COMMENT: PLATFORM; Why sound can speak volumes for identities

By ignoring sound as a way to communicate a corporate identity PR may be left behind by other disciplines, says Gerry McCusker

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

sound’s potential?

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

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