Don't be dumb about branding

Prunella for Tesco, Sensorial Branding & ‘The Holidays and Coming’

Prunella for Tesco, Sensorial Branding & ‘The Holidays and Coming’

The misconception of sonic branding

Early on in my career at Capital Radio, a sales exec came to the creative department with a problem. They said ‘Tesco’ - then in their heyday as the leading British supermarket - ‘had tested radio and it hadn’t worked so they wouldn’t be spending for the foreseeable future’. So the first question was, what did they test?

We were sent a radio ad voiced in the style of Dracula for a promotion about steaks that had been played exclusively in a North East test region. It didn’t take much analysis to understand where the problem lay. At the time Tesco were famous for their distinctive TV ads that developed the characters of a mother, played by Prunella Scales and Jane Horrocks as her exasperated daughter.

What Tesco hadn’t understood was these character voices were their sonic branding, and by not using them they were essentially testing unbranded creative, not radio. It’s not enough just having any voice say Tesco, you might as well print the logo in wrong colours and typeface on a print ad or poster. So we made that point by doing just that [see below]. We simply asked would they expect the same research results if the logo colour and font was different or indeed if it was missing completely?      


The body text mentions which supermarket the ad is for, but it needs conscious attention to actively register. For visual branding looking as an active process and seeing as a passive process is equivalent to listening and hearing for sonic branding. However the difference is that visually, logo positioning and use of white space ensures the brand is always present, even to someone passively seeing the ad. However a voice saying Tesco in a 30” ad is not a sonic equivalent as it isn’t present throughout to a passive hearer of the ad, whereas a character voice[s] or a music bed throughout, is.

The Tesco marketing team were persuaded and soon after Prunella and Jane were signed for radio, they commissioned a short sonic logo that appeared with the visual logo reveal and Tesco became a leading investor in radio for several years after.

We explained this obvious oversight [or should that be oversound], with the fact that radio was a relatively juvenile advertising opportunity in the UK back then. Although UK commercial radio began in 1973 it hadn’t reached a critical mass for national advertisers until the mid 1990’s. As a result, brands were inexperienced with the idea of branding with sound. That doesn’t mean there weren’t some strong sonic brands, it’s just they had been predominantly built on TV and many didn’t consider keeping the consistency across radio.

The evolution of sonic identities

We made it our mission to promote the importance of sonic branding and define what that meant. The general presumption was sonic branding was just short sonic logos that some US brands had created, like Intel’s for the Pentium Processor, but no one would consider a visual logo to be the totality of visual branding.

When considering what sonic branding is, brands need ensure the desired brand values are implicitly learnt by the listener through voice, music and sfx. Distinctive, interesting, recognisable and familiar character voices and of course music all play a vital role (as I’ve described previously music is an extension of the elements that make voices emotional). Consistency of sound also has an added benefit in that most people miss-attribute how or where they were exposed to ads, believing they saw a TV ad when they actually only heard an audio ad, which is a very cost effective way of extending a campaign.

McDonald’s show more clearly why music is so adaptable for sonic branding as the recall comes from the melody, but that mnemonic can be delivered is a huge number of different contextually relevant ways by musical genre, tempo, language, age/sex of voice or even utilising sfx. Although, for many years the brand that really understood the importance and scope of sonic branding was British Airways, through their continual and varied re-arrangements of The Flower Duet from the Opera Lakme by Deleabe.

Bauer Media recently announced that 40% of their online streamed audio is delivered by smart speakers and we are seeing similar percentages for the dynamic campaigns we’re delivering, so it is unsurprising that global brands are now developing sonic branding strategies. Here are a couple of recent examples:

How we can help

A Million Ads offers the opportunity to take sonic branding to the next level by becoming dynamic, personalised, sonic branding. We’ve already run campaigns for some of the most recognisable sonic brands like McDonalds [I’m lovin’ it], Coca-cola [Holidays are coming], and Compare the Market [Meerkats - Aleks & Sergei. We're looking forward to exploring how our technology can amplify the brand equity they’ve already established subconsciously through our ears.

So don’t be dumb about branding, if you don’t have a distinctive, identifiable, unique sound to your communication that resonates with the values of the person you are wanting to influence, you may as well be dumb and not have a voice. If you’d like to find out how dynamic personalisation we can help your brand increase their sonic brand presence, give us a shout!

Sam Crowther

Sam is fascinated by sound, particularly understanding how and why it affects us in the way it does. As well as developing the understanding of how we apply dynamic personalised sound within ads Sam tests the creative boundaries of this format to make them more human.