Categories
Branding

Lights, Camera, Audio: Why Sound Is Taking Center Stage

I’ve always been a TV show fan, and have been investing my Thursday and Friday nights on the next episode in my favorite drama or sitcom for a long time — this was  before on-demand streaming allowed for bingeing, my recent pastime. If you’re a fellow binge-watcher and don’t click the convenient “skip intro” button, you’ve heard your favorite shows’ theme songs about a million times. Last night when I was swaying along to The Office’s theme song, a near nightly ritual of mine while preparing dinner, I got to thinking: what makes these songs so sticky? Is it strictly the emotional tie I have to the show, and actually has nothing to do with the creative itself? Luckily, I work at Veritonic, so I could get an answer to this question the next day at work. And lucky for you, you’ll get the answer now. 

We won’t be spending much time with the methodology here, or how Machine Listening and LearningTM works technically, as our website has plenty of detail on that subject. Basically what you need to know is for years Veritonic has been ingesting loads of creative assets – from podcasts, audiobooks, voiceovers, music, and ads – and has used insight from human response data to power an AI platform that can quantify the value of sound. So we could have done a lot here, but being a millennial, I really just wanted to prove that my generation’s theme songs like The Office and Parks & Rec were better than oldies like Mash and Seinfeld – sorry if I’ve dated you. 

Also, apart from my own generation biases, I thought that House of Cards would do very well because of the rumors that Netflix developed House of Cards with a heavy reliance on data: what type of script plays well with viewers, what type of protagonist will viewers root for, what are some of the other most watched shows on the streaming platform, so on.

But let’s see what the machine said.

For those in West Philadelphia, born and raised, you’ll be happy. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was most memorable. And although I’m not from Philly, the nostalgia of “playin’ b-ball outside the school” made the theme song resonate with me. The references to school-aged tifs and visiting distant family brings me back to my childhood as I’m sure it does for you. Memorability achieved; thanks Fresh Prince for reminding me that I was once an awkward kid with acne. 

And apparently Netflix’s money was well spent because House of Cards had the top Veritonic Audio Score (a composite score of emotional attributes, recall, and engagement) along with the highest score for authenticity. These results are no surprise to me, which is a nice break from the rollercoaster of emotions that the show elicits on viewers. HOC draws a strong tie from it’s engaging intro score to encouraging viewers to route for the “Bad Guy”. From the protagonist’s knee-jerk temper to the mysterious slaying of political rivals, we are committed to his path to the presidency. Enough about Politics, onto the Office Politics with…. The Office. (See what I did there.) 

The Office performs well on its engagement score which is nice to see as the show is riddled with examples that most working adults can relate to. From bad luncheons to office romance, we feel as though we’ve been there before, heard that gossip, seen that drama unfold.

All of the songs wound up scoring higher than Veritonic benchmarks. That means relatively speaking, they are all good creatives. It’s possible all these producers just got lucky, a hit show and a hit theme song. But there is an alternative to betting on luck, taking a lesson from the highest performer of the bunch, House of Cards: use data. For those that read this and still choose not to use data though, we always have the ‘skip intro’ button to fall back on.

Note from the author:

My job is to enable brands to understand and articulate the value their audio creative provides to the company and brand. I love connecting with teams on how they currently run their pre-market creative process. This example of how predictive modeling can enlighten creative testing and measurement was my way of finally settling a long-running debate I’ve had with my best friend. (Told you, Jake.)

If you’re curious to understand more about how our machine learning platform works and the data we derive from sound, I’d welcome the opportunity to connect. 

nangell@veritonic.com, LinkedIn

Categories
Advertising Branding

Which consumer brands are winning audio?

“We’re now thinking about the sound [of a brand advert] first versus the look second. It’s a really interesting way of approaching that immersive consumer experience.”

