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The Rise and Rise of the Sonic Logo

A logo is not a brand, but it has an important role to play in branding: it instantly represents the brand’s character, introducing us if we’re not acquainted or reminding us if we’re old friends. A logo is like a photograph – not the real thing, but a good reminder. Logos have been so effective that every company has at least one – which is where the problems begin.

I call the problem ‘over messaging’. Each of us now encounters a staggering 30,000 commercial messages every single day, and the vast majority of them are visual. This means that for the next few years at least, sonic logos – by which I mean short sonic mnemonics that are the exact audio counterparts of the visual logo – are going to be worth considering simply because they are relatively rare and can thus act as powerful differentiators. However there’s more to sonic logos than curiosity value alone: used wisely, they work exceptionally well. The also go back much further than you might think.

Sonic logos have actually been around for hundreds of years: street calling used to be the main way tradesmen advertised their services, as wonderfully romanticised in the film Oliver. It’s only a few decades since that practice ended: I can remember the ‘rag-and-bone’ man’s mournful shout of “anyoldiron?” from my childhood in London. 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. Most ice cream chimes are generic, but in Sweden the Hemglass ice cream tune is a universally known and loved sonic brand.

As soon as the advertising industry got sound to play with, it saw the potential of memorable music/voice combinations and the jingle and tagline were born. The dividing line between jingle or a tagline an a sonic logo is blurred. In general, jingles and taglines come and go with campaigns and rarely live for more than a few years. Even the most memorable usually get retired. “For hands that do dishes…”; “It’s the real thing”; these and many more once-mighty jingles or taglines are now languishing in retirement homes, though the brands are still very much with us today.

Some taglines have become sonic logos through sheer memorability. One in particular has outlasted entire generations of customers: Tony the tiger has been saying “they’re gr-r-r-r-reat!” since 1951. This is probably the longest-running sonic logo in the world, and it has now outlived its voice-over artist. Thurl Ravenscroft voiced many Disney characters but Tony was his greatest achievement. He was Tony’s voice for over 50 years until his death in 2005; today, Lee Marshall carries the baton.

Some of the most successful sonic logos have even been registered as trademarks: the roar of the MGM lion and the old NBC three-tone chime are two examples.

These examples notwithstanding, it wasn’t until the 1990s that sonic logos started to be taken really seriously and their use considered by many major brands. The sea change came with Intel. Its four-note sonic logo, composed by Austrian musician Walter Werzowa, has become one of the best-known sounds in the world, and has spearheaded Intel’s extraordinary success as a brand – given that this is a product nobody ever sees and nobody ever buys.

Today, sonic logos are more in play then ever before. UK insurance giant Direct Line has a sprightly bugle call, which speaks volumes about urgency, assistance and playfulness in just three seconds. Apple has its comforting, uplifting start-up sound, engineered in 1991 by Jim Reekes and still shipping 16 years later. (It is inexplicable that the mighty Microsoft has never seen the value of a single start-up sound; the sound of Windows has changed with every successive version of the software, so that now there is no sound of Windows. They may be learning through: huge amounts of time and money were invested in ‘a language of sounds’ for the Xbox 360.) Lufthansa has invested in a corporate sound, comprising four rising tones that are aimed to convey feelings of taking off and wellbeing. Siemens has recently added a seventh element to its branding: sound has now joined logo, claim, typeface, colours, layout and style as one of the basic building blocks of the Siemens brand. The company has created both an ‘audio signature’ (aka a sonic logo) and also some mood sound as part of its new palette. Even political parties are joining in: Wales’s Plaid Cymru has a short sonic logo to welcome you in peace and harmony to its website.

The evidence is that more and more major brands are creating a sonic logo as a matter of course. With the continuing rise of mobile devices (along with custom ring tones and downloaded digital sound) I believe we have not yet scratched the surface of the sonic logo.

Is it time your brand found its voice – before your competitors find theirs?

Future Supersonic Aircraft With No Sonic Boom – Noise Cancelling or Noise Suppression?

Well, over the last few months I have returned to the subject of silent flying aircraft. Back in 2000, I hypothesized many different strategies for creating aircraft which make no noise – even jet aircraft which could cancel out a sonic boom, and prevent any of the jet turbine noise from waking people up as they took off over the city. This future reality is coming to fruition very soon, that is to say future supersonic aircraft with no sonic boom. Indeed I’d like to discuss this with you for a moment if you have the time.

Recently, there was an interesting piece on this topic, as Gizmag online had a cool feature recently titled; “Futuristic Biplane Design Eliminates Sonic Boom,” by James Holloway, published on March 19, 2012. The article with artist’s conceptions stated;

“A first boom is caused by the rapid compression of air at the front of the plane, literally pushed together by the aircraft. A second is caused by the negative pressure left in the plane’s wake – or rather, the rapid return to normal pressure that follows soon after. Though the two booms separate phenomena, they occur so close together that they are usually perceived as a single sound. An aircraft in supersonic flight creates a continual boom as it goes.”

