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Sonic branding lessons from James Bond

When it comes to sonic branding in film, nobody does it better than Bond. In advertising, next to nobody does it, argues the Engine Creative strategist

By Rob Jennings

Strike the right chord and you could help brands earn a long-lived place in culture. Research tells us that sonic cues gets directed through your auditory cortex to other parts of your brain that have the power to evoke emotions and trigger memories.

In fact, creative that uses sonic cues is over eight-times more likely to be high performing, outscoring visual cues comfortably.

Yet only eight per cent of advertising contains sonic brand cues. This, according to Ipsos, is the missed opportunity of audio.

Despite the compelling research, selling a sonic strategy can be tough. Jingle is a dirty word while some well publicised efforts feel expensively ephemeral. On first impressions it’s not always as ‘gettable’ as that killer key visual.

So how to start a conversation?

Audio assets come in two broad types: those that are related to sounds and those related to music (Romaniuk, Distinctive Brand Assets).

Bond is bursting with both, which is what makes it such a great segue.

DUR-DUM-DUHDUM, DUR-DUM-DUMMM…

Did your mind perform that in full orchestral glory? If so, you’ve just experienced decades worth of investment in sonic branding.

The Bond theme debuted in 1962’s Dr. No. For many, it was their first encounter with 007.

It takes time to get to know a man of mystery, but from the first note of the theme we instantly feel what he’s about.

“In the actual time it takes for you to blink, sonic input gets directed through your auditory cortex to other parts of your brain that control memories and emotions.” (Horowitz, The Universal Sense, Chapter 1)

Stoking emotions is a short term effect of sonic cues that help deliver a message. For longer term fame and uniqueness, the process needs to be repeated over and over again , and in contexts relevant to the desired association.

No Time to Die is Bond’s 27th assignment. The theme has appeared in every one, accompanying scenes from poker games to car chases.

Over time we learn to attribute the music to Bond, but also to key Bond themes: danger, action, style, class.

When we hear it we know both what it is and how to feel about it.

The cumulative benefits of sonic asset investment are far-reaching.

In audio-only environments, they attract attention to the brand. But in multi-mode media they stretch your brand’s impact to include those who may not even be looking at your ad.

When nurtured, your brand will be the salient memory evoked when the music is heard (Romaniuk), even when elements of the music, like the instruments, are changed.

We hear this in Bond. In virtually every film we encounter a slightly different theme as it adapts to complement varying mise en scene.

Now there’s an excuse to rewatch all 27.

The name’s Assets… Vocal Assets

Few films are more quotable than Bond, but the line that captures vocal assets at their best is his iconic self-introduction.

Typically this relies on repeating the same voice (Tony the Tiger’s - ‘They’re Greaaat’, or Churchill’s - ‘Oh, yes’). But with different actors playing Bond, the magic is in rhythm.

‘Bond… James Bond’.

The pause makes it.

We notice and respond to acoustic patterns when listening to speech (Romaniuk), so our minds intuitively latch on to Bond’s novel delivery as a sonic signature.

The line can thus be passed from Connery to Craig and retain its impact. Alan Carr could be cast as Bond and we’d still get it, such is the entrenchment of the phrase’s cadence. Repeatability is a hallmark of an effective audio asset.

The one is not enough

Bond’s sonic brand is more symphony than solo.

Research shows that different audio assets can be good at different things (Romaniuk), which is partly why 007’s extensive arsenal creates such an effective ensemble.

In applying these learnings, it’s important to remember that rich sonic brands aren’t built overnight.

But what is encouraging is that the majority of branded audio assets tested (across all sub-types) were deemed as having investment potential (Romaniuk).

So you never know what secret weapons you might have until you do some reconnaissance.

Don’t keep them for your ears only.

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