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.
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.
THE MOST ADDICTIVE SOUNDS IN THE WORLD
Non-branded and branded sounds:
1. Baby giggle
3. Vibrating phone
4. ATM / cash register
5. National Geographic
7. T-Mobile Ringtone
9. ‘Star Spangled Banner’
10. State Farm
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
MARTIN 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 “…one 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.