Sounds Like A Great Idea

When designing online ad creative, the importance of some elements, visuals and copy for example, is obvious. The quality of these ad components can make or break a campaign. They represent the difference between memorable creative that contributes to the overall strength of a brand, and a message too weak to engage Internet users, or worse, one that compromises a company’s hard-earned brand equity.

Interactive media buyers know that during campaign execution, they must evaluate and seek to improve these elements during the creative development. These days, there’s another creative facet requiring careful attention: sound.

I recently wrote about a couple companies offering formats that incorporate video footage in online ads. I’ve also mentioned a format known as the half-page ad, offered by New York Times Digital and other online publishers, which can support video clips and brief audio promotional messages. Then, of course, there are the increasingly popular e-mercials, branded by rich media company Eyeblaster as “commercial breaks.” These allow advertisers to transfer an offline ad message, such as a TV commercial, to a comparably targeted online environment. All these online advertising methods place significant importance on the value of sound in getting a message across at a time when competition and clutter pose obstacles to being heard.

The role sound plays in product branding, recall, even purchase intent, is undeniably strong. Consider all the times you’ve hummed a particularly catchy commercial jingle. You’re well aware of the product associated with it, perhaps you even feel an affinity toward it. A good jingle or product theme song can enhance customer brand perception. In extreme cases (i.e. extremely successful cases), it stays with the consumer for years.

Advertisers have the opportunity to utilize audio branding online. Here’s what to keep in mind:

If you never used sound in an online ad before, you may be tempted to go all-out, incorporating music, voice-overs and sound effects in an attempt to leave a lasting impression. Too much gusto has caused many media buyers to stray from the brand consistency they worked so hard to achieve (and maintain).

Stick with sound bytes your audience is already accustomed to hearing in association with your product. If your company is endowed with an appealing theme song or jingle that’s frequently heard in your TV and radio spots, playing it online will enhance the existing creative. It will strike a chord with consumers who are already familiar with your campaigns and trigger brand recognition (and ultimately recall) with prospects. If you don’t have a musical brand enhancer, it’s never too late to get one and introduce it online.

Before you rush off to develop new creative built around including sound in online campaigns, do keep in mind not all Internet users appreciate being bombarded with music and vocal pitches while surfing. Many don’t tolerate it at all. They make a point of turning off their speakers the moment they log on. So it’s essential your ad stand on its own merits visually, should it be robbed of its voice. The message should appear in the image and/or copy to prevent wasted impressions.

I came across an excellent example of how best to incorporate sound in an online ad. Ironically, the campaign was one of the plainest I’ve seen. A skyscraper banner promoted a Caribbean-based Marriott resort, enticing vacationers with the standard promise of warm waters and a temporarily uncomplicated existence. Its primary purpose was branding, with the secondary goal of increasing bookings.

The ad’s message was prudently included as text on the banner’s outer edges. The box also displayed a brief video of a guest snorkeling. It was clearly repurposed from one of the hotel’s TV spots. As expected, the music accompanying the video was the Marriott theme music, an island-inspired piece that’s eerily soothing and somehow seems synonymous with paradise. Granted, this isn’t so impressive when considered remotely. Visit any Marriott hotel and you’re bound to hear that same familiar tune playing in the lobby, restaurant and bar. The branding effect of this all-encompassing use of sound as an integral campaign element is overwhelmingly strong. It’s effectively transferred to the Web with the simple addition of Marriott’s theme music to its online ads.

Marriott gets a gold star for audio consistency across all aspects of its brand. Your own company can achieve this same feat by keeping an ear to the ground for the opportunity to make an impression with sound.

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