20 May 2021

Sonic logos: Mastering your sonic identity

Expert comment
Audio branding comes in many forms… but perhaps the most literal and memorable is the sonic logo.

The likes of Netflix, Mastercard and McDonald’s all make use of this powerful marketing asset – but what exactly is one? And why is it so valuable to a business?

Master composer Charlie Wilkins shares his insight into mastering your sound identity.

What is a sonic logo?

In its simplest, most understandable terms, a sonic logo is the audio equivalent of a brand’s most recognisable icon – a melodic motif that conveys the identity of a company.

This is the formal definition, but to really explain their power, it’s better to think of their impact on a listener. A sonic logo is the quickest, most effective way to capture the heart and soul of a brand. The second you hear one, it forms a fast and firm association in your mind – and leaves a lasting impression.


Why are they so important?

In a world where we’re bombarded with marketing messages, it’s proven that audio cuts through this noise. 2020’s Ipsos ‘Power of You’ report revealed that ads featuring sonic brand cues were eight times more likely to perform highly for branded attention – meaning they’re far more effective in securing audience recognition and correct brand attribution.

Part of the reason for this success is the way they appeal to the modern consumer. A study by Microsoft revealed that the average human attention span is just eight seconds, so businesses have only this small fraction of time to make an impact; sonic logos can instantly get a potential customer listening to what you have to say, as they memorably convey company identity in just a few short seconds.

And with ever-increasing opportunities to deploy this feature, there’s an even greater chance of market dominance across multiple, receptive channels.


How do they work?

To best understand this, let’s explore perhaps the most famous example: McDonalds.

‘Bad da ba ba ba’ is as recognisable to many of us as their iconic golden arches, and it’s the following features that make it so memorable:

  • A universal melody – The notes used are those of the pentatonic scale – recognised in musical cultures across the globe, and inherently sing-able
  • Syncopation – Placing the notes off the beat creates a playful melody that makes you want to dance
  • Simple syllable – It’s so easy to say – and sing – that it almost demands to be repeated
  • Easy to replicate – The simplicity means it can be played on any instrument, or sung by any voice – making it all the more adaptable.

This last point introduces flexibility that allows you to reinforce other messages within a commercial too. McDonald’s did this in an ad for a ‘elegant’ burger by having their sonic logo played by a string quartet.

Netflix have done something similar; as they diversify into producing features films (on top of their bread-and-butter series), they tasked Hans Zimmer with creating a ‘cinematic’ cut of their sonic logo.


How can a business use it?

In today’s audio-focused market, there are more ways to use a sonic logo than ever before. It powerfully reinforces company identity within:

By broadcasting this asset across as many channels as possible, you’ll create ultimate synchronicity in sound for maximum recognition. Distinctively memorable and rapidly powerful, sonic logos are fast becoming an essential brand asset.

The only question that remains is whether it’s a valuable benefit for your business – and the answer is a resounding ‘yes’.


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