Some time ago, I was flicking through a copy of ‘People’ magazine, when I beheld something on its pages that caused me to just about fall off my chair. An ad promoting a TV series about Elvis, which was to run on CBS, was the source of my surprise. “The King is Hear…”, proclaimed, typographically, what turned out to be the first part of this innovative notice. On turning to the next page of the magazine, sure enough, I did hear the King. Elvis was singing from the pages and a voiceover was promoting the series. If you managed to see this copy of the magazine, I’m quite sure you’d have found the advertisement as unforgettable as I did.
Naturally, I got on the phone straight away and tracked down the genius behind the ad. Tim Clegg, the inventor of the concept and CEO of Americhip in California, told me that the ad had secured 100% awareness among ‘People’ magazine’s readership – for the first time in the publication’s history. The innovative combination of sound and vision was an arresting achievement, in spite of the fact that we live in a world where hearing and sight are overtaxed senses. Yet, used in this highly differentiated way, sound and vision communicated powerfully.
This appeal to a combination of senses seems to do the trick when aiming to secure consumer attention. So it’s ironic that sound is not more strongly deployed as a sensory communication channel media online.
The first explanation that you might to me for this apparent oversight is that people don’t want noise around, especially at the office when you’re sneaking into your favorite website. But telltale noise to the guilty is suggestive sound to everyone else. Pick up your Apple iPod, use the famous navigation wheel, and you’ll notice that highly characteristic ‘tick-tick-tick’ sound – a sound which, over time, you associate exclusively with your iPod. When the battery in your cellphone is getting low, the phone emits an alert that’s instantly recognizable and, hopefully, prompts you to recharge the handset. And, when you’re beavering away in Microsoft Windows, the error sound checks your progress, causes you to review your last action, and rectify it. Such sounds become so familiar to us that we never really think about them. But we soon notice their absence, the unexpected gap they leave suggesting that the application or implement to which they belong mustn’t be working properly.
Navigation sound – let’s call it branded navigation sound, seeing that it comes to signify the brand – can be trademarked. But this potentially powerful brand signature is rarely used online. Why shouldn’t there be a half-second tune the instant that the payment for my purchase has been approved? Why, when I win an eBay auction, am I not honored with a momentary fanfare? Why isn’t sound used more as a brand builder?
You might be surprised at how few people find brand sounds unwelcome. A survey I conducted for my latest book, BRAND sense, shows that only 5% of people turn off the sound on a website if the sound is for navigation purposes, and only 7% don’t find website sound useful. Of course, the consumer should have the option to accept or reject sound along with any other communication approach made online. But the fact remains that sound is a branding tool that seems still to be a secret, so little is it used to create that crucial point of difference on brand’s websites.
And this takes me back to Americhip’s Elvis achievement. I was told that the cost for this attention-winning point of difference was minimal. I know I’ll never forget it and I’m sure everyone who encountered the ad would be equally impressed by it. The online environment is crowded, and print media is bursting at the seams with brands fighting for consumer attention. Combining communication techniques that appeal to aural as well as visual awareness makes an enormous impact on the viewer and reader. So take a leaf out of those pages advertising Elvis and use the power of sound to build your brand innovatively.
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