– John Burke, global chief marketing officer of Bacardi and president of Bacardi Global Brands

The proof is now abundant: getting audio marketing right — powered by a methodical strategy — has never been more critical. If a global CMO testimonial like the above — declaring that audio now takes precedence over visual — doesn’t convince you, consider any of the latest realities about the audio market.

Continue reading on Mediatel News.

Categories
Branding

The Unique Power of the Everyday Sound

Living is easy with eyes closed…. (Lennon/McCartney)

I, like millions of others around the world, am a diehard Beatles fan. My love for their music is so extreme that, when people ask me to name my top five favorite bands of all time, I don’t even include them, asserting that they just can’t be ranked like any regular old band.

I feel their impact often — and not only when I’m listening to their music. I feel it every time I walk by the Dakota building on the upper west side of Manhattan (where John lived). I feel it every time I hear Oasis (sorry, fellas). 

And I feel it every time I turn on my MacBook, because that single chord that plays will forever remind me of the opening of McCartney’s “Live and Let Die.” I don’t know if Steve Jobs intended it that way. I also don’t think they’re precisely the same chord, but yeah, go ahead and revisit that.

The full effect of hearing that customized functional sound — what some call an earcon — requires analysis, but this I know: I hear it and I feel good, both in general and, by extension, about using that product. There are, of course, a lot of other reasons why I love my laptop, but its association with that sound always seals the deal.

The ability for brands to foster that association has never been more important. Why? You heard it from me first (:-): audio is huge. From the endless entertainment of podcasts to the myriad innovations that make it easier for people to listen, consumers are simply consuming more audio. And that’s only the content and technology that is built for audio. Endless aspects of our daily experience — putting on a seatbelt, getting a text message…the list goes on — are enabled by sound. 

With such an all-encompassing impact on peoples’ lives, a lot of businesses are starting to hear tremendous opportunity. The sound of their brand, they’re coming to understand, is multi-dimensional, not restricted to the audio logo alone. The more places they can integrate their brand identity in a positive, consistent way, the deeper the connection they perpetuate with customers.

Back to the Mac for a second. What if that power-on sound was merely a generic “bleep” of some kind? Clearly, at least for me, the experience of using that laptop would feel a lot more shallow. There is strength in a carefully-planned, customized earcon. 

The study by sonic branding agency Audio UX, powered by the Veritonic platform, proves it out. Through a combination of “Machine Listening and Learning” and human panel validation, the analysis demonstrates not only the value of leveraging earcons generally but how much more impactful “premium,” brand-customized sounds can be. 

The findings signify more than just personal preference. Others show that premium earcons — multi-layered and more harmonically complex than their generic counterparts — actually do a better job of signifying the correct function to users. 

There’s a lot to dig into. To start: 

  • Listen to our latest episode of The Sonic Truth, in which Audio UX’s Dexter Garcia and Veritonic’s Scott Simonelli go deep on just how big an opportunity earcons present.
  • Read the eBook on the study, available now.

Brands are starting to recognize the lifelong impression they can make on people through little sounds. Maybe they’ll be lucky enough to have as big an effect on millions of consumers as McCartney and the Mac have had on me.

Categories
Audience Insights Branding

The Sweet Sound of Insurance

The 2019 Audio Logo Index is out now!
Download

Is it possible that, these days, we’re hearing brands more than we’re seeing them? There’s a lot of evidence out there that would suggest we are.

Start with the simple fact that, according to Nielsen Neuro Science, TV ads aren’t seen 61% of the time — but they’re heard.

Next, I’ll be the millionth person this week to remind you of how hot podcasting is right now — from the fact that one-in-three Americans listened to a podcast last month, to Spotify’s acquisitions of Gimlet and Anchor. Once some of the growing pains of its ad model get worked through, the opportunity for brands to more deeply impact people through podcasting will only grow.

The smart speaker opportunity may be even more exciting; its full potential is still unknown, but the big-win possibilities are already blaring. When, for example, voice commerce truly kicks in and it becomes common for someone to regularly “talk to” their favorite brands and buy from them directly, we can all pretty safely declare those businesses the Leonardos of the audio renaissance.

