What Defines a Great Sonic Logo?

A Great Sonic Logo

Dealing with music and sound means dealing with emotions, taste and feelings. Music is one of the most effective means in activating the human emotional spectrum, and it affects us all on a very subjective level through individual associations.

Therefore, it may seem difficult to discuss the effect of musical pieces in objective and concluding terms.

Nevertheless, in the world of sonic branding, some sonic logos seem to be more effective than others, causing instant recognition and association with a specific brand. Some sonic logos seem to have a certain power to convey a universal association, which can make us all imagine the feel, taste or look of a certain product. The purpose of this section is, therefore, to examine what makes some of these sonic logos more effective than others.

Sonic Branding

Sonic branding is the creation and perpetuation of a consistent, distinctive, universal, and appropriate nonverbal aural identity for a brand as a unique configuration of evaluative judgments of familiarity, liking, recognition, and personality, through the considered arrangement of design characteristics using natural or synthesized sounds.

Sonic touchpoints are important for branding, because whereas an audience can close their eyes or turn their head away from a visual stimulus, they cannot shut their ears. Auditory attention is largely involuntary. Moreover, although visual processing tends to dominate sound can shape perception of visual information.


Sonic Logos

A sonic logo (or a “sogo”) is a sonic branding device that plays the role of a short distinctive auditory signature, typically not lasting more than six seconds. A sogo is the “auditory analog of a visual that works as an auditory zip file”.
Sonic personality is sound personified: It is the “voice” of the brand. Sonic awareness and sonic personality of a sogo systematically vary with the design characteristics in the sogo. In sum, whereas sonic branding is the whole, a sogo is the core part.

Sonic Awareness & Sonic Personality

One of the primary ways that music can play a significant role in our inner world, is through interaction with memory.
Recognition, identification and memorability is, therefore, an essential factor of the sogo.
Furthermore, a good sogo has to deliver a unique auditory identity for the brand. The essence of the sonic logo can therefore be divided into two aspects:

1: Sonic Awareness
Establishes memorability and true recognizability with the brand.

2: Sonic Personality
Sound personified. The “voice” of the brand. Expressing the values and the principles of the brand.

A good sogo therefore has desirable sonic awareness as well as a targeted sonic personality.

The figure demonstrates the outwards functions of sonic branding, with the sogo being at the core. The outer circle indicates the many ways that the sogo can be extended to other auditory communications.


Image Source: Krishnan & Kellaris (2021)

Sonic Awareness

An example of a sogo that establishes sonic awareness, is the McDonalds sogo.

Here we have a very recognisable and memorable melody that creates instant association with the well-known fast-food chain, no matter how the melody is reproduced, either instrumental or vocal. However, the melody doesn’t convey a strong sense of personality, and it could just as easily have been used to represent a car brand, a travel agency, etc.

Sonic Personality

An example of a sogo that expresses a strong brand personality is the Ricola sogo.

Being a brand that produces cough drops made from Swiss herbs, the sogo represents the brand by using a sound inspired by traditional Swiss music (by using Alpine horn and yodelling-style vocal). However, when standing alone, or played instrumentally, the two-note melody is not very recognisable and does not necessarily establish association with the brand.

Processing Fluency

Processing fluency plays a key mediating role in determining sonic awareness and sonic personality, and the term refers to the phenomenological experience of ease in detecting and identifying an incoming stimulus, and it is typically experienced as a direct consequence of prior exposure to the stimulus. In the context of sonic branding, the term therefore refers to the joyous feeling of recognition and the identification of a certain brand through exposure to ex. a sound logo.

The term can be divided into two kinds of processing fluency:

Perceptual fluency 
Reflects how easily and quickly the surface features of an item can be recalled.

Conceptual fluency. 
Relates to the ease with which an item can come to mind when thought about in a semantic or meaningful manner.

