Pandora became the first major audio streaming platform to adopt a sonic logo, or a tune it hopes consumers will associate with its brand wherever it's heard.
In the future, the company might play the logo when someone opens its app, and what they hear will be personalized based on the type of music they listen to. For now, however, the sonic logo will only exist in Pandora's "Sound On" brand campaign, which debuted today and includes musicians such as Jonas Brothers, Khalid and John Legend.
The concept of a sonic logo is hardly new: The drumroll played during the 20th Century Fox intro was created by composer Alfred Newman in 1933; Walter Werzowa made Intel's iconic "bong" anthem more than 20 years ago. Even notification alerts—such as those from Samsung, Google and Apple—can easily be associated with the brands they're meant to represent.
"With the audible renaissance we're currently experiencing, the biggest differentiator between 20 years ago and today is that today, brands being able to succinctly communicate their proposition with audible formats is non-negotiable," Rachel Lowenstein, associate director of Invention+ at Mindshare, says. "It's pretty clear that audio isn't a tertiary tactic in brand campaigns and therefore sonic branding isn't something that we're just slapping on at the end of TVCs or running in radio."
Yet for Pandora, a 19-year-old tech company, music streaming platform and automated music recommendation engine, it's never had one. Brands, however, are starting to pay attention to the space given the proliferation of smart speakers, which are now making companies focus on how they are heard, not seen. Pandora's move also gives it some credibility to say it practices what it preaches, as one of its services is to help brands develop their own audio identity.
"A brand identity is no longer dependent on look and feel alone," says Lauren Nagel, VP and exec creative director at Pandora. "We are thinking about this beyond the Pandora platform; we want to be an agency to speak on the very source of sound."
Steve Keller, Pandora's sonic strategy director, describes Pandora's new logo as "delight."
"I hear energy, friendly human-ness and a group of voices both male and female," he says. "What you are hearing now is the starting point. And we will drill that into your ears and brain like an earworm. But as we change it up over time, it may reflect a certain mood, or the listener — they will still hear 'Pandora,' but the melody may speak to them differently."
Picking an audio identity
Keller says it took the company roughly six months to develop its new logo, adding that such a turnaround is fast when compared to other companies who've attempted a similar feat. Visa, for example, spent a year developing a sound that lasts less than a second long.
"We did what takes a lot of other brands a lot longer in six months because of the people we have at our disposal," he says. Grammy winner and composer Matt Winegar created the 3-second audio logo, says Keller.
The company received more than 200 different audio logos through its selection process, and narrowed them down over three rounds. "We came up with four we felt strongly about and then we went into testing," Keller says. "We got it outside Pandora and in with general consumers to make sure they are hearing what we wanted to hear."
He adds that a lot of time creating the sonic logo went toward the history of the company Pandora, as well as the mythology behind the word "pandora." ("Pandora" has its roots in Greek myths, and is said to be the name of the first woman). "When we think about this, you approach it from a design perspective," Keller says. "Just like you do when you approach a logo."
The next hurdle, he says, is to figure out how the new sonic logo will be implemented throughout Pandora's ecosystem.
Lowenstein, the Mindshare exec, also says it's important to consider the cues associated with the experience or product the brand has. "Beyond that, you have to ask: What are the emotional nuances? Because sound triggers high response in the emotion centers in our brains, the chance to evoke emotion and even experience with a composition of cues in a short period of time is a huge opportunity," she says. "And because sonic branding should be a relatively short experience, you have the entire attention of a consumer — their mind isn't wandering."