But that’s smart speakers phase two. To get there, brands first need to be entrenched in their customers’ psyches, and an impactful signature sound is one reliable way in.

Of all of the components of the holistic sonic brand — anthem, functional sound, etc. — the audio logo is paramount. From ads to experiences, the logo is the quick, ubiquitous identifier that triggers (hopefully positive) emotions in consumers — a little sound with outsized impact. It needs to be right.

Based on the freshly-released results of our 2019 Audio Logo Index, the annual ranking and analysis of the sonic logos of some of the biggest companies in the world, insurance brands seem to be getting it better than anyone. That sector led all others, with Farmers® and Nationwide sonic logos claiming the top two spots in the US, and Liberty Mutual scoring the highest for recall.

This year’s Index goes even deeper than before, with new insights into major businesses’ mnemonics — the power of repetition, the ideal placement of brand mentions in an ad — and much more.

Download the Index and have a look, and check out what The Drum has to say about it. Then talk to us about how this data — and much more coming out of the Veritonic platform — can help you ensure that, when someone asks you about your audio strategy, you have an answer that’s leading you toward your own big win.

The 2019 Audio Logo Index is out now!
Download
Categories
Advertising Audience Insights Branding

You never really gave a !@#$%!! about Laurel and Yanny

What are we hearing? It really doesn’t matter. But when it comes to how what we hear affects bigger business decisions, there is a sonic truth and it matters a lot.

Laurel and Yanny Just Doesn't MatterTired of the “Laurel or Yanny” debate? So is everyone. And the reason why is that you never really cared.

Now, we’re not in the business of hurting robots’ feelings, so robots of the world (or people actually named Laurel or Yanny), please don’t hold that headline against us. Surely the question of what you hear has spurred tons of stimulating debate across media…and across the kitchen table. My daughter nearly sacrificed a week’s worth of dessert by calling me an idiot because I wasn’t hearing the truth (that, to her, it was clearly Yanny).

But, amidst deep analysis of the range of personal and environmental influences at play, the debate is, ultimately, just good intellectual fun. What you think you hear, apart from potentially causing a few mild scuffles, is not really going to affect your life in any important way. You’re going to keep doling out the brownies.

But when there’s something bigger at stake — when what we hear actually has a material impact on our lives — an objectively “right” audio becomes really important, especially in business.

An objective, sonic truth

As we all know by now, there is no one right answer to Laurel v. Yanny. People interpret what they’re hearing differently based on a whole host of reasons — everyone has their own sonic truth.

The marketing world obviously solved this problem with targeting; if you are, for example, a young woman listening on a particular kind of device, a brand could ensure that they’re playing to your sonic truth by serving you Yanny content. When targeting technology got really smart, there were suddenly plenty of right answers to go around.

Again, no one is really thinking about the hot business possibilities of Laurel v. Yanny, at least not yet (maybe if they were built on a blockchain). But when the question of what we hear does start to have real business implications, it’s a whole new, often very tense ballgame.

When the sonic truth matters

The critical question for businesses isn’t “what do people hear,” but “does what people hear impact them in a way that might make them a customer (or a better customer)?” Everyone, from the brands using audio to forge deeper customer connections, to the streaming services and radio networks trying to prove to those brands that their platforms are the best places to make those connections, needs to ask this. Does a given spot (or the voiceover for this podcast, or the audio branding in this video) get the emotional reaction we’re looking for? Is it memorable? Does it compel people to purchase?

Laurel or Yanny?While more generic ad analysis exists, amazingly, no one has really been able to figure out what works about audio in particular yet (in ads, videos, voiceovers, podcasts, etc.), likely because they’ve never had a reliable, easy way to quantify its value. Understanding the relative value of audio assets, and making objective determinations about which to leverage as a result of that insight, has been hard.

