How 5 Companies Built Sonic Logos to Immortalize Their Brand (2024)

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Five-time Grammy winner Mike Post has composed the music for the best-known TV shows of the last two generations, including The Rockford Files, Magnum, P.I. and L.A. Law. But a singular moment in his career came when producer Dick Wolf called him about Law & Order, for which Post had just written the title theme.

“He was very happy with the score I did,” Post told ADWEEK, “so I thought my job was completed.”

But Wolf had decided to demarcate the drama’s major scenes, telling Post: “I’m gonna need a sound for that.” So Post spent a few hours in his Burbank studio, grumbling as he mixed audio samples, including the clink of a prison cell door slamming.

The result was the “dun-dun!” that’s run for 21 seasons and is among the most recognizable sound effects in television history.

Living in a Sound-On World: Sonic Branding Is Key for Brand Identity

“I’ve never used the phrase ‘sonic branding,’” Post said. “But I guess that’s what I really do for a living.”

It’s what more brand marketers are making a part of their living, too, especially as the audio-reared TikTok generation comes of age as consumers.

Streaming service Tubi developed a sonic logo last year. Mobile platform Snapdragon and TD Bank debuted their own in February.

New as some work is, the essentials of a good sonic logo have stayed the same. The ones most effective at capturing attention tend to have between three and six notes, said David B. Allan, professor of marketing at Saint Joseph’s University and author of the book Super Sonic Logos. “It has to get your attention, first and foremost, and then it has to have some kind of recall effect.”

The other essential element is rousing emotion, according to Martin Ljungdahl, sonic strategist for Kantar. “Everything we do, every decision we take, is based on either logic or an emotive ID,” he explained. Since “we relate to a brand through emotions,” the sonic logo that summons a positive emotion is more likely to be remembered and purchased.

But developing a good sonic logo is far from easy. It often requires a combination of skill, foresight and the luck of good timing.

Here are five of the most salient examples of those forces coming together.

TD Bank Group’s new groove

As senior group manager Nathan Strawn watched audio content imbue consumer culture, he realized that even as staid an institution as a bank would benefit from having a sonic identity—something “relatable and memorable.”

To put a friendly face on the chilly world of finance, Paris-based Sixième Son created a melody TD calls “upbeat and optimistic, like a walk through a familiar neighborhood.” The sonic branding agency wrote jazz, orchestral and easy-listening versions to suit uses ranging from ATMs to on-hold music.

At the core, however, is the one-second sonic logo. TD Bank is proud enough of it to have posted the sheet music on its website.

The Intel ‘Bong’

In 1994, Intel commissioned Walter Werzowa to create a “signature sound” to help the chipmaker “become more noticeable as it transitioned from print to radio and television advertising,” according to Intel’s website.

And it did. Werzowa’s three-second, five-note “bong” became “the most performed audio branding mnemonic and melody in broadcast history,” according to Werzowa’s company MusikVergnuegen. In 2020, the sonic logo got a tweak to a brassier sound, but “our musical sound signature or ‘bong’ will retain those iconic five notes recognized around the world,” CMO Karen Walker said in a statement at the time.

NBC’s radio chimes

Sometimes called the most famous sound in broadcasting, NBC’s three chimes (the musical notes are G-E-C) weren’t even developed for the public.

In radio’s early days, NBC decided to replace the usual “there will be a brief pause for station announcements” with a tonal cue at the top and bottom of the hour. Originally seven notes and then five, the three-note signature “bing-bong-bing” appeared in 1931. It was first hang-rung, then entrusted to a machine.

NBC applied for (and received) trademark status for the chimes in 1950 and still uses them.

The Netflix ‘ta-dum’

Netflix began streaming films in 2007, but when it began producing its own content eight years later, vp of product Todd Yellin determined that a sonic logo was essential—a sound that would make viewers think “Wow, I’m about to get a treat,” he explained on the Twenty Thousand Hertz podcast.

Sound designer Lon Bender supplied Yellin with a large menu of possibilities, including filmmaking sounds, ocean sounds and, at one point, a sheep. But Yellin chose the “ta-dum” after focus groups associated it with drama and movies. It’s been fronting the brand ever since.

McDonald’s ‘I’m Lovin’ It’

In 2003, stung by its first-ever quarterly loss, McDonald’s put out a call to its 14 global agencies to come up with a new slogan.

The winner was Munich-based Heye & Partner. It submitted “Ich liebe es”—“I love it”—which became the Americanized “I’m lovin’ it.” Heye turned to Mona Davis Music to write the audio component, the now familiar ba da ba ba ba. After Pharrell Williams turned this riff into a complete song for Justin Timberlake, some have argued that the music is actually a jingle. But those five signature notes on their own are, clearly, a sonic logo—one McDonald’s has used for 21 years and counting.

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How 5 Companies Built Sonic Logos to Immortalize Their Brand (2024)


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