More Than Just Jingles: One Shop Uses Sound to Give Brands Voices

Rumblefish's Aim: Help Marketers Tell Story With Music Instead of Words

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The Penney Commercial That Led to the Birth of a Band
"What does your brand sound like?"

This is a question Paul Anthony likes to ask. The answer is not about so-annoying-they-stick-in-your-head jingles. And it's not about the random pop song used to make the heart race in hopes that it translates into excitement for a product. For Mr. Anthony, CEO and founder of Rumblefish, the answer should go a lot deeper.

His solution is "sonic branding," and it's all about portraying the personality of a brand without words -- and doing so consistently across all of the brand's platforms. Using music to evoke emotion and stick a product name in the consumer's head is easy: Chili's baby-back ribs, anyone?
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Listen up: In-branch sound booths help Umpqua Bank connect with the local music scene
But imagine for a second the jaunty, high-tech four notes used by Intel. Those four notes have become a sound signature: Consumers think of the brand as soon as they hear those notes.

The full sound spectrum
"Sonic branding is pretty infinite in what it can entail," said Brian Rupp, Rumblefish's creative director. "The obvious things are signatures or creating or finding music for ads, but ... we are interested in inventing new ways to touch people with music and sound -- podcasting comes to mind, branded CDs, mobile phones. And with all these new things, the sky is the limit."

The Portland, Ore., firm opened as a music-licensing agency in 2000, although Mr. Anthony had started licensing his own music -- he wrote orchestral scores for films -- a few years prior. His foray into sonic branding began while working on a project for Adidas in late 2001. "[The brand managers] asked us to get more specific, asking us to think about who the target market was. At that point it became very clear to us that there are music supervisors for movies, TV shows and video games but that no one was music-supervising brands," Mr. Anthony said.

"We all have ears, but most brands don't have voices," said Mr. Rupp. "Brands suffer for that. We are convinced that sound, particularly music, has the provocative and expressive power to communicate identity more compellingly than any message or logo ever could. A single measure of music speaks volumes. It taps into a universal understanding of what different tones mean."

Finding a 'permanent resonance'
Josh Rabinowitz, Grey Global Group's senior VP-director of music, concurs. "[Music] tattoos a permanent resonance in your brain. We learn our alphabet through music. We remember all the jingles and songs from when we were kids. Song is permanence. That's what branding should be -- permanent resonance."

Messrs. Rupp, Anthony and Rabinowitz are all convinced that most musical decisions are created haphazardly. A lot of commercial producers will just throw a bunch of tracks up against the film and see what sticks. "People try to borrow cachet from famous songs," said Mr. Rabinowitz. But some famous songs, such as Steppenwolf's "Magic Carpet Ride" and just about any song by the Who, have a tendency to get used over and over by a variety of brands. The message eventually gets lost and the song just adds to the commercial clutter facing consumers.

Real breakthrough happens when a signature song stays signature because it is original or because of limited licensing. Cadillac did exactly that when it managed to license Led Zeppelin's "Rock and Roll" a few years ago. The real secret, said Mr. Rabinowitz, is to take a well-known song's cachet and connect it to a brand by rerecording it.

An aural automotive experience
DDB Entertainment Paris did just that for the Audi TT Roadster. The advertising agency paired up with sound designer Beatrice Ardisson to help promote the vehicle to women. Not only did Ms. Ardisson already own a TT, but she fit the target demographic: a woman of means and "a certain age." Famous for her work designing ambient music for the hotels of Paris, Ms. Ardisson compiled a CD of covers ("Gangsta's Paradise" by an all-female ukulele band, for example, and "Riders on the Storm" with a hip-hop twist) that was sent to subscribers of French Elle in late March. The idea was to depict the feel of what it would be like to drive the TT.
Driving music: The album made for Audi
Driving music: The album made for Audi

"Everybody in France or any other country can understand our message [through this CD]," said Audi France's manager for press and events communication, Richard Croc. "The music was the best means to communicate the design and experience of the car."

Rumblefish tries to communicate identity, enhance customer experience and cut through the clutter with its original music work. It identifies a brand's values, messaging and market positioning and translates them into musical elements.

"We are certainly aspiring to turn something that is inherently subjective and making it as objective as we can," said Mr. Rupp, "but we don't pretend that it will ever be fully objective -- the trick is to provide ... a tool through which people can come to some sort of agreement on things, so they can make decisions that are in keeping with a predetermined strategy as opposed to 'this sounds good.'"

Finding local sound
This process helped the independent, 10-person shop become music agency of record for Umpqua Bank. Umpqua, already turning bank marketing on its head by looking for ways to drive people into its "stores," is on a mission to be seen as a community bank, even though it has hundreds of branches across Oregon and California. When Mr. Anthony asked Umpqua what its brand sounded like, Lani Hayward, executive VP-creative strategies for Umpqua, said, "Local."

"Discover Local" was Rumblefish's response. The program taps into local music scenes for live events, commercials, ambient music, CD giveaways and sound booths in the stores. At first Umpqua thought it would be a great way to cultivate younger customers, but, Ms. Hayward said, "within the first 30 days after launching the program, we saw that not only were young people coming in and opening checking accounts, but older generations were, too. And if you asked them if would they like a CD or T-shirt, 100% wanted the CD -- whether they were 16 or 65."

Furthermore, she said, "when we run promotions around the music program, we see results. This is an ongoing positioning statement for us."
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