When brands use music to navigate cultural differences and harness the power of sonic branding to build brand recognition and emotional connections, Amp.Amsterdam’s Diederik van Middelkoop stresses that it is important to be accurate and relevant.
In today’s globalised world, brands strive to establish a distinctive identity that resonates with their target audience. One essential element that aids in forging this connection is music.
Music possesses a unique ability to evoke emotions, memories and cultural associations. When used accurately, it can become a powerful tool for brands to communicate their values, strengthen brand loyalty and create memorable experiences for consumers.
However, achieving accuracy and relevancy in the use of music by brands requires a careful understanding of cultural differences and the strategic implementation of sonic branding. It may seem obvious, but it stands to reason that the power of sonic branding can only be effective if a brand is culturally aware at all times. Navigating cultural differences is crucial for a brand’s success in connecting with their audience.
Forty years ago, in 1983, pop icon Michael Jackson could address “a whole new Pepsi generation” in the famous Pepsi ad featuring a re-recording of his smash hit “Billy Jean”. Today, it would be next to impossible to find either the brand or artist audacious (or shortsighted) enough to try such one-size-fits-all messaging.
I would like to explore the significance of music in brand communication, the impact of cultural variations on musical choices and the potential of sonic branding to build brand recognition and emotional connections.
Navigating cultural differences in musical choices
Music is a universal language that transcends borders and speaks to people’s emotions. For brands, it provides a powerful means of communication, enabling them to connect with consumers on a deeper level. By associating specific tunes or melodies with their products or services, brands can trigger emotional responses that even influence purchasing decisions. Music has the ability to enhance brand recall, create positive brand associations and even shape a brand’s personality. It is, simply put, an enormously powerful tool in a brand’s marketing toolbox.
But one of the most critical aspects brands must consider is the cultural context of any target audience. Different cultures have diverse musical preferences, and what resonates with one audience may not necessarily have the same impact on another. Therefore, a thorough understanding of cultural nuances is imperative to ensure the accurate use of music in branding.
Music carries deep-rooted cultural meanings and historical associations in different societies. For example, certain musical instruments or scales may hold specific symbolic value in certain cultures. Brands must be cautious not to inadvertently offend or misinterpret these cultural significances when selecting music. To illustrate this, here are three different interpretations of the Mastercard brand score and sound logo:
Cultural differences in musical translation and adaptation
When launching global campaigns, brands may need to translate or adapt their jingles or soundtracks to resonate better with local audiences. A misguided translation may not capture the intended emotions or may even lead to unintended connotations.
To ensure accurate use of music, brands should conduct thorough research to understand the regional preferences and musical styles that resonate most with their target audience. By incorporating locally favoured genres or artists, brands can establish a more profound connection with consumers.
When the Amp.Amsterdam team produced the music for a Sol commercial aimed at the Mexican and Latam markets created by Wunderman Thompson Amsterdam, we were keen to research the local market thoroughly and worked closely with young Mexican rapper Nina Dioz. A remix of the song “Muevete”, entitled “Brillo”, eventually found its way into the popular Netflix series Ozark S4, proving its cultural relevance beyond the original commercial.
Using music authentically to reach micro-communities
In its 2022 white paper entitled ‘Culture + Chaos + Community’, Amsterdam-based agency Amaru concludes that “as we embark on a journey towards decentralising culture... one key element is the increasing power of individuals, small groups and minority cultures relative to large institutions and dominant cultures”.
Amaru calls the current global state of cultural fragmentation “Culture 3.0”, which “due to fragmentation in perspectives through the variety of cultural expressions audiences encounter on a daily basis, cultural nuance increases”. Where traditionally “brands could appeal and cater to a generic taste in order to stay relevant at scale… this now is becoming ineffective due to the shaping of these micro-communities.”
This implies a need for brands to understand micro-cultures in order for them to resonate with their audiences more effectively. The potential danger is that brands might only look at this from a strictly opportunistic standpoint of hypertargeting: tailoring music and messages to appeal directly to these niche groups using the continuing rise of omnipresent data and digital media.
However, without being authentic in reaching out and understanding these micro-cultures, there is a danger of transparent window-dressing, which is all too apparent for younger generations highly sensitive to the branded nature of communication. The perfect fit between a brand and an artist or genre needs to be rooted in truth and authenticity for it to be believable. My hope is that by truly embracing and celebrating micro-cultures, brands can help empower these communities and demonstrate their commitment to diversity and inclusivity. In the end, the authenticity of their communication will be decisive in a brand’s lasting success.
To illustrate, when asked by Vogue magazine about Diesel’s partnership with electronic radio station NTS, Diesel Creative Director Glenn Martens said “The aim is to reconnect with society and give back to the community.”
In the same article, Chris Mitchell, VP for Adidas Originals, describes the collaboration between the sports brand and music platform Colors as “two brands linked by their commitment to fostering community and culture, providing a platform for self-expression and creativity”. The term fostering is of crucial importance here, or as Amaru states in its white paper, “Brands become the tools of communities and move from dictating culture to serving the communities they’re aiming to be part of.”
Earlier this year, Coke Studio dropped “Perfect” in collaboration with Sam Smith, Jessie Reyez and Cat Burns – a great example of a brand knowing how to authentically connect with its audience through music.
Sonic branding and cultural nuance
With the above in mind, we should also revisit our approach to sonic branding, also known as audio branding or sound branding, which refers to the strategic use of sound elements, such as music, jingles, or sound logos, to represent a brand consistently. We know that sonic branding can significantly impact a brand’s recognition, recall and emotional connections with consumers.
The three most important reasons for most, if not all, sonic branding exercises are:
- Building brand recognition: A well-crafted sonic logo or jingle can become synonymous with a brand, making it instantly recognisable even without visual cues.
- Emotional resonance: Music has the power to evoke emotions and memories. By creating a distinctive and emotionally resonant audio signature, brands can strengthen their emotional connections with consumers.
- Consistency across platforms: Sonic branding ensures consistency in brand communication across various platforms and touchpoints, from TV commercials to online advertisements, mobile apps and in-store experiences. This consistency reinforces brand recall and strengthens the overall brand image.
The accurate use of music by brands is a powerful tool in building emotional connections with consumers and shaping brand identity.
By understanding cultural nuances and embracing the potential of sonic branding within a context of micro-communities, brands can effectively communicate their values, establish loyalty and create lasting impressions of authentic cultural significance.