New Wave Sonic branding company Loud Parade sat down with Behavioral Science legend Rory Sutherland to discuss Sonic Branding, the next big thing in advertising

The term sonic branding often sparks intrigue. To those in the advertising space we know its a core part of a brand’s identity but for those in the advertising space it's sounds super technical and can often feel difficult to define.

What is sonic branding?

In the vast and evolving landscape of marketing, where every brand strives to be distinctive and memorable, the power of sonic branding has risen to prominence. Sonic branding, or audio branding, refers to the strategic use of sound elements to create a unique identity for a brand. In a world filled with visual stimuli, the auditory dimension has emerged as a potent tool for enhancing brand recognition and forging emotional connections with consumers. In this column I'll show you how some brands have really harnessed the power of sonic branding through case studies and discuss the future opportunities it presents in the realm of advertising.

Sonic branding is no new concept, probably the most famous example we’re all familiar with in popular culture is the iconic Mcdonald’s jingle ‘I’m lovin it’ written by Hip Hop icon Pharrell Williams and vocally delivered by Justin Timberlake who at the time was a huge Pop sensation. The short but catchy melody captured the playful elements of the McDonald's brand giving it a powerful and instantly recognisable identity throughout the noughties which has lasted over 20 years.

Why is sound so underrated?

However, as Behavioural Scientist legend Rory Sutherland highlighted when the Loud Parade team sat down for a coffee with him, sonic branding is highly underutilised and under budgeted by advertisers in the modern era despite its power. He referenced Mark Ritson who claimed that the two most underutilised components in modern advertising are Brand Partnerships and Music - ‘music often has no budget in advertising because it is left to the last minute.’ Rory explained.

And the stats support Rory’s observation. Despite its effectiveness and efficiency, sound is left out in a conversation dominated by visual identity; an IAB report revealed that’ digital audio spend accounts for only 2% of digital ad spending.’

Sound Power:

Perhaps one of the most powerful components of sonic branding compared to visual advertising is that it is instantly recognisable. Rory and I discussed the power of Netflix’s ‘tudum’ sound which has become a global signal that is immediately recognisable and creates an emotional trigger building anticipation and excitement for a good show on Netflix.

The fascinating effects of music and sound on the brain have been widely reported in Behavioural Science.. Familiar sounds can trigger emotions like nostalgia and can serve as great building blocks for brands to build trust with consumers in a subtle yet intimate way. 

The fascinating effects of music and sound on the brain have been widely reported in Behavioural Science.

The most successful sonic logos only last a couple of seconds yet live long in our memories. And the advertising industry has long recognised this with famous jingles being played on the radio but for a while there was a lull in brands creating jingles and sounds until recently where there has been a new wave or resurgence of brands seeing the power of sound and music to differentiate themselves.

Take Just Eat with their bespoke track delivered by Snoop Dogg or Dominos with their yodel mnemonic. Sonic branding is not a new concept, but its adoption and recognition have surged in recent years. Brands are recognizing that sound is a visceral, emotive, and universal medium that can be harnessed to create a deep and lasting impression. 

Take, for instance, the Intel Inside jingle —an iconic five-note melody that has become synonymous with the brand. Whenever consumers hear those notes, they immediately think of Intel. This is the essence of successful sonic branding. More recently, huge financial players such as Mastercard have recognised this and released their own sonic identity for and even neobank’s such as Monzo with their ‘kaching’ cash sound when money enters your account - a sound we can all get used to hearing!

In our conversation, Rory also highlighted the uniqueness of sound and particularly music in the human experience particularly when it comes to entertainment. ‘Music is perhaps one of the most unique art forms where people seem to like it more with repetition.’ This is powerful in for brands because advertising uses a lot of repetition which is often why people disengage especially when they see an ad they are familiar with.

And it’s true, most things become boring and predictable when they are repeated but with music the experience gets better and better with repetition so this can be a powerful tool for a brand to build emotional connections. Sound can be used as a clever way for them to repeat their message without annoying people. 

There are scientific theories behind this. Andy Clarke from the University of Sussex explains how our brain is constantly predicting things and synthesising information (heuristics). We use our perception to revise our predictions. It’s inefficient for the brain to take in all information so it is constantly predicting and revising. Music is fascinating because it is a little bit of what you expect (the instruments, the chords, the melodies) and a little bit of what you don’t (the contrasting arrangements of different tracks).

For example, we all have our favourite songs on loop all the time which shows the power sound has to connect with the human brain. In a world where brands are constantly monitoring the recall of campaigns, it seems like a no brainer as to why brands should be tapping into sonic branding which has proven effects.

Music For Storytelling

Looking at music more broadly, in our conversation we captured the powerful storytelling elements of music which is what advertising should be about - a creative artform rather than just a way to sell products.

Whilst the content in an ad can reference the brand, Rory and I agreed that what would be more memorable is when brands offer potential consumers an experience they can remember and what better way to reward people who receive your ads than with high quality music.

Music is authentic. It allows brands to tell a story without it feeling too contrived. Rory referenced his famous interview with famous Hip Hop record producer Rick Rubin in Italy known for his work with Jay Z and other music icons. 

The two legends talked about blending different genres in music particularly in Hip Hop. Rubin shared a story of how he A&R’d famous Run DMC track 'Walk This Way' by blending two genres nobody expected; Heavy Metal Rock and Hip Hop - again the healthy mix between the familiar and unfamiliar and the track was a global hit.

However, if it’s so obvious as to why brands should use music and sound in their campaigns. What may be stopping them? It is probably because the the music licensing landscape is incredibly complicated and can be expensive for brands.

Take popular athleisure company Gymshark who were sued over $44m in 2021 by Sony Music for infringing on music copyright by posting popular music in their Instagram Reels or TikToks or MakeUp brand Iconic London who were sued over $24m for the same infringement issues.

Music rights are incredibly expensive, particularly for popular songs with the most attention, however with music first platforms such as TikTok which are sound on, brands are desperate to use music to connect with an audience.

Perhaps bespoke music is the way for brands to go. Not only are custom tracks (songs made from scratch) cheaper than recognisable songs owned by record labels, The TikTok music report 2021 found custom tracks generated 7% more intrigue than recognisable tracks giving brands more bang for their buck.

Sound Proofed and Future Proofed

When we look at the future of advertising and where the industry is going. Sound and Music will always be an integral part of it despite it being underutilised currently.

With conversations about the metaverse and immersive experiences, many experts predict that sound will be top of the agenda for brands particularly with consumers expecting a full sensory experience. Imagine a horror film with no score - it’d be an experience missing a core element.

We’ve seen big technology players such as Google and Facebook launch music language models in the AI space recently for generative music which is a whole different topic. And despite licensing issues, one may predict they’ll want to launch a generative music tool for brand clients which may help with audio advertising.

With this, it’s an interesting thought to think sound and music may be a future proofed method for brands in a constantly changing world of high technology.


In summary, sonic branding is a highly underutilised method by advertisers, particularly with the proven scientific effects sound has on the brain when it comes to memory, recall and emotional connection. However, with the rise of sound on technology platforms and immersive technology, perhaps sonic branding will be the next wave advertisers will latch onto.

Rahmon will be writing a column for the MAD//Fest Newsletter throughout the year.