The Effective Use of Audio Branding in Super Bowl Ad Spots

Consumers are affected by what they hear – or don’t hear

The Super Bowl is the top event of the year – not just in sports, but also for advertisement. This is the time where big brands spend huge sums in an all-out effort to woo the millions of viewers following the Big Game. It isn’t just a clash of the players on the football field. It is a clash of brand titans fighting it out during the commercial breaks.

The stakes are high for the marketing teams buying ad time, making it the perfect opportunity to analyze how big brands are presenting themselves to the public. In recent years, audio has become an important trend in advertising, and Super Bowl is a good moment to look into whether the big boys in marketing are exploring this medium’s potential.


Advertisers drop their traditional brand sounds

This year’s ads showed that fewer companies used any sound elements related to their brand. Only 13.6% as opposed to 19.6% in 2019. 6.8% of the ads featured an audio logo, while 5.1% had a theme song. TurboTax had such an ad, but they chose to use a quirky, snappy song to showcase their brand as fun-loving rather than a company that takes itself too seriously.

The most common brand sound element turned out to be product sounds, which were featured in 29% of the ads as either a crunch, a fizz, a crackle, or an app sound. Of course, some brands, like Coca-Cola, have focused on the simple sound of their product being used, which in its way can be quite seductive.

While product sounds might seem too easy to be real creative choices, the product sound can certainly be useful. They are sonic assets that are easily understood and even more easy to remember. Because they work so well in helping the user connect to the brand on an instinctive level, they should be a no-brainer in the ad industry.

While marketing departments might have a built-up aversion to using traditional audio brand elements in their advertising, it doesn’t mean they are now moving off-brand. The change is more subtle than that.


Brands are making use of sound design

The use of sound in ads is more complicated than using visuals. You can be sure to have the established brand colors and shapes in places with visuals, such as logos. When it comes to sound, however, everything in the soundscape becomes part of the brand. Sound can be used to the brand’s advantage, like GMC Hummer did in their ad.

This ad uses a minimalistic soundscape combined with cutoffs to silent pauses to focus on the visual message. Combined with LeBron James’ calm but forceful voice, the ad subtly guides the viewer to concentrate on the message.

Safe soundscapes at the expense of stronger consumer connection

49% of the ads favored an organic soundscape of acoustic sounds over electronic ones. Movies were a big inspiration for many of the ads, with cinematic music and classical music styles being more popular than synth-driven music.

This has been trending for a while, which suggests that most brands hesitate to experiment with the soundscape, even if this could help them create a stronger emotional resonance with their ads.

According to neuroscientific research, the human mind can pick out familiar sounds from general noise. As Brown University neuroscientist Seth Horowitz stated in a 2012 interview with PRI: “Something relevant or familiar or might be important, you will pull out. If you’re in fact at a crowded cocktail party and someone says your name from across the room, you’ll hear it.”

However, it seems that brands don’t trust the audience at an event with such sensory overload as the Super Bowl to pay close attention to any subtle sound use in ads.


Why brands need to step up their game

The danger for brand campaigns lies in not putting enough thought into their ad soundscape. At an event such as the Super Bowl, filled with noise and commotion from beginning to end, brands run the risk of coming off as a bit bland. They risk alienating viewers and lose their chance to strengthen their position.

While brand campaigns should incorporate more brand sound elements in their ads, they should also avoid the pitfalls of making the brand sounds into gimmicks. A great example of how to do this is the ad from Avocados From Mexico that integrated the brand’s audio logo into the ad narrative.

Since our perception of a brand is shaped both by what we hear and what we don’t hear, it is incredibly important to foster relevance and a feeling of familiarity. When a soundscape doesn’t get us to focus on the ad message, call up memories, or connect with the visual narrative, it doesn’t support the brand.

For that reason, it is essential to use brand sounds in an original way than to take the easy road and implement trailer music, audio logos or use a popular song as a soundtrack to gain quick but shallow recognition. The most effective use of audio in advertisements during the game season is the one that manages to transcend the mainstream and tap into the viewers’ deeper emotions through well-designed audio.

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