11th April, 2017 at 6:00pm
Sensory Science
| PROPERCORN — Free by invitation to Members

On Tuesday 11th April, we heard from Professor Charles Spence and MassiveMusic’s Roscoe Williamson about how sound can help amplify brand identities and consumer experiences.

We often think of brand identities as primarily visual, encompassing logos, typography, colour, graphics, imagery and icons. These might work together with textual elements such as tone of voice. But what role does sound play in designing effective brand identities and experiences?

In Member PROPERCORN’s canal-side offices, we explored how brands can communicate with people via sound and other senses.

First to speak was IG Nobel Prize-winning experimental psychologist, Professor Charles Spence. Head of the Crossmodal Research Unit at the University of Oxford, his work brings together marketers, designers, psychologists, chefs and musicians to examine how our senses conspire and combine in unexpected ways. Charles advises companies including Toyota, ICI and PepsiCo on multi-sensory branding and design. And has for 13 years collaborated with Heston Blumenthal, helping cook up The Fat Duck’s culinary inventions.

He helped us understand the surprising impact sound can make on the way we experience flavour, and signed copies of his latest book, Gastrophysics.

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Joining Charles was Roscoe Williamson, Head of Branding at creative music agency, MassiveMusic.

MassiveMusic’s expertise spans music composition and production, activations, sound design and voice casting. Which might mean creating the right track for an ad, or helping a global brand develop a music strategy and applying it across its identity and communications.

Focussing on sonic branding, Roscoe discussed the important part sound plays in building commercial brands. He talked through what he’s learnt from recent projects for companies including Premier League, Vodafone, UBS and Phillips, to explain how sound and music can be used by brands to move audiences.

Here’s what we learnt.

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Sonic seasoning

Listening to sounds can change the way people experience food, explained Charles. How crunchy or soft a crisp sounds as you bite it impacts your perception of how fresh or stale it is. By changing the sound of the crunch, these crisps could seem up to 15% fresher, his research found. He shared many surprising examples, showing that light, sound, shape and smell can change the creaminess of a chocolate, or the tones we taste in a whiskey.

“Sound is the forgotten flavour” is the oft-repeated refrain of Charles’ longtime collaborator Heston Bulmenthal. And the pair has worked together to create dining experiences that incorporate sound to enhance flavour. One of The Fat Duck’s signature dishes is entitled Sound of the Sea, and sees diners listen to seagulls and splashing waves through an iPod, as they tuck into a plate of seafood, kelp and seaweed. “Technology at the table is seasoning the food."

This effect also spills into other senses, Charles explained, describing a project with Unilever that explored whether the sound of freshly-laundered clothes could make them feel softer. 

“Eating isn’t only what’s on the plate,” he said, “it’s the total experience."

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Food technology 

The combination of food and technology is a particularly interesting prospect for companies whose products are enjoyed by people at home: whether you’re a restaurant who delivers through Deliveroo or, in the example Charles cited, Starbucks launching its VIA range of instant coffee back in 2011. Outside the coffee shop or the restaurant, the company has lost control of the environment and its ambience. In response, Starbucks created a playlist of music that was intended to bring out bitter or smoother tones in the drink. “You’re delivering experiences, not just food,” Charles said, and brands should find ways to leverage the digital technologies already ubiquitous in the home.

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The science is only one side of the story, explained Charles. The impact of these sonic seasoning experiments was actually reduced when users were told that effects were a result of science. More appealing were stories suggesting the chef came up with the dish in a fit of inspiration upon listening to a certain song, or hearing a certain sound. Storytelling and marketing both contribute to the holistic eating or drinking experience.

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Sounds familiar

Sound in advertising and brand communications has a history that begins with the church bell, argued Roscoe. He shared a 19th Century print ad for tobacco that was accompanied by sheet music, for people to play at home as they smoked, and played the first jingle, for US cereal brand Wheaties. These lay the groundwork for Coca-Cola’s 1970s Hilltop ad, the Nokia tune, and even the smooth theme music that heralds George Clooney’s entrance in Nespresso’s TV ads. 

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Listen up 

Most brands aren’t even conscious of the fact that they’re making sound, Roscoe said. But from call centres to apps, brands create sounds across many different touchpoints. 

“Sonic branding should have the same consistency as visual branding,” he argued, explaining how he and his team at MassiveMusic create assets, then produce guidelines about how a client should use them.

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Making noise

To create a sonic brand with real consistency, Roscoe and his team try to find authentic sources of inspiration. In a recent project for Premier League, the team visited stadiums around the world and recorded ground sounds: cheering fans, the ref’s whistle, or the sound of a ball hitting the back of the net. These sounds were used to create the assets that form the basis of Premier League’s sonic brand.

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Thanks to our speakers, our hosts PROPERCORN, and to David Townhill for the photos above.

Event Details
  • Location:
    1 Royle Studios,
    41 Wenlock Road,
    London, N1 7SG,
    United Kingdom
  • Start:
    11th April, 2017 at 6:00pm
  • End:
    11th April, 2017 at 8:00pm

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