Marketing’s next frontier; the arrival of the Sonic Boom

This article was first published in Marketing Magazine, March 2020

If you don’t already have an audio marketing strategy, now is the time to start thinking about the role audio plays in the marketing mix. Today, many of our interactions are becoming voice-based and soon we will be talking to our fridge, microwave and dishwasher. Audio is set for a new dawn with the rapid progression of the internet of things from your connected car, Alexa or Apple’s trusted airpods.

The human body can hear faster than it can see, taste, smell, or feel, which is ten times faster than the blink of an eye. To harness the power of sound, we must re-write the rules of marketing to a new tune and dispense of some bad habits. Get it right and it will pay dividends.

When the digital revolution exploded, it revolutionised the approach to marketing on a multitude of screens. But as these screens continue to change form and shrink in size, advertisers must reconsider their options.

What does your brand sound like?

Much emphasis has been placed on branding and logos. But today’s marketers need to ask themselves; what does your brand sound like? It is true that jingles have been around forever and brands that continue to do well include McDonald’s, Intel and Disney who have been bopping and swooshing their way into consumer’s memory structures for a long time.

Today the game has changed, it is more complex as voice is now a two-way interaction with a full suite of platforms and devices.  Netflix, Mastercard and HSBC have unveiled new sonic identities to enable better recall and extend their reach, using more than just our eyes.

What are the brand attributes of a sonic identity? 

According to Mastercard CMO Raja Rajamannar; for a sonic identity to be effective, it has to be many things to many people. It has to be pleasant (or in other words not annoying), memorable, hummable (to stick in your brain such as ba da ba ba ba ), versatile enough to support any situation whether in a stadium or at the opera and native to appeal to the cross section of the audience from Chiang Mai to Cork. Done well, this will have the potential to drive long-term equity and create a personal and longer-lasting emotional connection.

Are you leveraging the how, where and when?

Have you ever donned a swimming costume to work, or perhaps a tuxedo to a school-play? I am guessing no; but often that is exactly the effect being portrayed by not marrying the media environment with the way people consume audio.  There is a massive untapped opportunity to connect with how, where and when people listen and break down radio to form a more lasting connection.

Audio already commands a worthy piece of the advertising media pie and yearly Nielsen ad spend figures show that over 156 million euro is spent on radio in Ireland1. But can we honestly say that we are optimising radio to cater to how audiences behave and listen?

Despite the growing stats for podcasts ranging from 9%2-19%3 weekly listenership, how many ads have been specifically written for podcasts or digital audio, or instead do we just put the same ad that is on Today FM straight to Spotify?  Many point to production budgets and marketing resources, but the bigger question to pose is this:  How much money is being wasted by running a one-size-fits-all approach to audio?  With an army of new opportunities from podcasts, to traditional radio ads, there is magic waiting to happen.

One of my all-time favourite radio ads was a brand called Hepalive, which is a natural supplement for the liver. To draw attention to the importance of our liver to our emotional wellbeing, the agency came up with a clever idea to take the spotlight off the heart. Their campaign centred on re-recording famous songs with the word heart in the song title and replaced it with the word liver. The result was Roxette’s; Listen to your Liver, Sting’s; The Shape of your Liver or my personal favourite; Don’t go Breaking my Liver.  Genius!

Perhaps the real problem for audio is a brand image one, competing under the shadow of TV, as the less-sexy-couldn’t-afford-TV type of vibe. This must change, but it is only when brands believe and invest in the potential and marry the media with the creative that this powerful medium can truly be re-imagined.


  1. Nielsen Ad Dynamix 2019
  2. JNLR 2019 (listened to any music/audio from a podcast in the last week)
  3. Core Research 2019 (Adults who listened to a podcast in the last week)

Fiona Field

Photo Credit: Alex Hu @alexandwich via Unsplash