We’ve all heard the myriad stories of how audio gets chosen — like, “my gut is to go with the real “Freebird” in this ad because it’s a famous song that people love.”

What if it turned out that a majority of the population has a different sonic truth — that they’d respond just as positively to something that reminds them of “Freebird” at a fraction of the cost to the brand? On the other hand, what if the real “Freebird” is really the best way to go?

The point is, in a market where digital audio ad spend is expected to surpass $20 billion by 2020, there’s simply too much at stake to not look to the data for that objective truth.

So apologies to Laurel and Yanny, but when the question turns to effectiveness over perception — and understanding what’s quantifiably “right” is the difference between making a real impact on consumers or not, keeping clients happy or not, saving money or not — you’re just not that important.

Categories
Audience Insights Branding

What’s That Sound?
Comparisons of Consumer Electronics, Media & Gaming Audio Logos

Veritonic Comparisons of Consumer Electronics, Media & Gaming Audio LogosWe live in a connected world, and consumer appetite for entertainment content across devices is driving many of the technical advancements we enjoy today. I’m old enough to remember adjusting the rabbit ears on the family black and white TV. Not long ago I watched an NFL Playoff game on my phone while in line for a bus tour of the Kennedy Space Center, and the advancement of the technology still amazes me. The Kennedy Space Center was pretty impressive too.

It was the Space Age after all, that spawned the Information Age and all the communications technology and connectivity that puts instant access to media, gaming and communications at our fingertips. In this article we look at the Audio signatures of the Consumer Electronics and Media brands of the Veritonic Audio Logo Index. That group is made up of Intel, T-Mobile, AT&T, LG, Netflix, HBO, XBox, and Playstation (Listen below). I’ve grouped these together because they overlap in providing service, technology or content to screen-based devices. They also happen to share a common approach to audio branding.

Unlike the audio branding of other sectors, notably insurance companies, these eight audio logos use no spoken words or mention of their brand, with the lone exception of Playstation.

Can You Hear Me Now?

Despite the lack of verbal cues, Intel and T-Mobile are two of the best performing audio logos in the Index: Intel tied for 1st overall with Nationwide & Farmers Insurance, while T-Mobile finished in a 3rd place tie with McDonalds. That’s some impressive company! Intel & T-Mobile have nowhere near the longevity of Nationwide or Farmers Insurance, but they have clearly found their way into consumers collective consciousness.

Melody vs Sound Effects?

What’s driving the success of Intel and T-Mobile, and the relative underperformance of the others?

The audio logos of these 8 brands clearly fall into two categories:

  1. Those that are musical or use melodic tones (Intel, LG, AT&T and T-Mobile), and
  2. Those that can best be best described as utilizing sound effects (Netflix, HBO, XBox, and Playstation)

Comparing the emotional engagement, likeability and recall rates of musical audio logos vs. sound effect logos, the musical logos of Intel, LG, AT&T and T-Mobile consistently outperform HBO, Netflix, Playstation and XBox. In fact, in almost every way we slice the data – gender, age, income and geography – the 4 musical audio logos outperform the 4 sound effects.

Results across US General Population
Results Across US General Population

Consumer Affinity Driving Results? Nope.

Veritonic Comparisons of Consumer Electronics, Media & Gaming Audio LogosYou might expect the broad and deep consumer affinity for services like Netflix & HBO would positively affect their overall audio logo rankings, particularly against brands with lesser known audio logos like LG and AT&T. But Netflix maintains a solid hold on last place among this group and a ranking of 20th out of the 25 audio logos in the broader index.

Game over? Not quite, because Netflix & HBO produce the two highest scores for Excited (shown above) not just in this set, but in the entire Audio Logo Index. There are lots of ways to win with audio branding, and an Entertainment brand triggering excitement, even without recognition is certainly one of them.

