How Should a Sonic Logo Sound?
Good and bad examples so you can distinguish the two
First of all, what is a sonic logo? It’s the acoustic version of a brand’s visual logo. When you look at a company’s logo, you see a certain typography, usually one or two colors, and a symbol that clearly identifies the brand. The company creates a design that helps their brand be recognized.
The sonic logo does the same. With a brief sequence of notes (three to six is the usual) and specific sound textures, you get the most condensed version of a brand’s sound identity. And as with the visual logo, you try to put it everywhere. You place it in the company’s radio ads, TV spots, store’s playlists, events, anywhere you can get people to listen to it. The goal is to make people associate those sounds with your brand.
So how can we notice the difference between a good and a bad audio logo? There are two main features to look for: being recognizable and adjustable. It’ll be easier if we use examples for it.
Coca-Cola will be our good example and Coordinadora, a Colombian merchandise transport company, will be our bad example. I don’t work for any of these so my assessment is not motivated by either mandatory praise or angry revenge. No strings attached.
A Sonic Logo Must Be Recognizable
If people don’t get to relate those sounds to your brand, then what’s the point of having a sound logo?
A good audio logo will get people to say “Ah, I’ve heard this one before,” and “Oh, I know! This one’s from McDonald's!” First, you’ve achieved many people to hear it as it sounds familiar, and second, they know it relates to your brand.
Usually, brands get the first part. The audio logo sounds familiar to people but they don’t know quite where to place it. Sadly, companies have invested so much just to get the “I’ve heard it before” effect, but the brand name, no clue.
What should a good sonic logo have to be recognizable? It has to be simple. Too many notes will just not stick in people’s minds. It’s too hard to remember.
And it has to be distinctive. Unique. It should have a sound that characterizes it easily. It shouldn’t mix with other brands’ sound.
Here, both Coca-Cola and Coordinadora get it right. Both sonic logos have five notes and their sound is unique. Although, unique doesn’t necessarily mean good and we’ll see that in a bit.
Coca-Cola’s sonic logo (at 00:03):
Five-note sequence, written in a major key, and played on a smooth piano sound. Nice, easy, and memorable.
Coordinadora’s audio logo (at 00:07):
Also a five-note melody, written in a major key, and creatively using the resemblance of a truck’s horn to play it. Easy, simple, and catchy.
A Sonic Logo Must Be Adjustable
If an audio logo isn’t consistent, people won’t grasp the connection with the brand. But if it’s always the same it won’t catch your attention. People need novelty to get them interested. So a sonic logo has to balance these two things to spread its message.
Here’s how CocaCola does it:
In this slow-paced ad, you hear how the original sonic logo (at around 00:55) and it is slowed down to blend in with the inspirational ad. It maintains the same note sequence but adjusts it beautifully to the context at hand.
Here’s another portrayal of their audio logo:
In this song played during the South African Football World of 2010, the sonic logo was introduced in the chorus (0:22, 1:31, 2:47, 3:25). No lyrics for that part so that anyone can join in. A great way to set aside all language barriers. And a cheerful tone that sets people in a good mood. That same sonic logo you heard before as a calm and intimate melody is used in a completely different way, but equally effective.
While on the other side, Coordinadora doesn’t change a thing about their logo from ad to ad.
A joyful, light mood ad is crashed by the same sonic logo we heard before. There’s no fit with what is going on before, musically speaking. They just stick it without any regard for context, instrumentation, mood, or taking any variable into consideration.
This other one is even worse:
There’s nice smooth music supporting the inspirational narrative of the overall ad. And once you get to the final part there are three different sounds clashing chaotically (0:17). They took the “Let’s go together” message into a disorganized and unpleasing sound execution.
First, you get to hear the music you’ve already been hearing throughout the ad. Then you have the final words of the narrator announcing how great they are as a company. And finally, you hear the same untasteful sonic logo inserted on top of all this.
Can anyone make sense of what’s going on there? This is clearly an example that shows how brands should not use their sonic logo.
If you’ve seen any animation of the brand’s logo, you’ll usually see it comes with a certain sound. A sonic logo is the audible version of a visual logo.
It shrinks the brand’s identity into a brief sequence of notes so that people can easily identify those sounds with the brand. But it has to be recognizable and flexible enough so that it effectively sticks in people’s minds. As you’ve seen, Coca-Cola does a great job at it. On the other hand, Coordinadora does very poorly.
And what’s worse than not being effective is getting the opposite result: rejection. Now you can say that any publicity is good publicity, but if people actively avoid your brand, then you’re in big trouble. Sound is a powerful tool, you just have to know how to use it.