New Audio Research: The COVID-19 Effect on Sonic Branding

There have been many articles noting the “sameness” of pandemic underscores in advertising. A recent article from the Wall Street Journal noted, “When people were asked what they preferred in advertising during the pandemic, only 10% said they wanted marketers to acknowledge the situation or express concern, according to Morning Consult, a data-intelligence company that  conducted a survey  of 2,200 American adults on March 28 and 29. 

So the conscious response from consumers is, We don’t need or want your concern’, but as a sonic branding agency that specializes in the creation of music and sound for global brands, it raises the question, Does that translate into the music and sound where we know consumer response is largely subconscious? 

Made Music Studio’s Amy Crawford wrote on this topic earlier in the year and as it’s worth a reread of her blog post, even months later. Creatively, and from what surveys might say, we understand the desire to move past sameness, but Amy warned of overreaching and seeming out of touch. New data shows she was right to voice that concern. 

The results confirm the current crises are affecting our subconscious responds to branded sound…significantly.

MMS did an in-depth dive into the data in an effort to guide our clients through the critical decisions they are making right now both those with existing sonic identity systems and those in the middle of the process. We tested 15 sonic logos currently in the marketplace for their subconscious emotional appeal, among other key benchmarks.

The results confirm the current crises are affecting our subconscious response to branded soundsignificantly·     

The impact is positive for some. Abbott and Alzheimer’s Association are incredibly wellreceived, and at the top in terms of subconscious emotional appeal. They are both conservative organizations with an orchestral, warm and inviting sound. By nature, they were designed to communicate concern for health. They ranked numbers one and two, respectively, in the study with their existing sonic IDs. 

At the same time,  bright and optimistic logos such as Old Spice, McDonald’s and Honda are not performing as well as in previous tests; in fact, significantly poorer. The subconscious response from consumers is, This is not for me not right now’. 

Has this changed how we are thinking about and approach sonic branding during this time? Definitely. 

If you are looking to drive attribution and recall through sonic branding, our research has shown that consistency for at least 12 to 18 months is ideal. But not right now. Consumers need to hear empathy in the sound of a brand to connect even in shortform sonic assets. As a result, we are working with our clients evolve and modify their sonic identities during this time. 

We know through research that subconscious response proves different than conscious response when it comes to sound and music. The pandemic further underlines the differences in those responses. Whether they know it or not, when it comes to the subtle influence of sound on a message, consumers are responding more positively to empathy. 

What does this mean for sonic branding? As we slowly move through the COVID-19 pandemic, brands need to be thinking about fostering more meaningful connections with their customers by showing empathy and humanity. Our tolerance for frivolity is inherently less now than it was a few short months ago. Our work in sonic branding needs to reflect our respect for the gravity of these times, as well as hope for the days ahead.

Contact Us