Industry & Brand Association – Right Church, Wrong Pew

The Audio Logo Index data for industry and brand identification reveals some interesting but not unexpected associations. Our findings indicate that people generally make an accurate association between the logo sound they hear and the industry it comes from, but not a specific brand.

Comparisons of Consumer Electronics, Media & Gaming Audio LogosIn this case, the Consumer Electronics & Media and Entertainment Industries were accurately chosen from a list of 19 possible categories more than 50% of the time. Five of these eight brands had industry association rates of 50% or higher. T-Mobile had the highest industry recognition rate with 59%, LG lowest with 37%. The other two brands with Industry association below 50%: HBO 49% and Netflix 46%.

This is the power and beauty of sound. It creates a mood or emotion very subtly but effectively. Watch a televangelist broadcast, and you’ll notice that the music and singing is constant throughout and outpaces the time spent preaching by 100 to 1. It’s a sing-a-long concert that relies on a full band and multiple vocalists to inspire the congregation and keep emotions stirred up. It doesn’t matter which pew its experienced from, only that the feelings and emotions are associated with church.

Your industry is your church, and music and sound can be a key to opening the wallets of the congregation. Don’t ignore it. When the congregation is singing your brand anthem you’ve made a permanent emotional connection that you can’t put a price on.

Consumer Electronics, Media & Gaming Audio Logos

Intel
83
T-Mobile
80
LG
76
AT&T
74
Xbox
69
HBO
66
PlayStation
65
Netflix
64

Veritonic








Categories
Audience Insights Branding

Total Recall: Veritonic’s Groundbreaking 2016 Audio Logo Index

How Veritonic’s Report On Audio Logos Was The Best Kept Secret In Branding Last Year

In 2016, Veritonic introduced the groundbreaking Audio Logo Index, an innovative study that investigated the marketing impact of the world’s top audio logos and jingles, an often overlooked facet of branding campaigns. For the first time, marketers could analyze the effectiveness of a company’s sonic branding by studying 25 well-known brands, including Nationwide, AT&T, and BMW. Check out the 2016 Audio Logo Index here.

Using Veritonic’s patent-pending technology and methodology, the influential report provided a new way of evaluating audio logos: Marketers could now examine these audio logos using objective, comprehensive, and authoritative measurements.

The Audio Logo Index also revealed how important sonic branding is to savvy marketers, who are taking advantage of audio to brand their companies, their products and even their experiences. The Audio Logo Index provided those marketers, brands and agencies with a new level of understanding by measuring how their sounds (or prospective sounds) stacked up.

It’s why Lara O’Reilly wrote, in her Business Insider story on the Index: “For some brands, an audio logo is just as important as a visual one.

How The Index Was Produced

Producing the Veritonic Audio Logo IndexTo produce the report on the Audio Index, Veritonic’s panel of experts identified 25 top audio logos from brands active within the US. The audio logos included Intel, McDonald’s, BMW and Duracell, representing a broad variety of industries: Tech, Financial Services, CPG, QSR, Automotive, and more.

Veritonic’s platform was used to identify a census-representative panel of over 2000 respondents, and to collect marketing response and engagement data from them.

Powerful Insights

Published at the beginning of November in 2016, the resulting research contained some powerful insights for marketers thinking about how their brands can leverage audio:

  • The Sound of Spending: In many markets, there was a clear correlation between marketing spend and how well an audio logo performs.
  • How We Hear Failure: However, there was a wide variation in performance by sector. Some sectors known for big spending simply failed to break through with consumers, and one of the biggest advertisers, automotive, fared the worst.
  • Long Live The King: Newer audio logos generally underperformed. (It will be intriguing to see if they close the gap in 2017?)

Will these trends continue in 2017?

The Power of Audio

Veritonic and the Power of AudioOther forces are at work that will increase the importance of audio to marketers. For example, the rise of streaming is changing the game for big advertisers. Consumers are abandoning traditional media formats, like broadcast TV, for on-demand media formats, like streaming music and over-the-top video sites like Netflix.

