Sound: Do You Only Ever Notice If It’s Rubbish?

Little boy getting shocking message from friend on tin can phone

It’s not often you see an ad on TV and exclaim ‘wow, those sound effects were just phenomenal!’

However, if the sound sounded shit in the ad, chances are you’ll probably notice. At least, Grant McAloon and Vince Lagana, executive creative directors from ad agency Leo Burnett reckon you would.

“We can’t speak for everybody, but you usually notice it when it’s not working,” they say. “Or if it’s just sitting there and it does what it needs to do but it’s not adding anything.”

But if you’re in the production process and not thinking about sound, however, you’re in strife.

Of course, radio, both online and off, relies on sound for its advertising, but when it comes to the visual ads, the guys from Leo Burnett’s say people hold onto the visual as an easier way to understand the storyline.

Nicole McInnes, marketing director for music streaming service Pandora, however disagrees people don’t notice sound unless it’s rubbish. According to her, the radio spots on the platform can sometimes work better than the TV ones.

“From the research we have conducted, we have found most of our ads, which are all positive sounds, have been more memorable than their TV companion ads,” she says.

Sound doesn’t seem to be a top topic of conversation around Adland, unless you’re involved in the process itself.

But why is that? Do we find visuals more appealing?

McInnes says: “I think because marketers feel it is easier to get a single minded proposition across by ‘showing’ your audience. Fundamentally it is a misunderstanding of the human mind, we are extremely visual but sound generates an image in our minds and engages our imagination to do so which makes it extremely memorable and much more likely to be recalled compared to an external image forced upon us.”

It comes down to a form of neuroscience, explains Simon Tebbutt, head of shopper marketing and retail strategy at ApolloNation. “It’s how different senses approach the brain and trigger thoughts and feelings,” he says.

Many clothing stories use sounds such as music in the physical stores, and helps showcase the brand’s position and target audience. McInnes says sound is a great way for brands to be memorable as it engages the listener’s imagination.

“The creativity centre of the brain is where innovation happens and paradigm shifts occur,” she says. “Audio advertising enables that part of the brain and in essence the brand becomes a co-creator with its audience. It’s like user-generated content of the mind.”

There are some sounds people just associate with certain brands. Jingles and music of course are big ones, but also franchises such as Disney and Star Wars have certain sounds that resonate with the brand. Imagine having two Jedis dueling with lightsabers and having a ding sound instead.

Tebbutt says Disney’s theme parks has its own combination of sounds that resonates with visitors long after attending the park. “If you read any of the books about Disney and how he’s created the resorts, whilst he’s got the look and the feel and he creates these kingdoms in unreal worlds, one of the main things he uses is sound,” he says. “It’s quite subliminal.”

The subliminal aspect of sound is what Rod James, head of moving images at M&C Saatchi, also suggests is key with sense.

“In terms of [sound] effects and things, it’s so much the thing where if it’s not there, you’d notice it. But you sometimes don’t notice it when it is there,” he says.

There’s no denying sound is an integral component in campaigns, and some, aside from radio spots, have only used sound, such as the Anzac Day campaign last year from DDB which saw people pay for a minute silence on the phone.


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Advertising Standards Bureau Marc Cowper

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