The 10 Most Addictive Sounds in the World

You're probably among the millions who have experienced it: driving in a car, listening to the radio, and suddenly this song comes on. It is not just any song—this was your favorite song when you were a teenager. As the first few notes strike up, you're transported back in time. Everything is so vivid, and your mind wanders to parties, first kisses and sweaty palms. It's as if time stands still and you suddenly realize that for the entire duration of the song, you haven't seen a single thing on the road.

There's no doubt about it, sound is immensely powerful. And yet 83% of all the advertising communication we're exposed to daily (bearing in mind that we will see two million TV commercials in a single lifetime) focuses, almost exclusively, on the sense of sight. That leaves just 17% for the remaining four senses. Think about how much we rely on sound. It confirms a connection when dialing or texting on cell phones and alerts us to emergencies. When the sound was removed from slot machines in Las Vegas, revenue fell by 24%. Experiments undertaken in restaurants show that when slow music (slower than the rhythm of a heartbeat) is played, we eat slower—and we eat more!

Is this just coincidence, or does sound make us buy more, want more, dream more and eat more? Any 50-year-old American can sing a whole range of television jingles from the 1970s—they are all well stored in the recesses of our brain. Yet if you were to ask the same of those who have come of age recently, you will find them stumped. Has the magic of a television tune disappeared, or has the advertising world lost sight of the fact that people do indeed have speakers at home? I decided to put these questions to the test.

Buyology Inc. and Elias Arts, a sound identity company in New York, wired up 50 volunteers and measured their galvanic, pupil, and brainwave responses to sounds using the latest neuroscience-based research methods. We learned that sound has remarkable power. This may not be surprising for many, but it was certainly surprising to realize just how many commercial brands over the past 20 years have made their way into the world's 10 most powerful and addictive sounds—beating some of the most familiar and comforting sounds of nature.

Quiz: Can You Guess The World's Most Addictive Sounds?

Forget the sound of the waves or the songs of birds, they didn't even make the top 10. But the jingle advertising a computer chip, and object which most of us have never even seen, took the prominent second spot in our brains in terms of addiction. We strongly respond to the sound of Intel! This tells us that repetition is the key, since most of us can't even sing it. What this tells us is that there's no limit to this phenomenon, because a computer chip doesn't really have a sound.

The third most powerful sound is just over 10 years old, and yet it had such a profound effect on our volunteers that as soon as they hear it, they remove their headsets and check their bags for their vibrating cell phone. When we switch our phone into silent mode, we think it cannot be heard. But the vibration has its own sound, and almost immediately the test subjects stopped whatever they were doing to attend to their phones. It's hardly surprising that the Blackberry has been dubbed a CrackBerry—even President Obama is hooked.

Psychologically speaking, this is not a happy discovery. Recent studies show that the first thing we do when we wake is check our BlackBerry. Going to the bathroom, brushing our teeth and eating breakfast takes a back seat. Increasingly people sleep beside their phones—that message that arrives at 4.00am, is now a priority! Even though the sound of a vibrating phone has taken second place to a baby's giggles, it seems that in just over a decade technology now provides the predominant sounds of daily life.

As marketers become more aware of the power of sound, it will be used to increase brand recognition in increasingly sophisticated ways. It's just a matter of time before our brains hear sizzling steaks, newly lit cigarettes and sparkling sodas, and immediately register them as Outback, Marlboro and Dr. Pepper.


Non-branded and branded sounds:
1. Baby giggle
2. Intel
3. Vibrating phone
4. ATM / cash register
5. National Geographic
6. MTV
7. T-Mobile Ringtone
8. McDonald's
9. 'Star Spangled Banner'
10. State Farm

Top 10 Branded sounds:
1. Intel
2. National Geographic
3. MTV
4. T-Mobile
5. McDonald's
7. State Farm
8. AT&T Ringtone
9. Home Depot
10 Palm Treo Ringtone

Top 10 Non-branded sounds:
1. Baby giggle
2. Vibrating phone
3. ATM / cash register
4. "Star Spangled Banner"
5. Sizzling steak
6. 'Hail to the Chief'
7. Cigarette light and inhale
8. "Wedding March"
9. "Wish Upon a Star"
10. Late Night with David Letterman Theme

BuyologyMARTIN LINDSTROM is a 2009 recipient of TIME Magazine's "World's 100 Most Influential People" and author of Buyology—Truth and Lies About Why We Buy (Doubleday, New York), which appeared on both The New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller lists. Lindstrom is an adviser to executives of McDonald's Corporation, Procter & Gamble, Nestlé, PepsiCo, Microsoft Corporation, The Walt Disney Company, and GlaxoSmithKline, amongst others. His personal global audience is estimated at over a million people. His book, Brand Sense, was hailed by the Wall Street Journal as " of the five best marketing books ever published." Lindstrom's latest books, Buyology and Brand Sense have been translated into more than 40 languages, and are now out in paperback.

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  • Well, an advertiser may be in those list through Singapore-based Gentay Communications Pte Ltd's proprietary technology: non-intrusive adverts over ringtones, which offers advertisers a unique opportunity for a high-level one-to-one targeted marketing campaigns based on users’ demographics. For more information, email

  • GG

     I'm sort of addicted to the noise my keys make when I type. The only reason I got Goole+ is because of all those GoogleChrome videos on YouTube where a person tells their whole life story through the internet and how they made it big due to Google, and all I could concentrate was on the clicking noise the keys made. It's facinating!