And the trends outlined by our partner, Pandora, will continue. For instance, “voice is the new touch.” Collectively, these changes are driving new formats for ads and will force brands to develop new strategies for reaching consumers.

Preview of 2017

The 2017 version of the index will be even more powerful than last year’s groundbreaking version.

Most notably, we’re including a UK index for the first time ever. It will share some global audio logos (Intel, McDonalds, etc.) with the US, but will also have a unique set of iconic British audio logos.

Second, we’ve updated the set of audio logos being indexed. Many remain the same, giving us a great baseline year-over-year. However, we’ve added more brands and sectors based on the trends we’ve been observing in the marketplace.

Will we see the same trends? Results will be live the week following Thanksgiving. Please subscribe to be alerted, or follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Categories
Audience Insights Branding

Do You Know What an Audio Logo Is?

Marketers and consumers alike recognize the importance of visual logos. Now, it’s time for them to hear the power of audio logos.

If you asked most people what a logo is, they’d most likely mention examples that quickly come to mind, such as McDonald’s golden arches, Apple’s bitten apple, or BMW’s quartered circle. Their responses would probably be instantaneous, since these iconic logos are hardwired into our collective subconscious at this point, which speaks to the success of those marketing efforts.

Intel Audio Logo
Intel Audio Logo

Yet, ask those same people what an audio logo is and they’ll probably have more trouble providing examples. Part of this is awareness. They don’t know what an audio logo is. But most would have no problem humming the chimes of Intel’s iconic audio logo (“Bong…bong bong bong bong!”) or other audio logos they’ve heard over the years. And it’s this recall of a pattern of notes, which has an almost Pavlovian quality to it in our culture, that marketing and branding executives find powerful and provocative.

“Audio has always been a powerful component in ad and marketing campaigns,” says Veritonic’s Scott Simonelli. “However, as audio technology expands into new areas that are already being consumed by listeners, including streaming music services, online video, and even VR platforms, audio will be profoundly important for marketers and brand executives, who will want analytics and metrics to measure if those audio clips are indeed resonating with target audiences.”

“An Audio logo Is To The Ear What A Visual Logo Is To The Eye”

“An Audio logo is to the ear what a visual logo is to the eye,” explains Steve Keller, CEO and chief strategist at leading audio branding consultancy iV Audio Branding. Audio branding expert John “Scrapper” Sneider, Executive Producer and Managing Partner, Storefront Music, defines audio logos as “a sound or combination of notes… that brands a product or company.”

Music StudioIn the UK, Laura Grzeszczak, project manager for Massive Music, says, “An audio logo represents the essence of the brand within sound.” For Charles Gadsdon, head of creative development also at Massive Music, an audio logo has an expansive quality to it. “I think what’s important to note is the difference between a jingle and an audio logo. A jingle is a melodic piece. But an audio logo is something that might have a more sound-design quality to it. Or it might have what’s called ‘onomatopoeic sound’. For example, the way Twitter uses the word ‘tweet’ and also uses whistling audio in their mobile app to indicate you’ve sent a tweet, which sounds like a bird tweeting.”

Why do they matter? Call them jingles, mnenomics, or sonic branding, these short progressions of sounds, notes or chords are one of the most powerful weapons in the marketer’s arsenal.

The Best Marketers In The World Use Audio

Our brains are always processing sound, which is why research has shown time and time again the deep connections between music and brain. Thus it’s no surprise that some of the best marketers in the world take advantage of this to promote their brands.

Key Findings from the Veritonic Audio Logo Index
Results from the 2016 Veritonic Audio Logo Index

To measure the effectiveness of these marketing tools, Veritonic created the ground-breaking Audio Logo Index. The 2016 version of the Audio Logo Index put 25 top-performing audio logos in the United States through Veritonic’s Audio Effectiveness Platform, to quantitatively measure the emotional resonance, engagement and recall of these brand assets. After processing by Veritonic’s Machine Listening Algorithms, over 7000 panelists evaluated the audio logos inside of a custom online environment.

