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Playing around with sounds – Branding lessons from the video game industry

How taking inspiration from video games can help brands craft their own sonic brand

Björn Thorleifsson, amp

Head of Strategy & Research

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Sound design within video games has become an art form in-itself. Much like film and TV, the audio can be just as significant as visual in creating a unique, immersive experience for the consumer that evokes emotion.

The gaming industry is packed with sonic identities which aim to encourage immersion and create deeper, more meaningful connections with players. Mario is a great example of a game that has demonstrated an ability to establish a Sonic DNA, something that lies at the very heart of good sound design.

While allowing for a dynamic sound that changes dependent on scenery, context or activity – Mario retains its long-established branding by keeping the fundamental audio identity consistent throughout its games. This gives players a greater sense of familiarity with the product and brings back favourable memories and feelings that carry over to later editions or releases.

From the start-up noise of a new Mario game, players will feel a rush of emotions they relate back to their previous experiences with the game. Sound works as a device to re-ignite the relationship that may have been long-forgotten between playing sessions.

With gamers making up more than a third of the world’s population, and a market value expected to hit $317.17 billion by 2028, developers are clearly getting something right – so what tips can brands gain from the gaming industries’ effective sonic strategy?

Context matters – set the tone with audio

As a society, we spend big money buying the latest audio hardware for ourselves. Why? Because it forms an essential part of our entertainment experiences. From gaming, to film, to radio – audio is an important part of the way we connect with media.

Video games have always used sound to send subtle signals to the player without pulling their focus out of the game. From the intense music of a boss fight to the relaxing tones of scenic environments, sound plays an essential role in priming the player for the mood the game wants them to feel.

Short tones and chimes can give players contextual information while remaining on brand with the game theme, allowing for a much smoother experience without breaking the immersion. The same examples in a game can be used in real life – if an action is not available on a brand’s website, a chime can signal to the consumer that they cannot proceed, steering the user away from believing it is an abnormality or glitch.

Through fostering a sound that is directly associated with your brand, you can slowly teach the consumer what your brand ‘sounds like’, building a trusted and familiar relationship

Bjorn Thorleifsson, Head of Strategy and Research, amp

This can also be carried out subconsciously, chimes that play when a game has been successfully saved become synonymous with a positive experience and over time will create the reassuring feeling that the game has been saved. This can be mirrored in real life a tone that plays every time a monetary transaction has gone through builds the feeling of security.

As brands attempt to adopt ever-more immersive experiences for consumers, whether that be through metaverse environments or real-world activities, a consistent audio strategy to set the tone and scene of an environment will be essential in helping guide the consumers through their customer journey in a digital space.

Build relationships with sound

Music has a fantastic ability to trigger memories – hearing the iconic Halo soundtrack can bring back a rush of feelings to anybody who played the game as a child. Not only that, but it might persuade them to jump back in and relive that positive gaming experience.

The same works for brands – if a brand can effectively build a sonic identity, sound can then be used to trigger positive memories of interacting with the brand. Through fostering a sound that is directly associated with your brand, you can slowly teach the consumer what your brand ‘sounds like’, building a trusted and familiar relationship.

The power of audio in a virtual space

The gaming industry has mastered the ability to exist within a virtual space. We’re now seeing brands set their sights on establishing digital identities, with the global in-game advertising market expected to garner just under 14 billion by 2028. Brands must be able to merge themselves into these platforms seamlessly, without becoming jarring to the user experience. A company slogan cannot be played in contrast with an immersive experience, so in order to remain on brand, companies must possess a sonic identity that can be translated into these new environments.

Through the recent John Lewis X ITV partnership, the brands built a castle within Fortnite for players to enjoy, something that would have abundantly been ruined if entering the castle had triggered a loud voiceover shouting the famous tagline “Never Knowingly Undersold”. Rather than using generic slogans or jingles, a brand should build an adaptable sonic identity that can be adjusted to fit various digital environments. 

Game developers have spent years mastering sound design and using it to build relationships with their consumer base. There is much that brands can learn from the creative lessons years of development have taught the gaming industry and realise the strength in building a holistic identity that goes beyond a simple jingle, logo and slogan.

Guest Author

Björn Thorleifsson, amp

Head of Strategy & Research

About

Bjorn Thorleifsson is the Head of Strategy & Research at amp, one of the world’s leading sound branding agencies. He has a background in psychology, sound-engineering, and consumer behaviour and studied at Goldsmiths, University of London under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Daniel Müllensiefen, co-director of the MSc in Music, Mind, and Brain and one of the leading authorities on the subject of how music affects us all. After finishing his studies Bjorn wanted to shift his focus to the practical applications of music and psychology to the “real world.” Specifically, music’s influence on consumer behavior, marketing, and employee well-being. Among many things at amp he is responsible for the coveted yearly Best Audio Brands ranking, the first of its kind study, measuring how effective brands are in using sound.

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