Whereas a feature-based memory representation of the stimulus (wherein one imagines attributes of the stimulus) leads to perceptual fluency, a meaning-based memory representation (wherein one recognizes the semantic meaning of the stimulus) leads to conceptual fluency. It is conceivable that a given sonic stimulus leads to processing fluency that is a unique combination of both perceptual and conceptual fluency. For example, if someone is exposed to an advertisement for the gum Orbit, conceptual fluency could be reflected in how quickly and readily that item (Orbit) comes to mind when the category of gum is presented, whereas perceptual fluency could be reflected in how quickly an image of the product Orbit could be identified (e.g., if flashed momentarily on a screen).

In the context of sonic branding, this means that sogos, which are sonically distinct (high perceptual fluency) are likely to pop out and be liked more, and if they encourage meaningful elaboration (high conceptual fluency), they will be liked even more. But if the meaning is very ambiguous (low conceptual fluency) they will be liked less.
Thus, one of the desired outcomes for sonic branding is right sizing of processing fluency from a distinctive identity versus false familiarity perspective.

Design Characteristics

Then how do you affect the processing fluency through the sogo?

This is done through the design characteristics, which is the properties inherent in the stimulus (the sogo). Number of tones, melodic contour, range, and repetition of musical patterns are examples of auditory design characteristics.

The design characteristics should be such that they maximize potential for ready and distinctive recall in the largest market segment of interest for a given level of repetition frequency. Thus, sonic branding depends on the considered arrangement of the design characteristics and consequent processing fluency leading to the intended outcomes of recognizability, familiarity, meaning, and affect for the associated brand.

Interaction effects among design characteristics of music could evoke different personality dimensions for brands represented by sogos.
For example, music pitched in a major key at a fast, medium, or slow tempo may indicate respectively the exciting, majestic, or serene character of a brand.

Although a short musical clip that lasts no more than six seconds may not fully convey the expressive power of a musical genre, it can still reveal many things, via the instrumentation, mode, range, direction of the musical contour, etc., that may conceivably suggest the character (“brand personality”) of the brand represented by the clip. For instance, whereas drums and trombone have been found to connote masculinity, violin and flute have been associated with femininity, and brass instruments tend to express majesty. (…) Thus, a sonic personality may vary based on pitch, timing, and instrumentation.


Defining Design Characteristics

A) Number of tones

Just as a short brand name is easier to recall, a sogo constructed of fewer tones should be more recallable. Further, the number of tones in the sogo can perform specific mnemonic functions. It can cue the brand name by mirroring the number of letters. It may parallel the number of syllables in the brand name. Ideally, it may do both. A sogo should have at least three tones to gain any distinctiveness, but may have a maximum of 12 tones, for it is intended to be a short, distinctive audio signature, not an expansive musical composition.

NBC 3 Tones

NOKIA 5 Tones

B) Stops

Secondly, sudden stops in a sogo are attention grabbing and serve as excellent recognition cues.



C) Repetition

A third way pitch characterizes a sogo is by the repetition of tonal patterns. Repetition creates a musical emphasis and may lead to higher memorability and identity for the sogo. It can take different forms; for instance, a phrase can repeat an octave apart or on a different instrument.

Repetition #1

Repetition #2

D) Direction of motion

A fourth variation is the direction or melodic contour of the sogo. A rising pitch connotes increasing emotional intensity, and music in higher pitches is considered happier. For instance, a sequence of notes can be ascending gently tone to tone, descending, or zigzagging.



Symmetric Valley

Symmetric Peak

E) Range

A fifth variation is the sogo range. We define a sogo to have wide (or narrow) range when the chromatic interval between the highest and lowest tone exceeds (or not) twice the number of tones in a sogo. Sogos “leaping” from a tone to a much higher tone skipping several intervals in the chromatic scale would be characterized as having a wide range. Sogos with a wide range would be more difficult to perceive (i.e., obtain a lower perceptual fluency).

