Our favourite brand sounds: from McDonald’s to Nokia

Last week, we looked at audio logos and the importance of sound in branding design. Now, we ask designers – what’s your favourite noise associated with a brand?

Richard Scholey, director, The Chase
Richard Scholey, director, The Chase

“Tough decision. Is it a brand sound so irritatingly catchy that you wonder how you found yourself singing along? (Think ‘mmm Danone’). Is it the perfect combination of sound and audio such as the BBC’s classic news beeps that accompany it’s radiating circles title sequence? Or do you go for Xbox’s very on-brand exhilarating whoosh that heralds the muting of my son for another few hours? Each has its merits, but as the lights go down and the popcorn rustling subsides, surely nothing can beat ‘Pa pah pa pah pa pah pa pah papapah’ – probably the only non-verbal jingle you can write down in gibberish and yet still instantly recognise*.”

*Pearl and Dean, obviously.

Lou Hunter, creative director, Brand Union
Lou Hunter, creative director, Brand Union

“My favourite piece of sonic branding comes from Nokia – not the infamous ringtone, but the ‘Special’ text message tone. Three short beeps, two long ones and three more short beeps spells out SMS in morse code. Even though it annoyed most people, it’s definitely memorable. It’s also a really clever way to encapsulate what the brand does in a sound, and so carries more meaning to it than your standard jingle – something to consider when it comes to sonic branding.”

Nick Asbury, founder, Asbury & Asbury
Nick Asbury, founder, Asbury & Asbury

“I still have a Pavlovian response to the HBO ident (static noise + bass note/angelic voice), even years after watching The Sopranos, Curb, The Wire, and so on. I think that’s how good audio branding works – it’s like the bell that Pavlov’s dog learns to associate with food. If you hear the HBO ident before any programme, you’re conditioned to think it’s slightly better. By contrast, the Intel sting is like a closed loop. If I hear the sound, I think Intel, and if I think ‘Intel’ I hear the sound. But it doesn’t really build an association with anything apart from itself. It’s like training a dog to think ‘bell’ when it hears a bell. Sort of impressive, but not Pavlovian impressive.”

Paul Bailey, founder, Brand In Process
Paul Bailey, founder, Brand In Process

“Sitting in a cinema, the lights have gone down, and from the darkness appears a lion’s head which gives two loud roars. To me, this sound indicates that I’m about to be transported to another place, at least for the duration of the film. The MGM lion’s roar acts as a signifier for memories, associations and feelings – memories of happy times and associations with great films.

However, a lion’s roar not being an entirely unique sound, the MGM audio logo must work in association with other elements of the brand and experience. If I heard a lion’s roar coming out of the darkness, and I wasn’t in a cinema or watching TV, I might feel differently.”

James Ramsden, executive creative director, Coley Porter Bell
James Ramsden, executive creative director, Coley Porter Bell

“This is a really interesting question as there’s so much more connection and power experienced when visual movement and sonic connect.

Some of the more memorable are:

The Movie Houses: They have distinct sonics – potentially more audio – but they recall that lovely positive feeling you get before you settle down for a film brilliantly. I defy anyone not to have a positive feeling towards the Pearl and Dean sonic.

McDonalds: The whistle (it must have a name?) is probably one of the most successful sonics that has been owned and extended throughout a brand world.

Intel: This has to be one of the most recognisable four notes ever.

Lloyds TSB: The For The Journey campaign ran a sonic for five years that was so successful it ended up being released as a record, and charted – you’ll find it online.

Magnum: While the crunch sound they use is not a traditional sonic like the other examples it is a totally ownable sound that no other brand could use as it’s so distinctive.”

Clement Balavoine, founder, Neuro
Clement Balavoine, founder, Neuro

“I spent a lot of time in my childhood around computers, playing video games or exploring the internet, especially on systems like Windows ‘98 or XP. But the logo and sound I will always remember is the Windows ‘95 one, which was the operating system of the first computer I was able to experience, thanks to my grandfather’s passion for electronics. This sound promised me a lot of discovery, and since that day it’s stuck in my mind. Actually, It’s only recently that I discovered that Brian Eno, one of my favorite musicians, was the composer of this sound…”


James Hurst executive strategic creative director, DesignStudio
James Hurst
executive strategic creative director, DesignStudio

“The anticipation builds. You find your seat, nestle into the chair, wrestle the coat into submission. With popcorn propped precariously between the knees, the curtains open that little bit wider and the 360º sound rips through the cinema as the ROOOOOOAAAAAAAARR of the Metro Goldwyn Mayer lion lets you know it is all about to begin.”

What’s your favourite brand sound? Let us know in the comments section below.

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  • James Housego September 9, 2016 at 1:00 pm

    Nice article. But surely the startup mac tone beats the slightly more complex aggravating windows. Less intrusive and minimalist; a simple, single lingering chime of approval. Mac’s ethos in audio form.

  • Sophie Ziessel September 13, 2016 at 6:24 pm

    SNCF (French Railway Station) jingle. Even David Gilmour created a song with it !

  • Joe Carver September 14, 2016 at 9:51 am

    For just the memory’s, the original PlayStation startup intro tone.

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