Sonic Cues & The Return of the Jingle

Victoria Gates-Fleming

Sounds spark some of our most powerful memories: that one jingle you heard one time in middle school and never forgot, for instance. VP of Digital Strategy & Creative Insights Victoria Gates-Fleming explains how a smart, catchy sonic cue helps brands earn a distinctive and long-lived place in culture.


Most of us don't think about it too often, but jingles have a profound ability to evoke an emotional response—one that is often with us for the rest of our lives. I'm Victoria Gates-Fleming, VP of digital Strategy and Creative Insights at Day One Agency, and in this episode of the Quarterly, I'm going to be discussing Sonic cues and the Rise of the Jingle.

Can you tell which brand this is by its sound? Okay, what about this one? Sound and music are such powerful ways to trigger emotion and aid memory recall in the minds of consumers. Just think about the power of catchy jingles and how they get stuck in your head. As a child in the 90s I spent Saturday mornings watching cartoons and singing the jingles from the ad breaks. No one questions the importance of a logo, typeface and brand colors. But what does your brand sound like? Sonic branding is not new, sound has played an important part in branding for a century or more. But as we move towards a screenless future, brands will increasingly use sound as a way to be identified and to stand out.

We are certainly seeing the increasing importance of audio in our daily lives. Voice notes are my preferred method of communication. And just look at the rise of Alexa, audible podcasting and even Clubhouse. Our desire for hands free listening is forcing brands to rethink their audio strategies. And it's contributing to the rebirth of audio marketing. The pandemic has inevitably had a big impact, significantly increasing the time spent listening to commercial radio or at home using voice search.

Thank goodness for “Alexa play wheels on the bus” when you're holding a crying baby, FYI.

But did you know that the average U.S. adult spends three hours a day using mobile apps and almost 1/3 of that—53 minutes is spent using audio apps. But also our products and apps talk to us so much and we're used to it. Think about that Netflix sound earlier or how your laptop whenever you open it talks to you or your TV when you turn it on? Maybe even your car sound has a unique ability to trigger emotions in the listener.

When I hear the sound of 20th Century Fox, I can always smell the popcorn and feel the movement of my seat and as we move from screen based communication to more voice-based experiences, brands are recognizing the power of sonic identities as part of broader brand strategy and map to the whole customer experience.

“What sounds Do you want a consumer to associate with your product or service? A successful Sonic identity will mirror the brand that it's attached to.” According to Vince Hudson, SVP of enterprise marketing strategy at American Express (#client). For American Express those brand values are strength, optimism, momentum, and trust. And they really do come to life when you listen to the music and Amex has ads and social content. For marketers, there's a huge opportunity here as we're steadily interacting with brands in non visual ways.

From driving and backing out to grocery shopping, people can listen to audio content, wherever they are, whatever they're doing. Now, so many brands have Spotify playlists, KFC, Victoria's Secret, and Gymshark to name a few. But so many brands have podcasts too. As a result of our collective increase in podcast consumption, we're seeing an increase in podcast advertising spending, and for good reason. Digital Audio listeners are attentive and loyal, particularly podcast listeners. A Medroll Media survey found that 60% of surveyed podcast listeners say they bought something after hearing it advertised on a podcast. The survey also found that podcast ads get over four times more brand recall than ads on other digital platforms.

Sound gives you the ability to develop a more intimate relationship between listener and the content. It can feel truly immersive to remember all those ASMR videos. Brands such as Applebee's and LinkedIn all dip their toes in ASMR. For brands, finding increasingly creative ways to communicate with consumers and bring their products to life through sound. A few years ago FinTech startup Ana created a debit card that meows when you pay for something with their contactless card. Humorous and memorable, it's certainly a way to stand out, particularly if you like cats.

More recently, IKEA just replaced its print catalog with an audio only version. The audio log which IKEA describes as a tool for your ears, is available on YouTube, Spotify and audiobooks. And instead of traditional engine sounds, BMW's new electric car will play an interactive soundscape composed by Hans Zimmer piped into the cabin to 24 speakers for a symphonic experience. TikTok has also had an enormous impact on listening habits. Music based videos are such a large part of the platform and trending sounds on tik tok can make or break an artist (Hello, Olivia Rodrigo) as well as shoot a brand to TikTok fame. Anyone who spent time on the app knows how a good TikTok song can get stuck in your head all day.

As brands wrestle with our increasingly audio consumption habits, it would make sense that now is the time to bring back the art of a catchy jingle. We know that jingles are an effective way to build and refresh memory structures—just ask any kid from the 90s, musical memories stand the test of time.

We're surrounded by so many digital distractions that Sonic cues can help set brands apart, trigger memories and associations earning a place in the hearts and heads of your customer. Taking time to consider your brand's Sonic identity and develop distinctive brand assets is crucial. As our lives become increasingly digital and screenless sound presents boundless opportunities to deepen relationships with consumers. It's time to listen up.