The advertising and marketing industries need to understand that racism isn’t just a visual or textual issue – it’s a sonic issue as well, says a director of Pandora’s audio-first creative consultancy.

Writing in The WARC Guide to brand activism in the Black Lives Matter era, Steve Keller, Sonic Strategy Director for Studio Resonate, notes how brand messages of support and empathy around Covid-19 all ended up sounding very similar; ditto those delivered in the wake of George Floyd’s murder.

“The sonic semiotics of these acoustical signatures are well suited to the message,” he says, before noting one major difference: the race of the voice talent.

The voices heard in the BLM spots were predominately Black, as one might perhaps expect, but those heard in COVID-spots are overwhelmingly those of white voice talent – 92% on one estimate.

“In the face of a pandemic, particularly one where Black Americans are three times more likely than whites to contract the virus, only 8% percent of the voices heard narrating these commercials were Black,” he observes.

“Could it be that, in the absence of a clear message that speaks to race, the Covid-19 ads were perceived to speak to, and for, the general market? Which begs the question: What is the voice that represents America, and is it, by default, white?”

The existence of a “sonic color line” can be traced back to the radio shows of the 1920s which perpetuated certain stereotypes. And these lines, Keller adds, “are so indelible that we continue to hear them today, most notably in the context of audio-first/audio-only communication” – something illustrated in two films released in 2018: Sorry To Bother You and BlacKkKlansman.

There is plenty of scope for research into understanding how the perceived race of the voice talent used in brand communications can impact desired marketing outcomes, he suggests.

In the meantime, marketers might consider “retraining their listening ear” and “encouraging sonic D&I”.

“It’s important to foster opportunities to listen, hear, discuss and create dialogue around our multi-sensory experience of our team, our office, our homes, our communities and the world around us,” Keller advises.

For more details, read Steve Keller’s article in full: Black Voices Matter: How brands can cross the Sonic Color Line.

To complement The WARC Guide to marketing in the Black Lives Matter era, WARC will host a webinar on October 27 with guest editor Kai D. Wright and Monique Nelson, Chair and CEO at UWG entitled Marketing to Multicultural Consumers Now and in the Coming Majority-Minority. You can register here.

Sourced from WARC