By ignoring sound as a way to communicate a corporate identity PR may
be left behind by other disciplines, says Gerry McCusker
Most of us working in public relations recognise the elements in a
corporate identity programme when we see one - logos, typography and
graphics - but how many of us would be as cognisant if we were to hear
Today, more companies than ever are using sound to assist in the
communication of their identity, especially given the characteristics of
the new media utilised by their manifold audiences or publics.
World-renowned design and image expert Wally Olins claims that this
isn’t necessarily a new practice either, as the earliest example of
corporate identity was non-graphic, non-written and non-visual; he says
it was ‘The Marsellaise’, the adopted musical anthem of the insurgent
forces of the French Revolution.
Lest I’ve lost you already, perhaps a few contemporary examples may be
of some help: the original music ident for Channel 4, the four-note sign
off at the end of the Intel Pentium Processor ads and even the sound an
Apple Mac makes when you switch it on.
All the above are examples of audio corporate identity, and all are
designed with as much attention as their graphic counterparts. But we’re
not talking about jingles - vocally-endorsed pieces of music - we’re
referring to sound designs and in the UK there are around a dozen
companies who specialise in this art.
On the jingle front, my first encounter with audio identity came when on
secondment to a consultancy who were involved in selecting the Scotland
football team’s campaign song for the 1982 World Cup. Not that it really
bolstered the team’s identity or performance though.
But why has the PR industry, whose players doubtless assume an axial
role in implementing corporate identity programmes, not tuned into
I believe that it may be because many PR people are not sound literate;
and by that I mean actually have an ear for music, tonality, pitch, tone
and rhythm. But remember, just as a picture paints a thousand words,
sounds and music can also speak volumes.
Take the Internet; how many businesses were aware of it even two years
ago? Today usage is commonplace, and the presentation of information
needs to be slick. As computers are capable of relaying communications
in both audio and visual formats, doesn’t it make sense to investigate
how sound can be used to enhance and differentiate the messages that we
may be trying to get across?
Five experimental studies I’ve recently researched suggest that sound
has a positive effect on the communication process: something that our
associates in advertising have recognised for years.
Anyway, some of us in PR are already entertaining sound’s value in
communicating identity - the selection of the clearly-annunciating
company spokesperson, the personality of the telephone receptionist and
the music played on telephone queuing lines, are but three examples.
As PR is all about being proactive and not reactive, shouldn’t we be
trying to better our comprehension of this area, before one of the other
communication disciplines does? Unless we in PR look further than the
realms of the visual, we will be guilty of overlooking an area of
considerable potential by paying no more than lip service to harnessing
the expressive power of sound.
Gerry McCusker is a senior consultant with Ptarmigan