3 marketing leaders share their dos and don’ts for sonic branding

Marketing chiefs from the digital, payments and FMCG industries detail their audio branding efforts and how they're measuring effectiveness

Ask any branding strategist if they believe more companies should be investing in sonic branding right now, and you’ll get a resounding ‘yes’.  

According to WARC by Ascential’s recent report on sonic branding, people react to a new sound up to 10 times faster – about 30 milliseconds – than they respond to a visual stimulus. The way our brains process sound is also more linked into subliminal processes than conscious thought.  

An Ipsos study into distinctive brand assets is a further indicator of audio’s power. In its findings across more than 2000 video advertising pieces of creative, sonic brand cues were 8.53 times more powerful than the visual brand assets it tested in terms of performance.  

Add these compelling findings to the rising number of voice-based channels plus increased digitisation of touchpoints, products and services consumers are engaging with brands in, and it’s clear there’s a big opportunity for those who can carve a distinctive sound out in market.  

Here, we delve into the sonic branding strategy of three leading brands - Menulog, Mastercard and Colgate Palmolive - and ask their marketing leaders: What does it take to make sonic branding sing?  

Menulog: Did somebody say sonic branding?  

Menulog made its debut into the top 10 list of Australia’s Audio Logo Index in 2021 for its ‘Did Somebody Say Menulog’ mneumonic. The Audio Logo Index 2021 study looks at brands that combine melody and audio logos and their effectiveness. Menulog reached seventh position with a recall score of 96 with consumers, and likeability of 71.    

Three years from its original inception, Menulog marketing director, Simon Cheng, says the now infamous jingle has become a distinctive brand asset the business has been building equity in and evolving in a subtle way. However, the note bed, pattern and rhythm always stay the same to ensure it's 100 per cent recognisable.  

For Cheng, the audio logo is critical in achieving cut-through. “It’s so important for a brand in this industry to be top of mind in the decision-making process [ordering food] so our marketing efforts are centred around reminding the customer of the Menulog brand,” he tells CMO. “Doing this via audio is a really effective, memorable and less cluttered way to do so.”  

Kirsty Salt for MenulogCredit: Menulog
Kirsty Salt for Menulog

The original Menulog song, ‘Did Somebody Say’, was remixed by Snoop Dogg in 2020 and most recently adapted in collaboration with four Australian musicians: Baker Boy, Kirsten Salty, Big Twisty and D’Arcy Spilly.  

“These have a shorter life span, but are born from our original sonic branding,” Cheng explains.

“No channels are off the table - we have a diverse marketing mix in Australia and we’re always looking for opportunities in alternative streams where we can bring our brand to life, sonic or otherwise, from PR campaigns, innovative media buying, partnerships and direct-to-customer marketing.”  

As the asset evolves, Cheng and his team are mindful of how ‘sticky’ jingles can become and how potentially irritating they can wind up being.  

“In fact, this was the insight that spawned the Snoop Dogg remake - how can we make a jingle so appealing that people will sing along themselves?” he says. “During Covid, we evolved again in support of local artists who had essentially been unable to perform, record or tour due to the pandemic. It was really important for us to invest campaign budget locally and hero local artists. We wanted to do everything in our power to support the industry and give the artists a chance to build new audiences essentially handing over our assets for them to work with.”  

While many industry pundits are suggesting a big surge in sonic branding in 2022, Cheng points out jingles have always been a part of advertising.  

“As the popularity of radio declined, perhaps these assets did too. Brands also got excited about ‘sound-off’ platforms like Facebook and Instagram,” he comments. “Now, sounds are key to social media content from Instagram Reels to TikTok. Music streaming, podcast series and audio books have never been more popular, which is a huge opportunity for all sonic branding and brands who have built equity with consumers with a mnemonic.”  

In striving to understand the value of sonic branding and measure its impact, Menulog’s approach is comparable to ascertaining the value of a strong logo.  

“Creating distinctive assets has been a core part of our branding strategy since we launched ‘Did Somebody Say Menulog’; not only are visual assets key to this platform but sonic assets are equally as important,” Cheng says. “In terms of measurement, we were stoked to be listed seventh on the Audio Logo Index of most effective Australian audio brands recently by Southern Cross Austereo.  

“Over years, you can see the return on investment in building equity on an audio logo, in consumer recall and sentiment. We’ve been lucky to see ‘Did Somebody Say’ really take on a life of its own as one of the most recognised audio logos in Australia.”  

As to his list of dos and don’ts, Cheng warns investing in sonic branding really is a long game.  

“It requires high frequency repetition to reinforce and secure that coveted space in people’s heads,” he says. “Don’t underestimate the impact also in creative production. Beyond achieving the goal of tagline retention, many Aussie consumers can still quote Snoop’s lyrics and we hear stories all the time of phrases like ‘tacos to the chateau’ and ‘wontons on the catamaran’ becoming part of the vernacular among friends and family.”  

Colgate: Sounds like a smile  

Colgate Palmolive global VP marketing, Maria Elisa Carvajal, knows that brands in a digital world are operating in an increasingly cluttered environment. The FMCG’s increased focus on distinct branding, including sonic, is a response to the fragmentation of media globally driven by this digitisation. 