Range – interval of a sixth (Folgers)

Range – interval of an octave

F) Modes

Some design characteristics evoke meaningful interpretations (i.e., possess higher conceptual fluency). Music in minor keys is often perceived as less happy and more pensive, while a sequence of descending tones seems serene.



Krishnan and Kellaris suggest the following five propositions as a starting point concerning the main effects of design characteristics on processing fluency:

P1: The lower the number of tones in a sogo, the higher the perceptual fluency.

P2: The higher the monotonicity (i.e., linearity of melodic contour) of the sogo, the higher the perceptual fluency.

P3: The higher the monotonicity (or linearity) of the sogo, the higher the conceptual fluency.

P4: Sogos with a low (high) range should obtain high (low) perceptual fluency.

P5: Sogos with repeating (non-repeating) elements should obtain a higher (lower) perceptual fluency.

The interrelationships between the design characteristics and the processing fluency is, therefore, a determining factor of the sonic awareness and the sonic personality

This is shown in the sonic branding conceptual model, created by Krishnan and Kellaris (2021).

Later, we will look at some well known sogos that exemplify this.


Now that we have looked at a proposed conceptual framework for the sonic logo, it can be useful to look at some statistic examples of well-known sogos, to find out what makes these successful, and how they compare to the conceptual framework.

Soundout, the leading agency in strategic sonic branding testing, has compiled an index of the world’s best known sonic logos, measuring the effectiveness of these sonic logos.

In order to be ‘effective’ the sogo must facilitate brand attribution. Therefore, Soundout measures effectiveness in 3 categories:

  1. Recall (how easy it is to remember the sogo)
  2. Appeal (how likeable the sogo is)
  3. Propensity to Buy (how much the sogo increases a consumer’s propensity to buy. These results are powered solely by the responses from consumers who had no explicit familiarity with each logo)

The Soundout analysis has shown how certain design characteristics of the sogo has a impact on effectiveness. Looking at the graphs, we can see how certain melodic movements instigates respectively appeal, recall and propensity to buy.


Soundout also concludes which attributes of a sonic logo are most powerful at driving  effectiveness. This was done by analysing data generated by over 300,000 consumers on 280 released and unreleased sonic logos.

Here we see, how certain attributes might attain a high score within one category, while ranking low in yet another. For example, the attribute ‘childlike’, which is listed as one of the worst attributes in driving propensity to buy, but one of the best in driving recall.

Soundout also concludes which attributes of a sonic logo are most powerful at driving  effectiveness. This was done by analysing data generated by over 300,000 consumers on 280 released and unreleased sonic logos.

Here we see, how certain attributes might attain a high score within one category, while ranking low in yet another. For example, the attribute ‘childlike’, which is listed as one of the worst attributes in driving propensity to buy, but one of the best in driving recall.


Another category that is equally important to take into account, is how distinctive the sogo is. Soundout has concluded that there is a moderately strong 61% correlation between distinctiveness and propensity to buy. This puts ‘distinctiveness’ in the top 10% of attributes in terms of its ability to increase the perceived value of a brand.

At the same time, there is, however, no meaningful correlation between distinctiveness and recall.

In terms of driving appeal, there is a positive correlation o 69%, but this is mainly due to the fact that appealing logos increase ratings of almost all attributes (including ‘distinctiveness’).

This means that, while distinctiveness increases propensity to buy and, therefore, helps drive marketing effectiveness, it is not an attribute that, on a standalone basis, has any meaningful impact on driving recall, which makes it ineffective in building brand equity.

As a separate category alongside recall, appeal and propensity to buy, distinctiveness has the ability to drive certain attributes, shown in the figure.

The balance

One of the Soundout statistics that doesn’t fit well with the conceptual framework is the way that lengthy sonic logos are actually more effective than short ones, as seen on the graph describing the number of musical elements/main events present in a sogo.

However, this must be balanced with the need to create a logo that is also short enough to be used across marketing communications. So in practice some effectiveness must be sacrificed to enable usability.

