What’s next for sonic branding?

What brand hasn’t used a jingle to capture our attention? But in a busy marketplace is a catchy earworm still enough? Here, we report on how big companies are taking sonic branding to the next frontier.

Published in
6 min readMay 24, 2022


By Mattha Busby
Illustration by
Tim Lahan

Whoosh! I’m lovin’ it! EA Sports. Kids and grown-ups love it so.

The chances are that when you read these statements your mind added the catchy tunes that accompany them. We’ve grown up hearing these earworms on the radio and the television, as brands seek to employ as many means possible to force us into remembering them.

Brand recognition — rather than quality — is most often what leads people to make purchases. Every time you hear a brand’s jingle — even a sound that’s slightly similar to a jingle — your mind will wander back to the brand in question. Nike, McDonald’s, EA Sports, Haribo.

That’s the whole point.

After all, it takes about a fifth of a second to react to a sound, and far longer to read a paragraph explaining a brand’s story, DNA and perhaps its offering.

Ringtone-style melodies have long been turned into jingles, written into folklore and transformed into moments of nostalgia like no mission statement ever has, but companies are now taking sonic branding to the next frontier as experiences both in person and online are increasingly tailored and customised. They are doing more than making single sonic logos. They are creating entire audio experiences: corporate videos or commercials, online magazines, the songs on a playlist in a store.

“We live in the experience economy,” says Brian d’Souza, founder and managing director of Open Ear, which creates auditory experiences for retail stores, co-working spaces and other settings. “Experiences are created through communicating across all five senses, it’s not just what we see and what we touch. If you don’t get them all right, then you won’t be representing your brands correctly. All of a sudden, from a sound and sonics perspective, it’s really hitting home that it’s important to get that right.”

The pandemic has seemingly been key in forcing brands, particularly those with physical premises, to think holistically. “It’s sink or swim,” says d’Souza, whose company provides tailored, 700-song playlists. “Brands that are able to capture their customers’ imaginations are going to be the ones that survive and thrive. There has to be an experiential dimension, and music is a pretty good way to help provide that. We are all, in essence, expert listeners.”

Because many people are unlikely to return to high streets and retail parks in the same way they visited these places before, and as lockdowns heightened desire for immersive virtual experiences from home, brands are seeking to provide more experiential online spaces. And where better to do that than in the metaverse (a virtual reality space considered the next stage of the internet)?

In the metaverse, sound will be key. Soon, wearing VR headsets, which will later evolve into connected glasses that allow for sensory and cognitive experiences (which can happen outside the metaverse already), you will be able to virtually walk into a hotel room to check it out before booking a holiday. You will be able to try on clothes as your avatar (which is rendered to your specific measurements) and customise a vehicle that you are buying in the physical world.

“Brands will have a much bigger opportunity to control those environments and perfect bespoke sonic environments and landscapes for their customers to create really meaningful experiences,” d’Souza adds.

The rapid growth in smart speaker use is already bringing increasing importance to sonic branding, with voice purchases soon to become a thing. But many brands have yet to adapt. “Do you have a sonic brand? Today, most brands don’t,” writes business strategy expert Roger Dooley in Forbes. “Or if they do, it’s limited to one medium, like a jingle used in radio ads or television commercials. While nobody would question the need for a brand logo or colour scheme, audio branding is often neglected. […] Only when the association between sound and brand is automatic and unconscious will the potential of sonic branding be fully realised.”

New business models at the intersection of sound, music and branding are also emerging and consolidating. The popular sleep aid and meditation app Calm, which has been downloaded more than 100 million times, offers users a series of guided meditations and Sleep Stories. It has partnered with musicians Keith Urban and Toro y Moi to score their smartphone exercises, and a new series of 60-minute remixed tracks from Ariana Grande, Katy Perry and others is designed to help users get to sleep.

As solitude increased and access to mental health services declined in the first year of the pandemic, downloads of Calm doubled. Wu-Tang Clan member RZA recently created the soundtrack to a 34-minute Sleep Story narrated by the basketball legend LeBron James. The app also provides a library of popular songs for premium users.

MassiveMusic — an agency that creates “sonic brand identities and best-in-class compositions” for clients such as Nike and ESL Gaming — recently developed a soundtrack for a recent sneaker advert from the former.

“To capture the different sounds of music subcultures, we put together a team of composers and producers, each person with a background in one of these subcultures, to ensure they could translate the request into an actual, cohesive soundtrack,” the company says on its website. “The brief asked us to elevate the message of the documentary by musically contributing to the flashy and animated parts with tracks that capture the nostalgic sound of Nineties music subcultures.”

Open Ear provides brands, companies and venues such as Selfridges, the restaurant chain Wahaca and Somerset House with custom-made playlists for each day of the week, scheduled to reflect morning, afternoon and evening vibes. At department stores, different rooms receive different playlists: ambient music for the watch department and tracks with faster beats for the denim department, for example.

After all, more relaxing music encourages people to take their time and linger, while faster-paced music encourages quicker turnaround. Ambient music may be the best genre of music to encourage focus, according to a 2014 Mindlab International study, which asked 26 people to complete tasks involving equations for a week to a variety of music styles. Dance and classical music were also found to be useful in ensuring success.

So that store staff and regulars don’t get bored and caught in a “musical groundhog day”, Open Ear introduces at least 50 new tracks to their playlists per month — and sometimes a playlist is flipped entirely upon the changing of the seasons.

Swell (a portmanteau of “sound” and “wellness”) is a new venture from Open Ear. “We’re looking at ways in which sound can be used to help people’s mental health,” d’Souza says. “We want to understand how different music and sounds can trigger different emotions, bring about different memories and provide a sense of clarity and relaxation.”

In collaboration with the University of the Arts London, the company is investigating how AI machine learning could potentially personalise music to bring about different outcomes for individual users.

D’Souza is also working with Imperial College London to provide the participants of a study looking at whether psilocybin could alleviate chronic pain with a series of playlists that match up to the different intensities of the experience while under the influence of the drug. “We’re gradually understanding how powerful music can be,” he says.

About the author
Mattha Busby is a freelance writer based in Mexico. His work has appeared in the Guardian, the Observer, Vice, GQ, Leafly and other publications. @matthabusby

About MMBP & Associates
MMBP & Associates is a creative consultancy that imbues brands with cultural capital. We believe that having an awareness of, and sensitivity to, societal shifts is crucial if innovation is to happen. We are reshaping worldviews by connecting local culture with a global audience.

Based in London, MMBP & Associates collaborates with an international network of partners who value immersive, real-world analysis as the foundation for creative ventures. Directed by Hank Park and Julien Beaupré Ste-Marie, the company takes a holistic approach to brand design, working to detect potential business challenges while developing creative solutions.

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