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From opera to brands // Butter and soap // We Cannes’t refund you

From opera to brands // Butter and soap // We Cannes’t refund you

It’s curious that more advertisers don’t take sonic branding more seriously, writes Dominic Mills. Plus: Essential brands clean up; and an unbelievable message from Cannes Lions

I’m getting on quite well with my DIY opera lessons, thanks. One of the things I’ve noticed is how familiar some of the arias are — TV, film and, of course, advertising.

But of those that have featured in ads, I can’t name the brands. One’s a car, I think, one’s jeans and one could even be for insurance.

There’s one exception though, and that’s BA’s use of the Flower Duet from Lakme by Delibes which (and I had to look this up) has been the airline’s sonic branding for just over 30 years. We’ll draw a veil over BA’s recent past and current status, but it’s fascinating how a little known piece of music has, over time, become inextricably linked with one of the world’s best-known and at one time most polished brands.

I only have to hear a few notes and I immediately know it’s a BA message. It’s a brilliant choice: distinctive, sophisticated yet classless, intriguing, different and infinitely flexible. And whatever you think of BA’s advertising output (a steady descent, IMHO) the one thing it has done brilliantly and consistently is its sonic branding.

Among many great topics this Thursday at Mediatel’s Future of Audio event, there’s one on this subject. I find it curious that more brands don’t take sonic branding more seriously.

This recent research by Ipsos points out that brand audio assets can be more effective than visual ones. Yes, we live in a visual age, but brands need to be heard too, not just seen. And as the BA and other examples demonstrate, this goes way beyond the rise of podcasts or voice-activated devices.

There’s some that get it. MasterCard threw a lot at sonic branding last year with multiple variations that also include a two-second transaction confirmation sound. Have a listen to its audio press release here.

So…starting a new weekly Top Five slot in the column, here are my top five sonic branding examples.

BA: Flower Duet — with the wonderful ad that launched it.

McDonald’s: Hmmm…lovin’ it now but hated it when it launched. Did Justin Timberlake really help write it?

Intel: Bing…bingbing bingbing. Five notes that take three seconds. Still utterly memorable, even though I haven’t heard it for a while.

Direct Line: Nearly 10 years on and I still miss the Direct Line red phone on wheels and that trumpet sound. I’m a big fan of their marketing, but I still don’t get this decision.

Alka Seltzer: Plink…plink…fizz. Another oldie, and there’s some debate about whether it’s actually ‘Plop Plop’ but who cares. A rare case of sonic branding that echoes the actual product. It seems to have been pensioned off though. Bring it back, please.

Staying with the musical theme, next week’s Top Five is jingles.

Butter and soap

One of the side effects of the coronavirus is an increased focus on the essentials of life. Different people have different ‘can’t-live-withouts’ but I’d guess that butter and soap feature on every list.

Let’s start with this Lurpak ad, which seems perfectly timed and, even though I am obviously watching more TV than usual, feels ubiquitous.

On the one level it’s pure kitchen porn — and welcome for that — and on another it’s bang on zeitgeist. Everybody’s cooking more. Are families self-isolating? Are they down to their last onion? Mashed potato — what else do you do with the potato-dominated contents of the veg box? As the ad says, “where there are cooks there is hope”.

I half suspected Lurpak and its agency, Wieden and Kennedy, had gone in post-lockdown and added a more topical voiceover. But no. The YouTube date on the ad (5 March) suggests not.

Dove has a long history of wearing its heart on its sleeve and here’s another up-to-the-minute example of it paying tribute to health care workers. These particular ones are in Canada, but they could be from anywhere really and there’s no reason Dove couldn’t roll it out globally.

It’s very simple: a montage of end-of-shift shots of exhausted and stressed medical staff. From the marks on their faces, you can see they at least have had access to masks.

The pay-off: Unilever, as part of its £500m coronavirus efforts, is donating free products to healthcare staff.

It’s good to know that Dove’s ‘purpose’ was always more than skin deep.

Won’t refund/Cannes’t refund

A couple of weeks ago The Times Money editor James Coney wrote a thoughtful piece arguing that, as the population obsessively pursued refunds from cancelled trips or experiences, it was time to ease up on compensation culture. Life’s too short, he argued, and besides, for individuals the compensation could be insignificant while collectively for organisations it could tip them over the edge.

And so to Cannes. A couple of weeks ago Cannes did the right thing — graciously, I thought, even if it was bowing to the inevitable — by permanently cancelling the 2020 event.

It said: “We realise that the creative community has other challenges to face, and simply isn’t in a position to put forward the work that will set the benchmark. We can play our small part by removing all speculation about the festival.”

And now, displaying an uncanny ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, Cannes has suggested that it would rather not refund any 2020 delegate passes, instead rolling them over to 2021.

Here’s boss Philip Thomas making a complete arse of trying to explain why to Ad Age: “A lot of the people who can go to Cannes, our delegates, come from really large, multi-billion dollar companies.

“They are much bigger than we are. We have taken a big hit this year. While we understand businesses are having a hard time, we are asking for people to transfer their passes to 2021.”

Now it’s not just that a Cannes pass is a significant sum of money, or that those who have paid might well need to bolster their cashflow (or keep paying their staff), but to be told that Cannes needs the money more than they do and that they are, in effect, too wealthy to claim, is…well…unbelievable.

Here, by way of info, is a list of this year’s proposed fees. The charge for film commercials, for example, ranges from €885 to €1,275. And they claim they’re too poor.


IanDowds, CEO, UKOM, on 15 Apr 2020
“‪The Delibes music does indeed take me to the BA ad but now only after first revisiting Walken interrogating Hopper before killing him in Tarantino’s ‘True Romance’...one of the best scripted movie scenes ever written (although “you’re perfect egg-plant” “you’re a cantaloupe” we’re ad-libbed apparently). Such beautiful music to accompany “I am the AntiChrist and you’ve got me in a vendetta kind of mood”...Anyway, BA used it pretty well too.”
BrianJacobs, Founder, BJ&A, on 14 Apr 2020
“To Dom's point on sonic branding, I'll bet a high proportion of readers over a certain age can to this day spell a little-known Bristol suburb. And for those that can't, here's a clue / the answer: http://www.turnipnet.com/radio/horacebatchelor.wav
This ad is over 50 years old.”

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