How One Design Studio Uses Sound to Brand Everything from the Super Bowl to Electric Cars

How One Design Studio Uses Sound to Brand Everything from the Super Bowl to Electric Cars

If you’ve ever driven a hybrid or electric vehicle, one of the first things you’ll notice is that the engine makes almost no noise at low speeds. Refreshing as it may be, the silence is a hazard for pedestrians: If they can’t hear a car coming, how will they know to get out of the way?

Joel Beckerman is on the case. The sonic branding firm he started 20 years ago—Man Made Music—is working with Nissan to come up with a sound that not only complies with regulation (the U.S. government says automakers must add noise to all hybrid and electric vehicles by September 2020) but is also recognizable to the consumer and embodies the brand.

“We don’t want people to say ‘What’s that sound?’ and get hit by the car,” says Beckerman, 54. “We want them to say ‘Oh, there’s a car coming,’ but [also recognize] there’s a unique personality to that car.”

As Man Made Music has grown from one employee to 26, the company has scored everything from the Super Bowl to hospital alarms to HBO’s feature presentation opener (below), proving that the branding power of sound can impact any experiene. In a recent interview, Beckerman reflects on his work and discusses where it could go next.

You’re a musician and composer. When did you get your start?

It was back in grade school during an assembly. Usually assemblies were kind of boring but this time there was this man standing in front of us talking about the history of gospel music. I was struck by how this music was so alive and constantly being reinvented. During his talk he’d sit down and play some examples on the piano. As soon as he started playing, the whole room just filled with sound. It was so inspiring and amazing to me the amount of emotion he could coax out of this one instrument. I remember going home that night and begging my parents for piano lessons.

Where’d you go from there?

I originally went to Union College in upstate New York to study chemistry. I found was I was doing what I needed to do on the sciences, but I was spending all my time writing music and playing in bands, writing little avant-garde musical theater projects And I was like, I need to do this. I remember speaking to my parents about it; of course like every other rational set of parents, they completely freaked out. I ended up transferring to New York University to study music and business. It was kind of the best thing I could’ve done.

In college, I was working as an intern at this recording studio that focused on publishing demos—demos that help sell a song. A songwriter would come in; I’d have eight hours to learn the song, arrange it, bring in the players, record it, and push it out the door. It became my first full-time job out of college. I think my first year I made 250 publishing demos. That was the way I cut my teeth on production.

How did Man Made Music come about?

I was doing the publishing demos and was the night manager at a recording studio. That’s where I learned about the craft of sound and music production. Then I got into working on commercials. Eventually it felt a bit cookie cutter—it felt like I kept walking the same path. At that point I got a little taste of television. I was freelancing for some of the music companies in town and met people through ad agencies. At some point I said I’m doing all this work for other people, but I felt at arm’s length from the process. I felt like I wanted to get in deep—not just be taking direction, but actually being part of making the creative direction of things.

What is it about sound that makes it so impactful from a branding perspective?

We don’t necessarily realize it, but every moment of our lives is scored with music and sound. Some of it is human manufactured and some of it is just ambient—it comes with being part of an analog world. The reality is we respond to sound quicker than any other sense—quicker than touch, which I didn’t even know until I wrote my book (The Sonic Boom: How Sound Transforms the Way We Think, Feel, and Buy). Since we respond quicker than any other sense, sound actually becomes an organizer for all the rest of our senses…if the rest of the experience is in sync with the sounds we hear, that generally tends to result in a more pleasurable, fruitful, useful experience.

Tell us about one of the notable projects you’ve done.

iMax is this amazing technology and brand that is in service of filmmakers, trying to bring their vision to life in the most pure way possible with visuals and sound. But this was one of those situations where the cobbler’s children had no shoes: iMax had a visual identity, but no real sonic identity, no sound or music that really gave them credit in the theater experience. We developed this sonic identity system for them, which was based on a simple question: “What should iMax sound like?” We knew it should sound like pure experience, but what did “pure experience” sound like? We set out to discover that and created 10 different solutions. It’s like making pancakes— sometimes you have to throw out the first batch and try a different recipe.

