A brand is made up of countless different pieces—including everything from the product itself to its personality and presence, level of seriousness or playfulness, appearance, feel and sound.
The aural signature of a brand has the power to invoke strong feelings—positive or negative—in consumers. But according to a new study by sonic branding studio Man Made Music and research firm Sentient Decision Science, it’s important to keep close tabs on how a brand’s trademark sounds are resonating with fans over time, and adjust as needed as public sentiment changes.
As consumer habits and behaviors shifted during the pandemic, their responses to those aural signatures also changed. For example, in a survey conducted in June, consumers had very positive associations with the Netflix brand—the strongest emotional appeal of all 16 brands tested, and of the highest ever recorded by Sentient. However, when exposed to the trademark “dun dun” sound that plays at Netflix’s launch and before programming starts, the overall emotional appeal of the brand dropped by 10%.
Researchers attributed this negative association with the Netflix sonic logo to “sheer overexposure” as consumers have spent more time streaming content from the platform as a way to escape from the pandemic, and everything else that’s gone wrong in 2020.
“The fact that the sonic logo was so overexposed, with no modifications made to it, actually hurt the Netflix brand’s emotional appeal,” wrote Man Made Music president Lauren McGuire in a statement on the survey’s results. To mitigate the exhaustion that comes with overexposure, Netflix should have either updated the sonic logo or reduced its appearance on the platform, said McGuire.
The survey also asked respondents to gauge their emotional response to 15 other brands’ visual and aural logos: medical device company Abbott Laboratories, The Alzheimer’s Association, American Express, Cricket Wireless, British multinational pharmaceutical company GSK, Honda, Hulu, Intel, MasterCard, McDonald’s, Netflix, NPR, Old Spice, Southwest, T-Mobile and ZipRecruiter.
Of those, the sonic logos that were rated highest by respondents were those that fit the moment well. “What’s helping brands connect with consumers at the moment are logos with sonic structures that are rich, situationally appropriate without feeling pandering, and hopeful for the future,” said McGuire.
Abbott and The Alzheimer’s Association both succeed in this regard—a quieter dynamic that moves melodically upward, giving both jingles a hopeful feel. The Alzheimer’s Association’s trademark sound worked particularly well for it, as consumers generally responded to the logo itself, which invokes a deadly illness, with a negative emotional response.
On the other hand, brands with cheerful or upbeat sonic logos struggled to connect with respondents during during the pandemic. McDonald’s and Old Spice are two brands that have historically very positive associations with their overall brands and jingles. While the visual logos still maintained a strong positive response in those surveyed, the happy sounds of the jingles drove both brands into the net negative territory, the report said.
Given the results, McGuire urged brands to continually test and retest consumer response to their sonic logos, and adjust with the times. If it’s not possible to create a new aural trademark under the time constraints, it’s better to drop the sound altogether than risk it hurting the overall brand.