the agenda. But there are many things to consider when it comes to finding the right sound.

Research by agency PHMG shows there is a vast difference between the emotions and brand values different instruments and pieces of music evoke. The agency played 1,000 people a range of different audio clips to gather their emotional response to each piece of music and their views of the impact of music generally.

The majority of consumers (60%) said they believe music used in marketing is more memorable than visuals. Nearly half (45%) believe the music used by a brand helps them better understand its personality, while 47% suggest it helps them feel more connected to a brand.

Strings playing short, sharp notes in a major key (listen above) have a largely positive impact, for example, with 90% of people suggesting they associate them with feelings of happiness and excitement.

However, a slight change to the key can have a big impact. Strings played with a shift from major to minor keys (listen above) provokes a completely different reaction, leaving 81% feeling a sense of sadness or melancholy.

Acoustic guitar, meanwhile, generates a fairly positive emotional response in people, particularly when played in a major key, with 91% finding the clip of music above to be caring, calm and sophisticated.

“Our hearing is a more powerful emotional sense than our sight so there is a clear opportunity for businesses,” says Daniel Lafferty, director of music and voice at PHMG.

“This study underlines the emotional power of music and its potential for conjuring a clear picture of an organisation’s values and ethos in the mind of the listener.”

Boosting brand recognition

One example of that is chip maker Intel’s infamous ‘bong’. The five-note sequence has become synonymous with the brand, and at the height of its use it was ranked as the second most addictive sound in the world, after the sound of a baby laughing, according to Fast Company.

The ‘bong’ was first introduced in 1994 as part of its ‘Intel Inside’ campaign. The company’s then director of marketing Dennis Carter introduced the audio element to help communicate the brand’s message to its audience in a new way.

The Intel bong sound significantly helps brand recognition.

Sarah Allen, Intel

“A simple five-note mnemonic tune composed over two decades ago [has] helped Intel become one of the world’s most recognisable brands. As soon as you hear that bong, it immediately conveys Intel,” says Sarah Allen, UK communications manager at Intel who works closely with the brand team.

“The Intel bong sound significantly helps brand recognition.”

Walter Werzowa, who composed the Intel bong says he was inspired by the rhythm of the syllables in the ‘Intel Inside’ tagline, which triggered a melody in his head. Allen says Werzowa then spent time refining the five-note sequence into the jingle, with each of the five tones a blend of various synthesisers – mostly xylophone and marimba.

In 2016, Intel launched a remastered version of its iconic sound combined with Beethoven’s Symphony No5, which was designed to “evolve Intel’s brand beyond the perception of being just a chip creator to one that Intel creates amazing human experiences,” says Allen.


“In advertising, there are two things that matter: the ability to break through and the ability to drive persuasion.”

This mirrors what the PHMG study found. People taking part were played two clips of music featuring synthesisers, each of which elicited quite different reactions in people.

The first piece of music (listen above) generated a largely negative reaction (77%), with people left feeling reflective (49%) confused (13%) and even bored (11%).

However, a second clip featuring a slightly more electronic sound triggered a very different reaction. The fast, computer-generated notes evoked a sense of innovation in listeners, with 72% feeling upbeat and inspired by the music.

Creating a brand identity

Provoking a feeling of innovation is also key at Lenovo-owned mobile brand Motorola, which it aims to do through its ‘Hello Moto’ mnemonic.

Colin Holloway, UK marketing director at ‎Lenovo UK & Ireland, says the brand’s “quirky, bold, lively and unexpected” personality is brought to life through the sound bite.

Motorola brought back ‘Hello Moto’ after several years in 2016 to drive an element of nostalgia among consumers. “Along with the batwing logo, ‘Hello Moto’ is part of Motorola’s DNA and rich heritage, which is something we wanted to embrace, not shy away from,” adds Holloway.

“The goal of the ‘Hello Moto’ campaign is to increase brand awareness by reminding consumers of the nostalgic ‘Hello Moto’ sound of the Razr [mobile phone]. In doing so we want to drive more pervasive change in how consumers think about and demand mobile innovation.”

Brand ‘sounds’ are successful when they provoke recognition, stir positive emotion and capture a unique identity.

Ben Brown, HelloWorld


Although ‘Hello Moto’ isn’t the sole focus of the brand’s marketing, it is still used on packaging and “we’ll continue to use the iconic ‘Hello Moto’ sonic mnemonic when your phone is switched on to ensure the rich history and association is never lost”.

While Motorola wanted to drive feelings of nostalgia through the comeback of its sonic branding, creating a powerful audio identity is equally important when launching a new brand.

And it’s all the more important for experiential brands, says Ben Brown, marketing director at HelloWorld, a live event that brings together YouTube stars and consumers, alongside live music, rides and games.

With an audio brand, he says the essence of a brand should be condensed down to one sound. “It is the process of stripping all other elements so that in less than a second, one short sequence of notes can trigger a consumer to immediately recall a brand. Brand ‘sounds’ are successful when they provoke recognition, stir positive emotion and capture a unique identity,” he adds.

Through its soundtrack, HelloWorld wanted to create an “upbeat but mysterious, recognisable but not annoying” vibe, which it achieved using a Disney-esque, Harry Potter-style soundtrack.

“We used this intentionally to evoke a magical and cinematic feel. Attendees commented how it contributed to the immersive experience of the event and magical mood it set.”