What does it sound like to be the first people ever to ski down Lhotse, the fourth tallest mountain on earth? Or how about listening in on climber Alex Honnold—the subject of the Oscar-winning doc Free Solo—trekking in Antarctica?
To mark the launch of its new Roam speaker, Sonos partnered with The North Face to create a new Sonos Radio channel (the company’s radio streaming platform) called “Never Stop Exploring.” Named after the outdoor apparel giant’s long-time tagline, it features audio stories and field recordings from the global travels of The North Face-sponsored adventurers. World-class climbers and athletes like Honnold, Hilaree Nelson, Matty Hong, Jimmy Chin, and Emily Harrington take your ears along as they explore Alaska, Peru, Ethiopia, and more in nine different recordings.
Brands have long been dabbling with audio content, whether through podcasts like Robinhood’s Snacks Daily or GE’s award-winning sci-fi pod “The Message.” Over the years brands like Crest and Starbucks have dabbled in Amazon’s Alexa Skills and curated branded playlists on Spotify. The North Face-Sonos partnership represents an intriguing evolution of the medium—and suggests a bold new direction for branded audio experiments.
Krystn Robinson, Sonos global director of brand partnerships, says that Sonos wanted to associate the Roam with adventurers to showcase just how well the the speaker performs in the outdoors (it’s the company’s most portable speaker). The North Face is a major sponsor of many of the world’s top climbers, skiers, and adventurers, so it was a logical fit. But who wants to listen to the sounds of Emily Harrington climbing El Capitan?
“We know from our own experience with original programming on Sonos Radio that there’s a strong appetite among our audience for both nature-inspired and ambient playlists, which Never Stop Exploring perfectly captures,” Robinson says. “We also see a huge opportunity to reach new audiences by delivering unique, original content that can’t be heard anywhere else.”
For The North Face, global vice president of marketing Steve Lesnard says the goal is for a truly immersive audio experience to inspire more people to get outdoors and connect with those sounds in person. “While we’ve traditionally focused on sharing through video and photos, audio is an exciting new platform and the partnership with Sonos has provided such a unique chance to tell stories of the outdoors in an entirely new way,” Lesnard says in an email.
To create each story, Sonos brought in composer and multi-instrumentalist Mikael Jorgensen of the band Wilco, who worked with his team to collaborate closely with The North Face athletes and filmmakers to translate their expeditions into a sonic experience. Lesnard says they wanted it to be more than a playlist, they wanted it be an audio journey to iconic locations. “Talking to our athletes and the filmmakers who worked on these projects, they were really invigorated to revisit these expeditions purely through an audio platform because stripping away the other senses allowed them to experience new details for the first time,” Lesnard says.
The partnership between the brands will feature seasonal refreshes of these stories, as well as social content from the athletes about how they use sound to enhance their own outdoor adventures. Honnold talks about how the banter between himself and Harrington while climbing helps each of them push through particularly tough sections, and here you’re able to eavesdrop on those conversations. If you don’t subscribe to Sonos Radio, there are previews available on YouTube.
Not quite podcast, not quite playlist, the Never Stop Exploring series is a fun, branded experiment in non-fiction audio storytelling. Marketers often talk about the value of reaching the broadest audience possible, and going viral, but audio work like this instead focuses on the quality of the relationship with its audience over the sheer scale of that audience. It doesn’t replace those broader marketing efforts, but by making non-interruptive work that people will actually enjoy and not just tolerate, it helps build a stronger foundation of trust and legitimacy among the brand’s fans. As platforms like Sonos Radio, Spotify, and more continue to evolve, brands experiments with audio are far from over.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go listen to Matty Hong climb Japan’s tallest waterfall while lying down on my couch.