The selected Audio Logos covered a variety of sectors: Telecommunications (Telco), Technology, Quick-Serve Restaurants (QSR), Financial Services, Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG), Automotive, and a catch-all “Other”. This enabled the platform to create both individual scores as well as industry-wide benchmarks.

The 2017 version of the Audio Logo Index will be even more exciting: for the first time ever, it will include a UK-specific set of audio logos!

Additionally, this year’s set of audio logos was curated by panels of experts in both countries. In the US, participants were:

In the UK, roundtable participants were:

  • John Hale, Senior Creative Copywriter, Global
  • Clare Bowen, Head of Creative Development, Radiocentre
  • Keelan Doyle, Creative Producer, Massive Music
  • Laura Grzeszczak, Client Services and Project Manager, Massive Music
  • Matt Hill, Research and Planning Director, Thinkbox

Results will be live the week following Thanksgiving. Please subscribe to be alerted, or follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Categories
Advertising Audience Insights Branding

Pandora’s Definitive Guide to Audio

Veritonic’s own Scott Simonelli recently spoke at Pandora’s “Turn It Up” event in Chicago. The conference, Pandora’s thought leadership event, highlighted the Power Of Audio. Scott’s presentation reinforced the key tenets of how to make effective audio ads. Steve Keller of iV Audio Branding demonstrated how sound and psychology interact with each other. And speakers from Pandora highlighted key trends in the audio advertising market.

Download Pandora’s 2017 Definitive Guide to Audio, and learn:

  • How streaming is changing the face of radio
  • About apps and the impact of podcasting
  • Why voice is the new touch

Download Now

Categories
Audience Insights Branding

Defying Dissonance: How Music Creates Harmony Within the Cacophony of the Brain

Enjoy this article? Grab the infographic!

We are all familiar with the power of music: a song blasts through your ear buds and shoots adrenaline through your body, sending a jolt down your spine, willing your legs to keep running. Or maybe you play a soothing Mozart track to relax after work. There is no denying that music has immense power over our bodies and minds.

How are these invisible and intangible sound waves able to have such a powerful impact on us? The power of music lies in the way that it affects our brains.

To maximize the effectiveness of audio, let’s understand the myriad structures and pathways involved in our brain’s response to music.

Where It All Begins

Pathway of Sound through the ear

Sound waves hit the ear’s tympanic membrane and are converted to vibrations. These vibrations produce pressure waves inside the ear. The pressure waves get funneled through the inner ear to the cochlea, a hollow chamber of bone that focuses the pressure waves onto a thin membrane called the Organ of Corti. Tiny hair cells sit on the membrane, and the pressure waves cause these hair cells to release neurotransmitters. The neurotransmitters in turn send electrical impulses along the cochlear nerve to the auditory cortex.

Giving Sound Meaning: The Auditory Cortices

Areas of the brain that respond to sound

The auditory cortex is the gateway of the listening process. It’s responsible for the processing of these basic audio impulses into meaningful insights for the brain. Neurons in the core of the cortex respond to different types of frequencies, pitches and volumes, while cells in the outer regions process intricate factors such as melody and beat.

The auditory cortex also helps to associate sound with memory. The superior temporal gyrus, associated with memory retrieval, surrounds the auditory cortex and is tightly connected with it. This symbiosis leads to our ability to hold songs and other audio in our working memory.

Two pathways crucial to speech and language functioning are located adjacent to the primary auditory cortex:

Wernicke’s area regulates an individual’s ability to process speech that we hear. Located in the superior temporal gyrus of the temporal lobe, the region is responsible for comprehension of language.

