Sonic identity: Are we ready?

Sound logos and branding are picking up in the country, as indie bands and brands work together

June 02, 2021 08:36 am | Updated July 06, 2022 12:35 pm IST

From left: V, Jimin, Suga, Jin, Jungkook, J-Hope and RM of BTS

From left: V, Jimin, Suga, Jin, Jungkook, J-Hope and RM of BTS

Last week, fast food chain McDonald’s launched the BTS meal, driven by the K-Pop superstars’ latest hit ‘Butter’, an uptempo, refreshing summer hit. The meal — pegged as a multi-million dollar deal for the seven-member band — will be available in 50 countries, including India, soon, along with BTS merchandise such as T-shirts and hoodies. This is not the first time that McDonald’s has cashed in on a music celebrity meal; in 2020, they signed up Travis Scott.

This is just one of the many ways sound as a property is finding innovative applications today. Last December, Swedish home furnishing major IKEA did away with print catalogues. Instead, for 2021, they launched the entire catalogue as a podcast, spanning 13 chapters, available on YouTube, Spotify and other streaming services.

Rajeev Raja, founder-soundsmith at BrandMusiq, who created ‘Sonic Balm’, a piece in the space of wellness music

Rajeev Raja, founder-soundsmith at BrandMusiq, who created ‘Sonic Balm’, a piece in the space of wellness music

Over the last few years, international brands have been placing emphasis on the sonic identity that defines them, and rightly so. Similar to visual branding, here the idea is that a sound triggers brand recall. Think Netflix’s simple, two-beat ‘Ta dum’, one of the most iconic sound logos of today, or McDonald’s five-note ‘Ba da ba ba ba’ signature. At a time when the way we live, shop and pay continues to change (voice shopping, for instance, via Amazon Echo or Google Home), sound adds a new dimension to a brand’s identity.

  • No conversation in this space is complete without referring to the iconic music composed by AR Rahman for Airtel in 2012. “We started out with wanting to create some caller tunes,” says a senior official at Bharti Airtel. “Eventually, the ad was a big hit and the tune itself became an important asset to the brand.”

In India, sonic branding is slowly taking root. As recently as last year, bands such as Indian Ocean have revisited the jingle for brands such as Dhara Cooking Oil to put a new spin on its music and to bring the brand into the spotlight again. “Sonic branding is a signature for your brand through the facet of sound,” explains Ajit Varma, CEO, BrandMusiq, one of the pioneers of it in India. BrandMusiq has scored the MOGO® (musical logo) for companies such as HDFC bank, Vistara, Raymond and Myntra. “You can hear HDFC’s MOGO over 12,000 ATMs and 80 content videos on YouTube,” he says.

Ritviz Srivastava, singer-songwriter, electronic musician and record producer

Ritviz Srivastava, singer-songwriter, electronic musician and record producer

Recall factor

And the reach of ‘sound’ is expanding. Many brands today want to associate with bands for other branding opportunities, such as events and promotions. Like Tinder India that organised a #PrideFromHome virtual event last year, with electronica music whiz Ritviz’s track ‘ Raahi ’. “If you could map a band with a brand — and say ‘if I am this type of a brand then I should associate with these bands’ [making the brand’s take on its sound clear] — you could build better synergies and outcomes for both parties,” adds Varma.

Consumer studies have demonstrated how, over time, a musical fit to a brand’s personality leads to several positive outcomes such as brand recall, brand love and, ultimately, brand loyalty. For instance a study published in the City University Research Journal found that brand-to-sonic-logo fit was 48% for familiar brands as compared to 6% for unfamiliar brands. This means that effectiveness goes up 800% for consumers who are aware of the brand personality. “Research has shown that music significantly amplifies our emotions, the way a soundtrack amplifies the scenes of a movie,” says music industry expert Achille Forler.

Folk rock band, Swarathma

Folk rock band, Swarathma

Aural stamp

Can sonic branding offer a new source of income for independent bands? While most Indian bands are aware of the potential, they also realise that working in the advertising industry requires as much time and commitment as being a performing artist. “You have to approach ad filmmakers and professionals, and grow a network so that they can contact you when they have a project in mind,” says Bengaluru folk rock band Swarathma’s bassist Jishnu Dasgupta.

  • Ahead of the Grammys in 2019, Mike Shinoda, co-founder and lead vocalist of American band, Linkin’ Park, was roped in to score the music for Mastercard when the brand decided to get a makeover. The music — which the brands says is “the sound equivalent of its iconic red and yellow circles logo” — also plays on voice assistants such as Alexa and Google Home whenever a transaction is carried out, creating its sonic identity.

“We’ve signed up with Anara Publishing, an agency that licenses our music to various brands. This means that we may not get our name out there as the band associated with the brand, but we do get paid for it. And that’s another way of earning a revenue from your music [especially during the pandemic].” Recently, a Swarathma track was licensed for the second season of The Family Man , the action-drama series on Amazon Prime Video featuring Manoj Bajpai.

Vocalist Anand Bhaskar, founder of Mumbai-based rock fusion band Anand Bhaskar Collective, believes that working in the advertising industry could be extremely lucrative. “However, any musician wanting to do this also has to see music as a business and understand the finer points of how the industry works. Getting into professional music is like launching a start-up company. You have to give it the attention it deserves in the first few years, so that you not only become a reliable professional, but are also popular within the business circles. The volume of work you get depends on how successful you are in the B2B circle” concludes Bhaskar.

Preetha Menon teaches Advertising & Branding, and Lalitha Suhasini teaches journalism at Flame University.

Achille Forler, founder-MD of sound design agency Music Curator

Achille Forler, founder-MD of sound design agency Music Curator

Sound check

In 2016, Forler launched Music Curator, a service that specialises in music branding. “What you call sonic branding, I call musical design. Music is an emotional and universal language, and great brands know how to benefit from it. Some companies even value it as an asset in their balance sheet,” says Forler, whose service has created a sonic branding experience for luxury hotels such as Udaipur’s Lake Palace and Falaknuma Palace in Hyderabad, besides working with retail stores across the country.

He believes that a one-size-fits-all approach does not work, which is why music has to be curated to connect with individual brands. “You must know how to adapt the sound identity according to the audiences and the media [pick up sounds that are popular with the masses, for example], and how to project the brand into the future by carrying a vision.”

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