If you go to the MIT Media website and search for this press release: “A biplane to break the sound barrier – Cheaper, quieter and fuel-efficient biplanes could put supersonic travel on the horizon,” by Jenifer Chu published on March 15, 2012 you can read all about it.

Well, a dual swept flying winged biplane which was properly aerodynamically configured could indeed accomplish this. It’s not that the sonic boom would go away rather it’s that the sonic boom could not escape, and that sound could not travel to other people in ear shot. Would it costs too much to build an aircraft like this; perhaps not because instead of one large wing, it would have two smaller ones. In fact, it is a decent design for efficiency on the flight ramp due to its short wing span, and if scaled down, it might even make a nice little fighter aircraft. Scaled up of course, it can be used for a corporate business jet or even an airliner. Perhaps even in an air cargo aircraft configuration.

There seems to be many ways to solve this problem of trapping a sonic boom, or using noise canceling strategies. This is merely one, and although this aircraft may never be built, it does include some rather ingenious and creative thinking. Perhaps one should be built, or several as prototypes for no other reason than to see what we can learn. Indeed I hope you will please consider all this and think on it.

The Sound of Business – Part I

Breaking The Liquid Crystal Barrier

The Web is an emotionally remote hinterland delivered to us through an
impenetrable liquid crystal barrier. How then, can you as a business
owner, entrepreneur, or marketing executive connect to a target
audience that requires emotional reassurance in order to do business?

Willy Loman is Dead

Gone are the days when we sent out phalanxes of sales representatives
pounding the pavement, beating the bushes, and generally getting in
the face of prospects. Too expensive, way too expensive, have you seen
the price of gas? Enough said.

Hot Shots Are Us

So you hire some hot shot Web designer who isn’t as old as the shoes
you’re wearing. If you spent some money on your site, and you didn’t fall
into the trap of having your brother-in-law’s cousin design the thing, you
probably got a technically proficient website. Unfortunately, when they
teach these ‘wunderkind’ the ways of the Web at the local community
college, they don’t teach them anything about business, especially
anything about marketing.

Now if you’re one of those people who think websites are IT projects
then good luck, have a nice life, stop reading, because the rest of what I
have to say will mean nothing to you. On the other hand, if you believe
websites are about marketing, let’s talk.

A Manifesto for the Web

A bunch of guys a whole lot smarter than me wrote a neat little screed
called the ‘The Cluetrain Manifesto’ – very clever stuff. What they said
was ‘markets are conversations consisting of human beings, and the
Internet enables these conversations.’ Now here’s the critical part,
‘conversations among human beings sound human. They are
conducted in a human voice.’ Now does that sound like the Web you
know? Does your website speak with a human voice? Does your
website connect in a human way to your customers? I think not.

So what does this really mean, this so called conversation? Well we are
all aware of Email, Blogs, RSS, and the Instant Messenger technologies
that have enabled this conversation to take place. But with these
informal conversations comes a danger – sloppy thinking and
misunderstood intent.

Someone sends you an email, and you quickly respond dashing off an
email reply without carefully thinking about how, or what, you are
saying. Even if the basic intent and content is what you wanted to say,
have you really said it in a way that your conversation partner will
understand, or will they misconstrue your meaning?

How many one line, short-form emails have you received in response to
a complex initial correspondence, and if you’re anything like me, you
looked at it and thought to yourself, ‘what the hell is this suppose to
mean.’ We’ve got a conversation going all right, but have we really
attained communication.

The Meaning of Life or At Least Web Conversation

Now here’s the interesting thing. I never actually read ‘The Cluetrain
Manifesto’, but I did hear it. Knowing that I would be laid-up for a few
days, bored to death, with nothing to do, but too comatose to really
concentrate on reading a book, I purchased one of those audiocassette
books at the local mall. I had no idea what I was buying, but it sounded
interesting, after all the cover said ‘the end of business as usual’ which
really appealed to my unconventional, contrary nature.

So I bought it, and it was a revelation, an epiphany. Not that I agreed
with everything Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls, and David
Weinberger had to say, but still their voices stayed with me, and are still
locked away somewhere in my head.

Breaking the Liquid Crystal Barrier

And that my friend is the message, the sound of the human voice is
powerful, and it connects to the listener on a whole different level. It
speaks the truth and connects emotionally to the listener on a very
human plane. It breaks through that liquid crystal barrier, and says,
listen to me, I’m here, I’m human, and I have something real to talk to you
about. Wow, this is good stuff. So tell me why don’t you have that human
connection imbedded in your website, delivering your message, your
story.

Forget about all the crap you’ve heard and read about bandwidth and
search engine optimization. When someone takes the trouble to visit
your website, don’t waste the opportunity. Don’t screw it up. Don’t be
afraid to say what needs to be said, in a way that will be heard. If you do
it right, your website visitors will remember what you have to say, and
that liquid crystal barrier will be broken.