Power of Music in Advertising with Veritonic

Broca’s area is separately located in the posterior (rear) of the inferior frontal gyrus. At the crossroads of sound organization and speaking regulation, Broca’s area is the well-known site of language production and is responsible for an individual’s movements required to speak.

These signals then get processed by the prefrontal Cortex, the “decision maker” of the brain. The prefrontal cortex takes actions like evaluating the factual words of an ad, and deciding to act on an ad’s message.

Once all these sounds — still in the form of electrical impulses flowing along neurons — are processed into brain language, they are contextualized and start igniting a concrete psychophysical response.

While all sound passes through the auditory cortices, some structures are only involved in specific functions.

Selective Attention and Memory

Areas of the brain that interpret sound

The Cerebellum

At the back of the skull is the cerebellum, important for motor functions and for its lesser-praised sensory input duties. Depending on the sound’s pleasantness, the cerebellum can intensify certain neural responses, which we experience as ‘selective attention’. The cerebellum also enables the brain to predict possible incoming audio signals, based on patterns and past sensations.

Sound familiarity is any advertiser’s golden ticket when it comes to ad recognition. This makes the cerebellum, and its ability to selectively amplify pleasant audio, critical to marketers.

Hippocampus

The powerhouse of memory, the hippocampus receives fully processed sound inputs primed for retention and links them with other responses of the listener. This solidifies the connection between sound and emotion. This is why hippocampal neurons fire when we hear music that we know: as much as we are listening to it, we are remembering how it made us feel!

Emotional Response

Remember that ‘chills-down-the-spine’ feeling we talked about? We can thank the mesolimbic pathway (also known as the reward pathway) for that. The pathway starts with the nuclear accumbens, whose neural network between the hippocampus helps the listener to internalize Pavlovian stimulus-reward relationships. It does this by synthesizing the “happiness” neurotransmitter dopamine.

Emotional Response of Music in Advertising

Unsurprisingly, the NA is thought to be the heart of reward in the brain. This influences drive and goal-directed motor behaviors such as desire for a product, and, via the classical conditioning process, activates during passive listening of ad audio.

The dopamine synthesized in the NA binds with receptors in the striatum. These receptors get activated when we eat good food, enjoy sex, or listen to pleasurable music. Notably, the striatum’s dorsal side is the destination of another circuit, the motivation-inducing glutamatergic pathway, which triggers goal-directed behavior and action responses.

For ads, the amount of dopamine reaching the striatum controls desire to seek out rewards and pursue goals, a crucial checkpoint enabling a listener to purchase a product.

As the destination of the two neurotransmitter pathways — one inducing happiness and the other sparking motivation — the striatum’s regulation of cognition and reward perception is a vital function in transforming a listener into consumer.

Amygdala

Another vital structure for emotional response to music is the amygdala. The amygdala functions like the striatum in that it receives impulses from the auditory cortex and determines the emotional reaction to sounds. The difference, however, is that amygdala activity and striatum activity are thought to be inverse. Activity in the amygdala decreases dramatically when listeners engage with pleasant music and “chills” intensity, When striatum activity is at its highest. As a result, the amygdala is associated with fear and other negative emotions.

Advertisers should seek to inhibit amygdala activity overall, minimizing inhibition and risk-aversion, promoting a more positive emotional response that help make a brand image last in positive light.

Hypothalamus

The final region regulating emotional response in the brain is the hypothalamus. Upon hearing certain music types, the hypothalamus will increase secretions of adrenaline and oxytocin throughout the brain. Adrenaline controls the “fight or flight” response, while oxytocin is sometimes called “the love hormone,” the catalyst of feelings like empathy.

Starting Like Cacophony, Ending in Euphony

Music has phenomenal impact on our brains. While it may seem like a part of everyday living, once it enters our brains, audio is processed in our brains by fantastically complex pathways and structures to create speech and music. These elicit a vast spectrum of emotional reactions. Understanding these pathways can help marketers use audio more effectively.

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How the brain turns sound into emotion and meaning - Veritonic