Your Laptop Speakers Suck, And A New Sonos Campaign Knows It

Sonos CMO Joy Howard talks about the brand’s ad strategy, Airbnb partnership, and more.


Do you love music? Of course you do. Who says no to a question like that? A heartless sociopath who hates kittens and puppies, probably. And are you listening to music right now? Perhaps through earphones or maybe, in a pinch, the tinny squawk of your laptop speakers. Or maybe you stepped things up a bit and are rocking a portable Bluetooth speaker. But when it comes to listening to music in your house, a new Sonos campaign says all of these scenarios suuuuck, and really, you know it.


“You’re Better Than This,” created with agency 72andSunny, outlines all the terrible ways we treat the music we supposedly love. This could not be illustrated better than through a certain scene from the 2009 Paul Rudd flick I Love You, Man in which Rudd’s character tries to convey the raw power of Neil Peart through his laptop.

Sonos chief marketing officer Joy Howard (a 2014 Fast Company Most Creative People honoree) says that our music has been anchored in our devices over the last decade, all geared towards listening to it on your computer, headphones, or through a Bluetooth speaker, and people really think it’s complicated to do anything else. This leads many of us to the audio equivalent of owning a Picasso, but instead of hanging it in your home, you only look at a picture of it on your phone. The goal of Sonos’s new campaign is to show people how terrible so many of our listening options are, and how the brand can help improve it.

“The whole campaign is poking fun at the absurdities of modern listening, then picking each one as an opportunity to pay off some aspect of our system we want to educate them on,” says Howard. “Suddenly, instead of being tethered to a speaker of one device, your music uses the wifi to move freely around your house. So we’re trying to just wake people up to the fact that you’re experience listening to music is completely out of proportion to how you feel about music.”

Last year, award-winning music producer Rick Rubin walked around his house talking about making his music fit each room, and the need to listen to music at all times, in every room, even outside in his yard. It was a calm, stylish peek at the inside life of a somewhat enigmatic legend. It was also a glorified product demo for Sonos.

It was one of the first campaigns under Howard, who had joined the company after two years at Patagonia, and she says it perfectly encapsulated the brand’s strategy going forward.


“That was when I first saw the strategy taking shape,” says Howard, of the campaign that also featured Q-Tip and St. Vincent. “These just explained what the product is. He’s just showing you how he uses the technology, and how the net effect of that technology is that it disappears and you’re left with nothing but the music. For me, that nailed it. I knew that’s what we needed to be doing.”

Another major pillar of Howard’s strategy hinges on partnerships with other complementary brands. First and foremost are the streaming services with which the entire Sonos platform runs, but it also extends to brands like Apple and, a less obvious collaborator like Airbnb. Earlier this year the brand released a spot with Apple featuring Killer Mike, The National’s Matt Beringer, and St. Vincent talking about the role of music in their homes. More recently, Sonos has launched a program with Airbnb that offers its audio system to hosts for free or at a discount.

“We had this idea that Sonos can help make a house a home, it can turn it into a place to be creatively inspired, and we saw Airbnb was talking about the idea of feeling at home anywhere,” says Howard. “It just made sense for us to work together.”

Howard says the leadership team at Airbnb was in Paris for a company event called Airbnb Open during the 2015 Paris Attacks, and they had been stuck in an apartment under curfew. The apartment they were in had a Sonos system, and Allen Mask, Airbnb’s head of global product marketing told her one of the ways they passed the time was sharing playlists and listening to each other’s music. And they said it made it so much easier to get through that time.

The two brands also co-hosted a Sonos pop-up in Seattle, taking an Airbnb home, outfitting it with Sonos and then inviting the community in to various events and activities–yoga classes, dinner parties, cooking lessons, film screenings, and more–to show how the Sonos platform works.


“We look at partnerships like sneaker collaborations,” says Howard. “People are interested in brands and when they see them come together, it’s almost seeing a couple come together, and gives a bit of a window into who that brand is.”

Sonos is also joining the Open Music Initiative, a nonprofit organization led by the Berklee School of Music and MIT Media Lab, that brings together leaders from across this industry to promote and advance the development of open source standards and dramatically simplify the way artists and rights owners are identified and compensated. This work is more important than ever as more people jump into paid streaming, and we want to ensure the streaming industry remains healthy and vibrant for years to come.

“Our future depends on the new model of music, which is streaming,” says Howard. “It’s taken a lot longer to get where we are today than it probably should have, but if we don’t have a healthy environment and industry, it affects our overall experience.”

The strategic thread tying the new campaign, the brand’s partnerships with streaming services and Airbnb, and its new retail store in New York City, is trying to show the impact its product can have on music lovers’ lives by conveying the Sonos experience as clearly as possible.

“People want to reward brands that stand for something meaningful, but they’re also sick of unrealistic and over-arching claims from marketers,” says Howard. “So while they want to invest in brands that matter, they want all of that to come through in what you offer, in a way that’s simple and straightforward. The big shift for us is, waking people up to the problem, showing them the solution, and then just delivering it in straightforward communication and experiences.”

About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.