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Sonic Branding and How You’ll Hear It During #SB51

Even if football isn’t your thing and you have no idea who’s facing off this Super Bowl Sunday (hint: it’s the Atlanta Falcons and the New England Patriots), you’ll probably still tune in to the big game for another reason: the commercials.

According to Forbes, a 30-second spot during this year’s Super Bowl will cost you around $5 million. If a brand is going to spend that much cash on an advertising spot, how do they get the most bang for their buck and give audiences something to talk about Monday morning, or even on Twitter seconds after the commercial ends?

We usually think of television as a visual medium, but sound can be just as important in making an ad memorable and impactful for an audience.

“Brands have a visual identity, a written identity, a tone of voice and increasingly, a sonic identity,” says Steve Milton, co-founder of Listen. Listen helps brands establish their identities by focusing on music and sound. Some of Listen’s clients include Tinder, Skype, Jim Beam and TED.

What should a company keep in mind when shaping its sonic brand? Milton says that the sounds a company uses, just like its visuals, should “reflect the brand’s values and what it represents.”

As with all effective advertising, sonic branding should help audiences remember a brand. Some brands choose to use an audio mnemonic or audio signature – a consistent sound at the beginning or end of an ad spot – to make the product stick with audiences.

Intel’s five-note tone is probably the most recognizable example. The company has been using the same “bong” sound in its commercials for more than 20 years. Brands like Playstation, Xbox and even Honda are now using the same strategy.

“When you’re consistent, it’s extremely effective,” Milton says. “The audience gets used to hearing it over and over again and associates it with the brand, which is ultimately the goal of advertising.”

Do you ever find yourself listening to a commercial and thinking, “Hey, I know that voice!” Some brands rely on the consistency of a familiar voice instead of a sound to sell audiences on a product. Voiceovers can be extremely effective in hooking an audience and making the brand recognizable, even if audience members aren’t watching their screens.

Actor Allison Janney’s work on Kaiser Permanente and Dennis Dexter Haybert’s with Allstate have helped taglines like “Kaiser Permanente. Thrive” and “Allstate. You’re in Good Hands” stick with audiences.

Milton also says that effective sonic branding elicits a desired emotional response from an audience, whether that’s joy, nostalgia or pride. Paired with powerful visuals, companies can use music to make audiences feel a certain way and inspire a particular response.

Budweiser’s Clydesdale commercials have become a Super Bowl tradition. The beer company’s 2015 Super Bowl XLIX commercial featuring a lost puppy finding his way home with help from the Clydesdale horses inspired tears and lots of conversation in the days after the big game. The sight of an adorable golden retriever puppy reuniting with his owner after narrowly escaping several mishaps probably didn’t hurt, but it was the cover of “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” playing as the puppy found his way home that reduced many people to mush.

Sometimes it’s a combination of sounds and music that make a commercial successful. Milton points to a 2014 Microsoft Super Bowl commercial, ‘Empower,’ as an excellent example of sonic branding.

“It had a build that supported the narrative of the spot. It brought you into the world they were creating with blended music and keyboard taps and became the fabric of the music. It made an impact.”

Now viewers don’t even have to wait until Super Bowl Sunday to catch some of the highly-anticipated commercials set to air during the big game. In an increasingly competitive and expensive market, many advertisers have started releasing spots in advance of the big game to create excitement and anticipation.

Several Super Bowl LI commercials can already be viewed online. In fact, Forbes released a list days before the Super Bowl, highlighting some of the best uses of music in ads set to air during tonight’s game.

Audi’s feminist-centered #DriveProgress commercial is both timely and powerful, backed by orchestral music that tugs at the heart strings and plays to the audience’s emotions – a tactic Milton says is incredibly effective.

Companies are branding themselves through sound, whether it’s with music, voiceovers or audio mnemonics. And during tonight’s game, they’ll have millions of ears listening.

You can learn more about Milton, Listen and the power of sonic branding here.