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  1. 1. NITA AT LARGE This is an archived post This is an archived post Previous Index Next What's Your Brand Sound Like? July 7 2009, 1:28 PM by Nita Rollins As a futurist envisioning digital things to come based on analogous developments in other mediums, and—just to come clean—as a cinéaste (by training and in temperament) interloping in the digital space, I’m patiently awaiting the aural web. I’m waiting for Garbo to talk, and I don’t mean in a podcast. I mean in a moment that signifies a sea-change. I’m waiting for the web’s Jazz Singer hour (the 1929 version obviously), when we create a wholly different human experience with digital sound, music and voice—for the mainstream customer, not just the gamer, not just the MySpace indie band fan. Sound online is overdue, delayed perhaps by early experimentation that left the cube farm-dwelling populace apologizing to workmates for sudden unsolicited rock concerts on their pc’s. By now, there’s sensitivity to the context of the listener, and a new playfulness, even artfulness to sounds that are, strictly speaking, functionally unnecessary. What would our experience of the iPhone’s accelerometer be without that great clickety, clickety? You can set your alarm but you can’t come up with straight jackpot cherries, figuratively speaking, without it. There’s a new, already wildly popular Mac app called the Poladroid that is a visual tool for retrofitting your digital images with Day-Glo surreality and the occasional midday poltergeist (and can make you channel Woodstock, if you look at an image long enough). You can even add the clean white border of a Polaroid to your digital pix, always so unceremoniously unframed. Some of the nostalgic irresistibility apparent in the Poladroid demo for me derives from the exact duplication of the film paper’s distinctive auditory dispatch from the camera. (There are other reasons the demo is so
  2. 2. delightful; for instance, it makes you wait just as long as you have to with a real Polaroid for life forms to emerge from the brown murk. And the picture is shaken, as if by an impatient hand trying to accelerate the development.) But ocular time travelling aside, Poladroid had me at the clackety-click…whoosh. Google results are paltry for the “aural web” but buried among them is a prescient post on from 2006 that describes our prolonged ‘silent era’. O’Reilly pops up again with his Where 2.0 2007 conference, where we can find not only a strong argument for “soundscapes” for digital maps (putting the there in the where, as the copy says) but an intersection of two of my favorite trends, aural branding and cartocracy. Here is the question few brands are prepared to ask, let alone answer: what do you sound like? What is your aural identity? Many brick and mortar retailers have brand– reinforcing soundtracks for their shoppers but by and large leave them listening to sounds of silence online. There are notable exceptions, and many are found in the luxury category. (I believe that the luxury value proposition online is, frankly, untenable without sound/music/voice in the right places at the right times.) Nordstrom’s Designer Collections online plays the song “Madrid” by the French band Holden. (I had to check them out on The repetitive nature of the music, plus its worldly cred, is the right note to strike on the charmingly illustrated home page. Cartier has a MySpace Love collection profile with commissioned music by the likes of Lou Reed and Marion Cottilard. Talk about atmospherics; the brand’s signature scarlet background and the songs swallow you and your better judgment whole. features glamazons descending a chateau staircase to the strains of the Pierces’ “Bored”; colossally snooty fun. And brings us downloadable MP3 soundwalks of Hong Kong, Beijing, and Shanghai—essentially travelogues by three famous Chinese actresses serving as seductive narrators that further reinforce the love affair Asians (and the burgeoning Chinese middle class) have with this innovative luxury brand. Accessibility experts have studied sound as a form of non-visual navigation, and there’s something in this idea for everyone. Sounds can reward our decisions to move through a web site, unearthing auditory surprises as we go. Music can be a powerful brand differentiator, but so as to accommodate a brand’s every consumer segment, music should be made available as a highly curated selection. Sound not only has to be used creatively to reinforce the brand, it has to be used judiciously, and always with the on/off option and a fade in or fade out (lifted right from stage directions) once the choice to listen or not is made.
  3. 3. Brand differentiation we know is essential to business survival, particularly because brand loyalty is, among certain demographics, on the wane. Sound and music are memory narcotics and to help a customer remember your brand in a certain way is the first step to putting your products invariably in the “consideration set.” Some day, we’ll have thousands of brands with Intel jingles and—to modify the title of Alex Cox’s Pulitzer Prize Finalist book on 20th century music—the rest will be noise. Tags auralbranding 1448 views and 0 responses