First Note

What’s this book about? First, let’s start with the title. “Super” suggests excellence. “Sonic” means sound. “Logo” is a symbol. Put them together and you can hear the power of audio branding. Next, a brief background into audio branding especially logos might help. Audio branding is not new. Neither are audio logos. What is new is an appreciation of sound. Not surprising that sound is riding the wave of smart speakers. Houses are becoming more voice-activated every day turning on lights and sound. We are telling Alexa and Google daily to play our favorite music and podcasts while we buy our groceries and clothes. By the end of 2021, that number is predicted to grow to 23.5 million.1 Voice shopping is also expected to jump to $40 billion in 2022.2 Even though new audio logos are being turned on every day, it may indeed still be “the dawn of the audio logo.”3 The father of “atmospherics” Philip Kotler (1973) believes that today’s atmospherics (sound) must be designed for devices as well as spaces.4 Sound has always been and continues to be a powerful atmospheric for not just marketing but also movies, television, media, and sports. It is clearly the time for brands to turn up the volume on audio branding because “brands without an audio presence will have no presence.”5

But what really is audio branding?

The American Marketing Association defines audio branding as “the approach of using unique, proprietary sound and music to convey a brand’s essence and values. Just as visual branding defines a brand using color and shape, audio branding defines a brand through sound and music.”6 The power of “sonic branding is twofold: the creation of brand expressions in sound and the consistent, strategic usage of these properties across touchpoints.”7 These marketing touchpoints open new lines of communication and can give the brand a deeper voice. “If a brand can identify opportunities for sonic communications and applies some of the art of sonic branding, it gains access to a whole world of communication opportunities that it never had before.”8 It can be heard in both advertising and media. “The development of the marketing and (television and) movie industries over the last 100 years informs much of what we call sonic branding.”9 Sonic branding can be better and cheaper for the brand in the long run because “if a brand-owner has the foresight to commission their own sonic branding, then they have the right to expect that they will not be held to ransom by limited (synchronization) licenses.”10

And what is an audio logo?

An audio logo can be considered a brand’s musical nickname. “The audio logo represents the acoustic identifier of a brand and it is often combined with an (animated) visual logo. It should be distinct/unique, recognizable, flexible, memorable and fit the brand by reflecting brand attributes.”11 It has “a powerful sonic mnemonic function.”12 It is “a vessel for associations.”13 It is different from a jingle which is “a short slogan, verse or tune designed to be easily remembered and a mnemonic intended to help the memory.”14 A sonic logo is notes not words (although sometimes the notes provide the instrumental for the melody) that the brand commissions and can own copyrights. It typically is between three to six notes with limited research that suggests that six is optimal to influence a consumer’s willingness to buy.15 Sonic logos “convey values and principles brands want to be seen (and heard) to stand for.”16

Sonic logos have two primary jobs: “the heraldic function of drawing the listener’s attention to whatever the logo is a logo for, whether a product or a service, a company or some other organization, or a radio or television programme; and an identity function, expressing the values and principles which that product or service, or other entity, stands for.”17 Sonic logos

combine a practical function with the expression of identity. Their functional structure is quite stable and homogeneous, calling the listener to attention through a melodic structure categorized by ascending melodies, large intervals, dotted rhythms, a lack of resolution, so that the music has an open ending, continuing in what follows, whether it be a news bulletin or a work session of the computer user. The identity function is less stable and more varied and flexible, able to respond to new trends as they occur and primarily carried by timbres, often created through blending sounds with specific meaning potentials or cultural references into novel “composites of connotations.” Sonic logos therefore embody both continuity and change, both generic homogeneity and stylistic variety.18

Sonic logos can be

even more powerful when they are tied to anthems or themes. An anthem is the long-form expression of a nation, a brand, a personal story, a movement, or a cause told in the language of sound. It expresses values in a sort of ownable sonic DNA. That DNA can then be used to make shorter sounds—sonic logos—that instantly and efficiently let listeners recall and understand rich stories.19

Is audio the same as sonic?

For our purposes, “sonic” and “sound” mean the same thing. Sonic is probably “sexier”20 and more powerful. And sonic logos have been around forever. As Julian Treasure tells it:

Sonic logos have actually been around for hundreds of years: street calling used to be the main way tradesman advertised their services, as romanticised in the film Oliver. 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. As soon as sound recording became viable, the advertising industry saw the potential of memorable music/voice combinations and the jingle and tagline were born. The dividing line between jingle or tagline and a sonic logo is blurred. In general, jingles and taglines come and go with campaigns, or are specific to them, and rarely live for more than a few years. Some taglines are so strong they become sonic logos (Tony the Tiger’s “they’re gr-r-r-r-reat!”). Tony notwithstanding, it wasn’t until the 1990s that sonic logos started to be taken seriously and their use came to be considered by major brands as a matter of course. The real sea change came with Intel.21

Now, on to the book!

It all began with the NBC Chimes. And that is where we begin with a deep dive into the best of the best sonic logos. The ones we can’t get out of heads. Whether you consider them to be music to your ears or earworms,22 these are the ten most noteworthy sonic logos of all time and the people who gave them the notes. It’s the backstory behind the logo historically and then in most cases from the creators themselves. Some of the interviews were done today (recently) and when they could not they are from interviews yesterday (before). You will meet John Williams, yes that John Williams, who in 1975 with just two notes made us scared to go back into the water (Jaws). Then turn on the television to get locked in with Mike Post and just one of his countless themes from Law and Order (You thought I was going to say Hill Street Blues, didn’t you? He did that too!). After that, it is off to Austria and maybe the most famous sonic logo of all time from Intel and its creator Walter Werzowa. From there we meet the man who owned a Mac but gave Window’s 95 its voice, Brian Eno. If you have a phone ringing, it’s probably Lance Massey (T-Mobile) or Joel Beckerman (AT&T). If you are hungry better eat something before you meet Bill Lamar (McDonald’s) or Joe Belliotti and Umut Ozaydini (Coca-Cola). Finally, you’ll hear from a future Hall of Famer, Raja Rajamannar (Mastercard). What will you learn from this book? That every great sonic logo begins with a note.

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