We ended up creating a long-form piece of music, which is an anthem for iMax that shows up in different places. We created a countdown version of the anthem, which is shorter. Then we created this little pneumonic, a little hook called the iMax “drop”—it has musical elements but it’s not a piece of music, it’s more like a gesture. That gesture, in a very economical package of three seconds, triggers memories: it brings you back immediately to that iMax experience. The sum total of all the iMax movies you’ve seen rushes back to you.

How is sonic branding being used outside of entertainment?

As much as I love all the the work we do in entertainment and devices, the work we do in health care is the most important work we will ever do as a company. Take for example this problem of hospital alarms: Who says an alarm has to scare the crap out of you? Can’t we have alarms that are more informative? The horrible soundtracks that are in hospitals right now scare patients, create cortisol reactions, and make patients sicker.

We believe you can bring together the different data streams in almost a symphony of health care. It’s about asking, “What does a proper heart rate sound like? What does a proper blood pressure or oxygenation of the blood or respiration sound like?” How can we connect those sounds together in a pleasing soundscape so that a nurse could walk past the hospital room and know whether or not a patient needs attention?” We believe we can use sound to make alarms and soundscapes much more purposeful.

Edited for length and clarity.

from 99U99U https://adobe.ly/2L71jwF

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Rick Webb, on Why Our Assumptions of Digital Advertising are Complete and Total Bunk

Rick Webb, on Why Our Assumptions of Digital Advertising are Complete and Total Bunk

It’s a time of upheaval for internet ads. Recent convulsions in data usage and targeting beg questions like: Are ads killing the internet? Are they the only way media will stay alive? Does that make them worth it? And do they actually work anyway? Rick Webb, co-founder of the Barbarian Group and COO for Timehop recently sat down with Gawker.com founder Elizabeth Spiers at the Northside Festival in Brooklyn for a conversation on the degrading value of online advertising. “Normal people go to a bar and talk about their exes,” Spiers said of her long friendship with Webb, “Rick and I go to bars and talk about digital and economy.”

Spiers and Webb unpacked how online advertising affects our offline social fabric, why we shouldn’t fear regulation in the age of GDPR, and why all of our assumptions of how the internet works are complete and total bunk.

Read on for some big picture insight into exactly what’s happening on your little screen.

Digital ads didn’t change our world.

“Almost everyone working in this industry is working under a bunch of false assumptions,” says Webb. The fact that the internet created a new world of ad spaces, doesn’t mean that those ad spaces are more valuable. How does Webb know? He compares it to the first appearance of TV ads. “The ad spending level in the US has historically been 1-2% of GDP and it hasn’t changed except for one time: television,” says Webb. “[TV advertising] worked demonstrably better, so [companies] all notched up their spend.” But when internet ads appeared, the advertising industry’s numbers didn’t mimic that game-changing TV moment. A metrics-based marketer might be able to tell you a whole lot of numbers, but if those numbers aren’t dollars it doesn’t matter. If you look at the U.S.’s spend on advertising like an economist, Webb concludes that digital advertising doesn’t add demonstrable value to advertisers.  

Targeting may all be myth.

If Webb has one mission to fulfill, it’s to proclaim that targeting—the same issue that has the world up in arms over data protection—is overrated. In fact, it may not work at all. Sure, marketers can target a campaign to your age, size, weight, non-binary gender, and what you had for breakfast. But, so what? Granularity of targeting may just be an unnecessary layer of empirical rationale. “The data is kind of useless,” says Webb. “The difference between three people, when I try to sell a toothbrush, is zero. I don’t need to know anything about you guys except that you want to keep your teeth clean.”

Reevaluate regulation.

If targeting is a myth, then user data and personalized strategy isn’t as valuable as advertisers think. That’s partly why Webb isn’t alarmed by the new regulations from GDPR. “Everyone is like, ‘This is terrible. The sky’s going to fall.’ And I’m like ‘I don’t care,” says Webb, going back to his point that targeting isn’t effective. “We don’t have to use all that data. We don’t do anything with it.’” If the advertising industry is built on a false premise of targeting, then personal data regulation won’t affect anything other than the house of cards that personalized metrics are built on. That’s why Webb embraces course corrections like GDPR. “I want to lay out the case for people to understand why regulation is good. It won’t hurt the industry, because we don’t need to be doing this targeting stuff.”

Ad money affects social institutions; think hard about where you put your ad spend.