If a sonic logo is principally being used as a strategic brand asset then the focus should be on the Appeal and Recall attributes, if the primary use is to be as a marketing asset then Propensity to Buy and Distinctiveness attributes should be the priority.

This is further elaborated in the matrix of some of the most well-known sonic logos (here with a focus on US brands).

Lets take a closer look at some of the sogos from different placements on the scale.

Source: Soundout, June 2021.


The Coca Cola sogo consists of a simple an easily recognizable 5-note melody. The short phrase has a curved melodic progression in a major key scale, expressing both optimism and playfulness. This is further emphasized in the timbre, through the use of a glockenspiel.

The melody is short and recognizable with the underlying major tonic chord establishing a sense of homeliness and belonging, making the perceptual fluency high.

The 5-note motive can easily and effectively be reproduced in different contexts, and in a broad variety of stylistic adaptions and instrumentations – for example as an underlying synth/bell theme in a 2011 Christmas-pop song, or as a chorus melody in the promotional anthem for the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

The recall of this sogo is high, and while the propensity to buy is not at the top of the scale, it is still high, making it well-suited for building brand equity.

The Disney Classic sogo is quite remarkable, in that it is an excerpt of the well-known 1940 song “When You Wish Upon A Star”.

The sogo exceeds the proposed number of 12 notes from the conceptual framework, which makes the perceptual fluency low. Therefore, the character of the sogo is more that of a expansive musical composition than a short, distinctive audio signature, which makes universal usability of the logo more difficult. Although, the personality of the brand is clearly expressed through the classical orchestration of horns, strings, woodwinds, harp and chimes, drawing on the soundtrack of numerous Disney movies, conveying a sense of classiness, elegance, tradition and wonder.

Despite its length, the Soundout statistics clearly show that the recall of this sogo is high, as well as a high propensity to buy, making the sogo effective in all parameters. However, it must be recognised that the high recall is also a result of the long history of the logo, which has been used for over 80 years by Disney.



The PlayStation sogo is based solely on sound design, with no melodic elements. As statistics have shown, non-melodic sogos perform worse than melodic ones in both appeal, recall and propensity to buy.

The distorted voice pronouncing the brand name might convey a combination of organicity and technology, representing the brand personality, but the lack of melodic or harmonic material makes the perceptual and conceptual fluency low, which in turn, establishes little recall, appeal as well as propensity to buy, which makes it low on all effectiveness parameters.

The Netflix sogo is another example of a sound design sogo. The sogos creates a sort of fanfare (an effect that can be compared to that of the iconic Apple Macintosh start-up sound), thereby conveying a sense of immersion and thrill.

While the lack of a clear melodic structure results in low perceptual fluency, thereby reducing recall, the conceptual fluency is quite high, increasing the propensity to buy, which makes the sogo useful for product marketing.


So it seems that it is not that simple to conclude a simple answer to what  makes a good sonic logo.

While a good sonic logo should have both a desirable sonic awareness as well as a targeted sonic personality, the effectiveness depends very much on the specific role the sogo is going to play in the branding/marketing mix – whether it is should gain rapid market traction in terms of Recall and Attribution, as well as support the long-term growth strategy of the parent brand, or act on the consumer at the point of purchase.

The effectiveness of a sogo can, therefore, be measured within multiple parameters, and so a “good sogo” depends on the specific usage.

As we have seen, the design characteristics affect the sonic awareness and sonic personality through mediation of the processing fluency, and some design characteristics seem to be more effective than others in conveying certain attributes and driving recall, appeal and propensity to buy (fx melodic vs non-melodic sogos).

A good sogo is, therefore, one that represents the personality of the brand in the best possible way, while being tailor-made to a specific marketing focus, instigating either memorability, appeal or propensity to buy. So it seems that it is not that simple to conclude a simple answer to what  makes a good sonic logo.


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