Nature Valley connects audiences with nature, carrying a long history of protecting U.S. National Parks and inspiring consumers to embrace the outdoors. In other words: the brand stands for much more than the tasty granola bars they make.
When General Mills decided to create their first-ever sonic identity for Nature Valley, we needed to solve for multiple brand challenges. How could we create a ownable audio signature that could drive brand awareness, stand out amongst competitive snack options in the CPG vertical, and strengthen associations with the great outdoors?
With a few creative solutions tried out, and more than a few crunchy granola bars consumed, we landed on an iconic sonic identity we refer to as “The Call of the Crunch.” The melodic whistle now heard across every one of Nature Valley’s audio-first touchpoints inspires audiences to get outside, and immediately reminds consumers of the delicious taste and texture of the granola bars that fuel their outdoor adventures.
So how did we approach sonic branding for Nature Valley? To help tell the story, we recruited a special guest — MMS Senior Music Producer Lucas Murray — to share his firsthand account of creating Nature Valley’s inevitable sound.
Hi. I’m Lucas Murray, Senior Music Producer at Made Music Studio, and for the first 30 years of my life I only ever had the pleasure of eating Nature Valley granola bars. Yet a dream I didn’t even know I had came true when I got to help brand Nature Valley with their very own sonic identity. Perhaps you’ve heard it before — that jaunty 5-note whistle at the end any Nature Valley ad — but now I want to give you a behind the scenes look at how we made it.
To begin we took a crash course in the past, present, and future of Nature Valley. We learned that Nature Valley was the first company to ever sell a granola bar back in 1975, and although they practically invented the food category, we learned that many newcomer brands had for years been trying to steal the granola bar throne from Nature Valley. Perhaps most importantly, we also learned that it was Nature Valley’s mission to help people discover (or rediscover) the joy of the outdoors. In fact, Nature Valley had even donated millions of dollars to the preservation and restoration of our national forests.
Thus, we had an intriguing set of parameters for Nature Valley’s sonic branding. We needed a sound that was:
The process for creating a sonic identity for any brand is a strange, winding road of audio experiments — some brilliant, some dumb, and most doomed to fail — finally leading to a single sound that (in the best-case scenario) feels like it was already part of the brand. Nature Valley in particular yielded some especially fun experiments, like us calculating the average pace that people chew a granola bar, and building a track around that tempo. Or recording all manner of crunch sounds, from leaves under foot (like on a hike) to the actual, literal crunch of a Nature Valley crunchy bar.
We were all quite interested in the latter approach, and ended up producing a number of tracks using the actual sound of a biting into a Nature Valley crunchy bar. One delicious side-effect of this was that I got to eat a bunch of original and apple crisp crunchy bars in front of a microphone. I love my job.
Yet we knew that if we wanted to create an iconic and enduring sonic identity for Nature Valley, we would have to go beyond the crunch. There are in fact an enormous number of companies, already using crunch sounds at the end of ads as an audio mnemonic for their brand. Yet for a mnemonic to work, it needs to be truly unique. So instead of merely using a great crunch sound, we arrived at a fun, infectious melody that could be used to set up that great crunch sound.
We titled the final Nature Valley sonic identity “the call of the crunch,” a double meaning calling to mind both the call and response musical structure of the sonic logo as well as the famous Jack London novel. Luckily our sonic identity contains substantially less canine violence than The Call of the Wild, however, like the adventure story, it does attempt to remind people of the allure of the great outdoors. One prominent way that we did this was by using a starkly simple instrumentation for the sonic logo: a whistle.
We did try playing the melody on many different “outdoorsy” instruments — acoustic guitar, mandolin, voice, etc. — but we all agreed that it was the whistle that was quintessentially Nature Valley. As one Nature Valley team member put it “you just don’t whistle indoors. You whistle outside,” and I think this is true. If you saw me whistling a tune inside, you’d think “that guy is hiding something.” Yet I could whistle that same tune outside and you’d think “that guy is having a great time. Good for him.”
I sit through music presentations often, and this was one of the most well organized, well put together, informative presentations of my career.
– Mike Churchill, Executive Producer, General Mills after Sonic Soul Session with Made Music Studio
The Nature Valley Sonic Identity launched in the summer of 2020 in a series of beautifully shot 15-second ads emphasizing the joy of getting outside with your friends and family. For these we created a series of gentle acoustic guitar arrangements of the brand theme that would make room for the viscerally pleasing sounds of nature featured in the ads (things like flowing streams, wind blowing through leaves, and birdsong). Each ad crescendoed and perfectly wrapped up in the now familiar five note whistle.
Since then, we’ve seen their sonic branding featured in broadcast ads, social media videos, and even a Tony award-winning actor’s take on a classic pop song (see: Daveed Diggs’ iteration of The Proclaimers’ “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)”). Most recently the sonic logo appeared in an ad highlighting the natural wonders of the outdoors.
It is clear that this versatile, happy little logo is here to stay, and I feel personally proud every time I hear it in the world. I hope that whenever you hear it, you feel the call of the crunch, grab a Nature Valley granola bar and go the heck outside.
Joel Beckerman – Founder + Executive Music Producer
Danielle Venne – Executive Music Producer
Lucas Murray – Music Co-Producer
Jackson Shelton – Composer + Music Co-Producer
Dennis Wall – Audio/Mix Engineer