  • gwen mugliston

    I am USAian, and recognize the baby giggle (and always stop dead in my tracks to listen to that) but the other so-called easily recognizable sounds go in one ear and out the other. I think the author has seleted too small a sample group...and they are all too young!! ROFL!!

  • Laurent Jouvin

    Interesting article... but I found the comments being a lot more entertaining! So thank you to the 42 readers who made this web content a lot more interesting.

  • jason margerinne

    Wrong. This is one of those articles that make me glad that I don't live in a country that bombards me quite so aggressively with crap: I recognize three out of ten of the branded sounds.

  • Elizabeth Melton

    It's strange that these are all American things. Especially considering the man who wrote this book is very obviously not American. I'm not sure why "in the world" was strung the the end. I'm sure "God Save the Queen" is much more familiar than "Hail to the Chief" to some parts of the world. They should have titled this differently...

  • Hugh Tonks

    I have to echo other commenters. This would be "world" as in "world series", right? Typical US arrogance and ignorance.

    As I'm from the UK, I recognised only one branded sound (Intel's), and seven of the non-branded (not Letterman - who he? - or the ATM (ours are silent), and I thought the steak was bacon frying). And when I saw the words "Wish upon a star", I thought of the Rose Royce hit, not an outpouring of Disney syrup.

    Back to your research please, Mr. Lindstrom, and do try to use fewer exclamation marks in your writing.

  • Ches

    He isn't from the U.S., he's from Denmark. That's okay, though - I know you were just experiencing a moment of "typical arrogance and ignorance" that so many people from the U.K. do.

    I'd also like to add that there's nothing wrong with exclamation marks!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Andy Auyong

    A friend directed me to this article after seeing my blog post on how a 'pssst' from opening a bottle of Coke triggered the desire in him to go out of his way to buy a bottle of coke. I thought it was amazing, sound as an 'idea-virus'. Some of the comments are skeptical about the validity and accuracy of the list - I think most of us should have some experience on how sounds triggered responses. Wouldn't the sounds and jingles that can trigger responses be highly localized? Some of the popular sounds to my community would be foreign to most commenting here, similarly for me and the sounds listed as "most addictive sounds in the world."

  • Filipe Frota

    Yeah, this ranking is too US oriented. I know most of them because I lived in the US for 2 years.
    The Neuromarketing experiment was conducted in New York, so my guess is that this is a convenience sample of people from NY. This is obviously insufficient for generalizing and for coming up with the title above: THE MOST ADDICTIVE SOUNDS IN THE WORLD. I appreciate Martin's work, I have read the Buyology book, and I believe in his findings. Maybe he's using the controversy theory from Buyology, for drawing attention to his book and the Elias Arts Company. C'mon Martin! This quest for finding the most addictive sounds in the world will be endless. IMO these tests can provide nice insights for coming up with efficient audio identity branding, but not for a world rank. Anyways thanks for sharing that. Cheers.

  • Carl Mattsson

    In the world? Im Finnish and I doubt that your average European/Asian/African has even heard half of the branded sounds you mentioned.

  • DHC

    Interesting title, disappointing article.
    I expected more from this article than the half hearted pseudo scientific blurb for the author's book. The title suggests that it will discuss 'The 10 Most Addictive Sounds in the World' and then fails to explain what is meant here by addictive not to mention 'the world' being New York.
    It contradicts itself - today's young adults would be stumped by advertising jingles yet the top ten branded sounds seem to date from within the last decade (I think, since I don't know many of them due to my location outside the USA).
    It seems unlikely that marketers are unaware of the power of sound since as the author shows 'the sound of the waves or the songs of birds didn't even make the top 10, but the jingle advertising a computer chip took the prominent second spot.'
    In fact I believe - amongst my peers at least - the sounds "plink plink fizz" are all that is needed to conjure up a certain product proving that the mentioned future time when the sound of a sizzling steak will register as a product has already arrived, many years ago.

  • Josiah Burk

    The begining 5 seconds of Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up" must be added to this list

  • Lauren Ciriac

    The Palm Treo ringtone?.. Really? I'm pretty sure I've never even heard that sound before.

  • Bryan Irrera

    I'd have to say that for me, this is the first time I'd ever heard any of the ringtones above. I wouldn't have been able to recognize an ATM machine sound if it wasn't labelled, either, 'cause I prefer not to use them (I actually walk into the bank and talk to the teller). I also don't have any idea what that McDonalds or Home Depot sounds are supposed to be...were they used in commercials, ever? If you wanted to get an emotional response connected to McDonalds (for me) you could have played the "you deserve a break today" music or the "big mac" jingle. The sounds that I'm surprised aren't here: the NBC chimes and the Star Wars opening theme. re: the MTV logo theme: it actually gave me chills/goosebumps to hear that again after so long.

  • John Martin

    Does MTV still use that theme? Because it sounds old to me and if we're throwing in old I'd stack up John Carson's tonight show theme against Letterman's theme any day.