Marketing with Sound

I just love the way that Skype has used original and distinctive audio sounds as such a major part of their branding.  The startup “aaaaaahhh – POP” is happy, fun, and unique.  Even their shutdown sound is nice.  (Although, not everything thinks so. A Google search on “skype startup sound” shows that there are plenty of haters out there, including this doozy:  How to Kill Off and Murder Skype Startup Sounds.)

By B.Romain. Used under Creative Commons.

The Skype sounds remind me of the “Nokia tune” from a few years back, which they used in commercials and was the default ringtone on Nokia devices.  It was actually funny to see multiple people reaching for their phones when that sound was heard!  On the other hand, maybe it was sad to see how many people couldn’t figure out how to change their ringtone…

Skype’s audio branding also reminds me of the Yahoo! yodel, Metro PCS’ “Hello, hello, hello,” and even AOL’s “You’ve Got Mail.”

In today’s electronics-driven world, it is just now striking me as odd not to hear a sound when I start up my phone or open an app.  I hear a recognizable tune when I boot Windows, or OS X, or even Ubuntu (best OS boot sound of the three, IMHO!), but not when I start my iPod Touch or my Android phone.  Sure, my Nexus One phone rocks a cool video during boot-up, but no sound (OK, it vibrates for a split second, but that’s not good enough). And it’s whole purpose is based on sound – it’s a phone!  Apple has even less of an excuse, given their focus on music.

So what is the marketing takeaway here?

Almost every computer, laptop, and mobile device has the ability to play sound, and most devices are good at it because they have a speaker phone built right in (or better yet, surround sound!).  Websites, apps, and logos take advantage of colors and animations, so why not sound?  It can be used as a trigger, like your sense of smell makes you think of Granny when you smell baking bread.

When I build my own app, you can be sure that it’ll have a start-up sound.  Of course, it’ll probably be a Pearl Jam song…

For those considering it, just a note of caution: not everyone wants to hear a yodel when they open your app in the middle of a meeting, so make it optional or make “off” the default sound…

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