“Data shows the major brands in our category are gradually becoming indistinct from each other. So we really do need to do everything we can to make our brand stand out and be remembered across every touchpoint,”  Carvajal says. “In the past few years, we’ve worked hard to strengthen all of our distinct branding elements, such as colour, logo, font, design, brand voice and visual guidelines. Sonic branding was a key opportunity to create something not only impactful but also unique to the category.  

Credit: Colgate

“It is also important for a brand to have a clear brand belief and authentic purpose. Colgate believes everyone deserves a future to smile about and our brand idea of ‘optimism in action’ is connecting with people around the world in a meaningful way.”    

Colgate Palmolive’s sonic system project kicked off in 2021 and is being applied across the network. Markets are asked to use the ‘logo’, a short sonic, with an end-frame at the end of every video, along with the ‘DNA track’, or soundtrack that runs behind the content itself. Then they are given creative licence to re-record in a way that fits the message, local culture and creative storyline.  

“In terms of milestones, we’re still very early in the journey. But we can at least say that every region has adopted the sonic branding for the majority of their video assets, and that it has now been in front of consumers in 100+ markets,” Carvajal says.    

After nine months of implementation, early research is also showing the brand is performing better than ever in branded recognition, which sonic contributes to. “In tracking, we are seeing people able to identify the sonic and attribute it to Colgate. We’ll be closely monitoring as we move forward,” she adds.    

Extension into new channels is a big priority for sonic extension efforts in 2022. “Voice-activated devices like Alexa present us with great opportunities to extend the sonic brand, likewise environments like Spotify and Pandora,” Carvajal says.  

“This year, we’re actively looking for new ways to get the sonic brand out there – and, wherever possible, into the hands of creators and influencers.”  

As to lessons learnt as Colgate Palmolive invested so substantially in audio branding, Carvajal’s top tip is to make sure the sonic is a true reflection of the brand itself.  

“It sounds obvious, but we put a lot of hard work into making sure our sonic elements communicated what the Colgate brand stands for,” she says. “Colgate is committed to helping people feel optimistic, and so the music we’ve created definitely needs to make the listener feel some of that emotion. You should smile when you hear it.”  

Mastercard: Chiming into trusted and secure payments

Mastercard VP head of integrated marketing and communications, Australasia, Kirsty Redfearn, believes audio and multi-sensory marketing have the power to enhance emotion.  

“The Mastercard Sonic checkout experience provides stronger assurance on critical safety, trust and acceptance needs that is double what we’d see without the multi-sensory elements,” she says. “The extension of the Mastercard sonic brand ensures we continue to enhance our payment experience wherever consumers use their card.”  

Naomi Osaka in the Mastercard Breakthrough room, Australian OpenCredit: Mastercard
Naomi Osaka in the Mastercard Breakthrough room, Australian Open

Mastercard’s sonic branding journey started with a research program assessing how its brand essence could be translated into the audio realm. Since then, the company has built a repository of more than 200 different versions of the Mastercard sonic brand globally, embedding it into 100 million points of interaction.  

“This year will be a big one for Mastercard and Sonic as we continue to roll the brand out across the payments’ ecosystem, from ecommerce partners to frictionless physical spaces, ensuring we continue to build security in transactions,” Redfearn says. “In Australia, it’s already in use with our partners at Ticketek and Shopback. The number of points of integrated interaction with the latter is in the multimillions throughout Asia.”  

At the Australian Open, Mastercard’s audio work included a 360-degree sonic branding campaign activation. As part of its partnership with Spotify, innovative bus shelters across Melbourne played the sonic track alongside the sound of the cheers from the Australian Open, and commuters were able to access Mastercard sonic Spotify playlists including ambassador choices from Jim Courier, Naomi Osaka and Alicia Molik.    

“Our research in Australia shows 65 per cent of consumers believe they are purchasing from a trustworthy store when Mastercard Sonic is played during the checkout process and 59 per cent feel better about shopping at the store over others,” Redfearn says. “By adding Mastercard animation to sonic to create an enhanced multisensory effect, we also saw a 25 per cent lift in consumer response.”  

Other ways of measuring return on investment includes looking at how sonic branding impacts preference, how people perceive the Mastercard brand and what it stands for and making sure the security of transaction across our network is delivered at the point of purchase. All this has seen Mastercard retain the number one spot as Amp’s Best Audio Brand for three years in a row, based on criteria in customer recognition, customer trust, customer experience, customer engagement and customer belonging.  

Mastercard’s mission to have a globally adaptable sonic identity that will resonate across genres has only become stronger with the shift to a global online marketplace enhanced by the pandemic, Redfearn says.  

“It’s imperative our sound represents the same sense of security, acceptance and trust that the visual logo represents today, and which consumers are used to seeing at physical checkouts,” she says. “The rapid rise of digitisation has changed the way consumers interact with brands. One of the most influential trends we’re seeing is the reduction of visual real estate, which is being replaced with the medium of sound. Users of smart speakers, for example, can experience an entire user interaction, from search to purchase, through only voice and the medium of sound.  

“At Mastercard, we have been invested in multisensory brand experience and marketing for some time, even more so since the pandemic which prompted an increase in consumer appreciation of experiences. But it’s important to note the term multisensory refers not only to the visual and audio, but also taste and scent. To this end, Mastercard recently launched two custom brand fragrances called Priceless Passion and Priceless Optimism.”  

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