Webb doesn’t just care about this because he’s an econ nerd. “The migration of ad money from offline to online parallels the migration away from news,” says Webb. As money leaves legacy print organizations like newspapers, their funding goes down. That downgrade in funding is pegged to the degradation in news literacy and public discourse.  “All this sh*tty stuff on the internet is because of the financial drivers around the age of data: these ‘things’ seemingly being important to people. But what’s also obvious is that it’s not true,” says Webb on that state of his beloved internet. “They’re ruining our lives on a fundamentally flawed premise.”

Ads can have moral value. What are they worth when they don’t deliver?

Webb outlines three periods in U.S. history when we’ve had a reckoning with advertising. The first, he says is patenting and the invention of the Federal Trade Commission. The second came with the rise in conspicuous consumption and economists who pegged the functions of advertising into the pillars of supply and demand. “There was a big call for regulation again,” says Webb. Both times, he says, advertising wasn’t regulated because analysts advocated that it had a moral value because it funded news and encouraged trade. Now we’re in a third ‘convulsion.’ The big difference staring us all in the face? Advertising doesn’t fund the news anymore. If the moral argument for advertising has been thrown out, what other changes will follow?

from 99U99U https://adobe.ly/2mf3UXz

Christine Sun Kim: Your Work Is a Product of Your Experience

Christine Sun Kim: Your Work Is a Product of Your Experience

The work of Christine Sun Kim is inspired and informed by her experience of the world as a deaf woman, artist, mother, and partner. This 99U talk, delivered in ASL and interpreted live at Alice Tully Hall by Beth Staehle, asks all creatives to consider how their outputs are colored by their own experiences, abilities, and empathy:

  • How empathy for her hearing partner and baby informs her work
  • How she better understands sound through illustrated diagrams
  • Why a framework of “house rules” is essential to any creative process

from 99U99U https://adobe.ly/2lTAFJy

Adam J. Kurtz: Perfection Is a Myth

Adam J. Kurtz: Perfection Is a Myth

About this talk

The often humorous, sometimes dark work of the artist known as ‘adamjk’ can be seen everywhere from tote bags to enamel pins to his books on creativity. Yet the prolific Kurtz doesn’t claim to be an expert: in this uproarious talk, he offers some useful panaceas to the pressures of creative perfection:

  • Why execution should be only half of your design focus
  • How honesty and kindness have propelled his career
  • What factors (besides talent) contribute to creative success

from 99U99U https://adobe.ly/2IK89mI

John Maeda: Designing Inclusive Teams and Products

John Maeda: Designing Inclusive Teams and Products

About this talk

The prolific John Maeda—whose career has spanned Cooper Hewitt, MIT, and KPCB—now leads computational design and inclusion at Automattic. In this conversation with Adobe VP of Design Jamie Myrold, Maeda shares his insights from a long and varied career on the history and current state of diversity and inclusion in the design industry, including:

  • The traits in leaders and teams that promote inclusion
  • How Automattic’s remote-work practice helps its teams develop empathy
  • The surprising history of design’s impact on business
  • And how he harnesses his “secret power” to make immediate change

from 99U99U https://adobe.ly/2KyRfwn

Audrey Liu: Incentivize Creative Teams with Meaning, Not Perks

Audrey Liu: Incentivize Creative Teams with Meaning, Not Perks

About this talk

Audrey Liu, Director of Product Design at Lyft, takes issue with how companies incentivize creative teams. Instead of dangling perks like kombucha and in-office massages, Liu asserts the need to connect designers with the fulfillment of solving real problems. In this insight-packed talk, Liu advises leaders on:

  • How to connect your team’s accomplishments to real world impact
  • Why creatives need to do the right thing, not just the most measurable thing
  • How to activate empathy by literally putting your designers in the driver’s seat

from 99U99U https://adobe.ly/2ILthZy

Marcelino J. Alvarez: Be a Designer of Community

Marcelino J. Alvarez: Be a Designer of Community

About this talk

Uncorked Studios CEO and co-founder Marcelino J. Alvarez has worked on projects and products that took him to communities in Cuba, Lebanon, and Japan. In this talk, he explains:

  • How his own Cuban heritage inspired his design philosophy
  • How designers and entrepreneurs can produce work that truly benefits communities
  • And why mundane solutions are often the most necessary

from 99U99U https://adobe.ly/2KEM8dT