Sound Tags are they the next big fad in Branding?
Question: What is a sound tag? Answer: It’s the sound bite used by advertisers and TV show producers to signify something is up or to differentiate their product from their competitors. Sound tags are today’s tag line. If used well it can become a powerful tool in your branding tool box, if used unwisely it becomes nothing more than an annoyance.
A well thought out Tag Line can take quite a bit of time to create as it must communicate the essence of ones brand value to the customer in less than 7 words. The same goes with creating an original Sound Tag as it too must convey something of value or it’s not worth adding.
Sound Tags should not be confused with theme songs. Theme songs can be as simple as using royalty free music or hiring a musician to score and create an original piece of music. Theme songs typically run from 30 to 60 seconds. Sound Tags on the other hand can consist of musical notes such as those used by Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind or an electronic non musical sound such as the one used by my Google Droid Phone. In most cases sound tags are no more than 1 to 2 seconds in length depending on the application.
The best examples in both cases are memorable and can live on indefinitely the worst examples on the other hand can become a millstone hung around the brands neck.
Welcome to TV Land
TV Shows from the very beginning pioneered the use of Theme songs to promote their shows. Well if we are honest Radio show creators pioneered the theme song but for our current argument we will stick with TV. So let’s have some fun and see if you can actually hum or whistle the following theme songs:
Category 1 individuals who are 50 and above: Giligan’s Island, Leave it to Beaver, Happy Days, Mash.
Category 2 individuals younger than 50: Star Trek Next Generation, Home Improvement, Simpson’s, Smallville, Law and Order
What did I tell you, you got every one didn’t you?
As a side note, many of today’s TV shows especially sitcoms have been forced to reduce the amount of time allotted for the theme song to be played at the intro thus less memorable songs being written nowadays. In most cases there is no ending music as networks reduce the end credits to a mini screen while they promote the next show.
While were sticking on the TV show theme let’s look at 2 ways to communicate your brand through theme music:
First example is the Law and Order franchise which uses an original and distinct musical score with each derivative series playing off the original theme. The second example is CSI franchise which chose to barrow three songs from The Who Music Catalog to represent each of its derivates. Both series are popular and long running but one chose to use original while the other borrowed. You be the judge as to who did the best job of theme song creation. As for me, when I hear the L&O theme song outside of watching it, I know what it is and I think of the show. When I hear one of the songs used by CSI franchise outside the context of the show, I think of The Who not CSI.
Lastly while I am on the TV Show theme song kick a personal favorite of mine is the theme music used by the British Television Series Poirot.
As mentioned above Sound Tags are similar in nature to its theme song cousin but it has more in common with its other cousin the tag line. Like the tag line which is restricted to 7 words or less the sound tag is restricted to 5 seconds or less.
When creating a Sound tag you are trying to create a sound mechanism that ties itself to the brand being advertised or promoted much like a companies or brands logo. This sound mechanism should covey to your ears what the logo does for your eyes. It’s no different it just uses the ear gate verses the eye gate to reach your brain. Think about it for a moment, if you were blind you rely on your hearing not sight to tell you about something. When the cross walk is cleared for walking you hear a unique sound that tells the blind person it is ok to walk just as the light for sighted people tells you its ok to walk.
This is the cool part about a sound tag, in connects the customer/prospect to a product/brand by way of a sound. Since we are global community no matter what language or messaging is used in the ad (TV/Radio) when it is accompanied by the unique (to the brand) sound tag it becomes a universally recognized part of that company’s identity much the same way a brands color does. That’s why it’s imperative to create an original sound tag not a borrowed sound tag.
Example 1. The first use of a sound tag in my mind is used by the creators of Law and Order. Whenever there is a need to transition from one scene to another they will often blacken the screen and use the now famous chunck, chunck sound. If you’ve watched it, you know what I am talking about, if you haven’t, then go to YouTube pull up an episode and watch it. Once you have watched an episode you will know what I am talking about.
Example 2. Up next is a stellar example of sound tagging used to identify a specific brand. This time I’m talking about the sound tag used by INTEL. Everyone recognizes this sound tag which is always heard whenever the word Intel is used during the commercial. Again a great use of a sound tag to convey the INTEL brand.
Example 3. Up next is the sound tag you hear when you turn on your Windows based computer. You probably didn’t think of this as a sound tag but that’s what it is. The Windows creative team saw an opportunity to utilize a specific sound let people know they were using a Windows based machine. Thus when your computer launches you hear the Windows Sound Tag telling you: “I’m here, and I’m ready to go to work for you”.
Example 4. Of course we can’t leave off next two competing Sound Tag giants. If you’ve gone to the movie theater in recent years then you have heard the now famous sound tags used by the following two giants in sound reproduction technology namely Dolby Surround Sound and THX. Depending on what technology is being used one of their ads will run just prior to the movie. What a brilliant marketing deal they struck with today’s movie makers. “If you want to use our technologies we get to tell everyone about it before the movie even begins”. This was never the case in the past but it is standard practice today.
Example 5. I already mentioned it before, but is deserves mention again it’s the sound tag you hear when powering up your Google Droid phone. When I turn my phone on, up comes a graphic along with an electronic sound tag that says droid.
The first example of the bad use of a sound tag is the one I recently heard on the Radio. It was an ad for our local Sleep Country USA. At the end of the commercials I heard a distinct but familiar sound. What sound did I hear? Well it so happens, it’s the very same one used by Rush Limbaugh as his sign off sound at the end of every hour.
Oops what went wrong hear? Did the ad creator head over to Royalty Free shop and pick out a similar sound tag in order to tie the sleep country brand with Rush or was it just laziness? It remains a mystery to me but regardless of the reasoning behind it I predict it will go away and won’t stick around.
Side note, even if you don’t like Rush you know the sound I am talking about, he’s been using if for well over a decade. It’s his sound tag.
The next sample is another local company who is a well known radio user. In this case I’m talking about The Longevity Clinic. For some odd reason their agency or creative staff much like the sleep Country people decided to borrow a well know Sound Tag rather than create one of their own. In this case at the end of the Longevity Clinics ad you hear another familiar sounding sound tag in this case it’s the one used by another well known radio personality The Kim Kamando Show.
She like Rush has been using the very same sound tag at the end of her show for a decade and now comes along the makers of Longevity Clinics new ad campaign and they do a direct rip off of this sound tag. I suspect it will be dropped soon once they get flack or decide to move on to the next fad.
So what can ad agency people do when tasked with creating a sound tag for said client? They can avoid ripping off another company’s sound tag by hiring a musician who can use a keyboard to actually create something brand new. Stop relying on the royalty free source everyone else runs to. These services are ok when you need a music bed for a one time only campaign but not for a theme song or sound tag. I could compare royalty free sources to that of a whorehouse or maybe a community well is a better description but I won’t. If you must create a unique and distinctive Sound Tag, you better be willing to pay for the process of doing so otherwise skip doing it altogether.
If done well, a Sound Tag can be a great tool to differentiate your brand from the rest of the pack. But if done poorly, it can detract or tarnish your brands reputation. Think long and hard before jumping on the Sound Tag Band Wagon because in most cases Sound Tags aren’t needed. Instead focus on building the brand through other means.
Here’s to creating memorable Sound Tags.