How the Australian Open tuned into its own brand soundtrack

Tennis Australia head of events brand marketing and agency partner Resonance detail the sonic brand strategy that accompanied this year's tournament

Completing the Australian Open brand toolkit by creating an ownable, distinct audio identity that could match the tournament’s distinctive personality was the impetus for Tennis Australia to jump into sonic branding.

Tennis Australia head of event brand marketing, Britt Wickes, said the brief to its audio agency, Resonance, was to help unite its communications and create a consistent end-to-end audio experience for 2022.

“For a brand like ours, sound is synonymous with the sport – from racquets to the balls hitting the ground, roar of the crowd, live stage music – it’s prevalent in everything we do. But we didn’t have that ownable asset,” Wickes said during this week’s IAB Audio Summit. “We thought it was about time we looked into completing our brand toolkit.”

The approach taken was a new sonic identity for the Australian Open 2022, incorporating a brand anthem and logo that could be used across all marketing as well as live during the tournament. Audio blended orchestral instrumentation with common tennis sounds plus the sound of the crowd. Specifically, this included a signature AO chant, a six-beat rhythmic clap and hard-court sounds taken from previous tournaments.

The brand anthem was heard as patrons entered the park and cross the main bridge, in arenas before and during the play, during an interactive light show, as well as in marketing and online content such as social media clips and highlight packages.

In approaching the sonic identity work, Resonance co-founder and creative director, Ralph van Dijk said the Resonance team firstly looked at what made the Australian Open brand unique and distinctive as an event as well as personality.

“We looked at what is it that makes this brand unique and what makes it distinctive as an event and in terms of their personality. We then look at what attributes we can amplify in sound. That’s the starting point,” he said. “We then looked at different musical properties that could reinforce the personality.”  

Four components were identified for the Australia Open: Aussie spirit, playfulness, premium and the ‘happy slam’, a term many tennis players use when discussing the tournament.

“Australia has blue skies, blue courts and they’re all associated with positivity,” van Rijk said. “We knew we wanted to have something that was spontaneous, outgoing and that reflected the Australian personality. That was the chant component.

“Then we had the interaction element and wanting the crowd to participate. That’s perfect for an event. But also the playfulness of encouraging the stadium audience to join in with the chant. The final attribute was premium – a tennis audience is a premium audience, so instruments we used to execute that were orchestral. That helped to elevate the premium quality of the event and audience watching it.”  

Wickes said a key part of the project was to get as many people in the business as well as externally interacting with the brand sound. She admitted this was a big challenge given work started late in the piece.

“We needed to look at how we get the likes of broadcasters on-board, make the most of our production company, content teams – even the sound on the bridge connecting the precinct together. There were so many things we had to do,” she said.

“Just to see that come to life and see so many different departments take this on-board and use it and get excited about it was success to us.”  

As van Dijk described it, there are four core pillars to building sonic success, two of which were in Resonance’s control: Being distinctive and building rapport. “The other two are in hands of our client – that’s consistency and time,” he said.

“We provide sonic guidelines… and recommend how those assets should be used. Different partners may come in and want all the 30-second ad, but other might think it doesn’t suit. It requires a strong client and strong brand to say this represents our brand and if you’re going to use other elements, you have to find a way to segway back into our brand. These are assets that grow in value and act as shorthand over time. It takes discipline to pursue that.”

Typical assets created in a sonic branding approach include a brand anthem, sonic logo and brand voice. The brand anthem is a longer piece of music usually employed in longform content such as a 60-second ad, and across live events, in-store or while on hold to the call centre.

“That is a song or piece of music that reflects the personality of the brand. Within that track is a hook that will be repeated, usually two or three times, and the track usually resolves with that phrase,” van Dijk explained. “The sonic logo can be used on its own to lock-up with a visual lock-up at the end of an ad or piece of content. It’s a shorthand to the personality and longer piece of music. This allows a brand to use it across shortform advertising, as a reminder or highlight. But it’s also standalone enough to communicate some meaning.

“In terms of brand voice… this brand voiceover is often cast to be the consistent voice used across all advertising and any time a brand needs to personify itself and communicate information. Having a consistent voice helps unite all communication across all platforms.

“Before you have even said a word, the way you’re sounding is expressing something about your personality. So if you have a 6-second ad length, you could focus that on a rational message or call to action, and you have this underlying emotion embedded in this message without actually having to say anything about it.

“We are finding brands that do have these assets tend to use audio platforms more often and shortform advertising using more often.”

The Australian Open used its sonic identity not only onsite and in marketing, but also for the call centre hotline through to its AO radio show and podcasts. A toolkit and guidelines were provided and many variants, cutdowns and stings were created.

“It was remarkable to see something that started as something so big could be broken down into more granular use cases,” Wickes said. “The positive vibe went through everyone. Sitting in the stands, watching people clap along, film it and applaud it at the end was incredible to see. You saw the power the sound had with everyone who came into contact with it.”

As a next step, Wickes said she’d like to see Tennis Australia engaging with local musicians to keep building out its sonic identity.

“Time was not on our side this year. It’d be great to be work with other partners to bring that local community together to amplify and have a beautiful story to tell,” she said. “Overall, it’s been an absolutely positive experience and one I’m excited to keep growing.

“That’s our KPI for 2023 – create the number one sound for the summer.”

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