Monday, July 07, 2008

Mute Me: Websites and Sonic Branding

Lately I've been working with artist management to re-brand several websites. The dilemma is always: Should music start immediately when the index page opens? Or should it be muted, and the listener given the option of turning music on?

Personally, I think if you're in the business of sound, you can't be shy about making a big noise.

On the other hand, we've all experienced websites which we find annoying precisely because A) We find the sound unbearable, or B) The sound on the site is too loud and interferes with work, our own music player, or the sound coming from a website open in another Tab or Page, or C) Every click of the mouse yields redundant audible feedback.

Websites that immediately sound out when the home page opens can provoke a negative reaction. Unwanted voicing, repeated sound bytes, can all leave the audience/ user/ consumer with the impression that the brand itself is annoying.


There is a difference between an artist's or musician's website and a utilitarian corporate website, say. FANS. Fans visit artist websites. And fans come predisposed to hearing their favorite artist sing, ping and ringtone all the way home.

Sonic Branding (and skillfully produced, genre appropriate scoring) produces exceptional results on TV and Radio, and in film, because much like the fan visiting an artist website, the audience arrives predisposed to surrender their senses to the experience.

Conversely, most users don't consume websites quite the same way they do TV. We don't arrive 'predisposed to surrender' our senses, except for artist or dedicated entertainment sites. I think that point is key.

Prior great moments in sonic history aside, modern Sonic Branding has been effective since NBC first created the NBC chimes in 1931 or so.

What marketers still haven't completely figured out, however, is when branded sound is the most effective communication tool, and when to leave well enough alone.

It would be utterly fantastic, I think, and uniquely honest, if upon review of a project and subsequent brand analysis, you went back to your client and reported:

"Hey, the graphics is doing a great job in this area, so we don't think you need to introduce sound here in order to effectively communicate with your customers."

But I'm not holding my breath.

In fact, nothing cuts through the cutter like an effective graphic, and nothing adds more to chaos than ineffective or unnecessary sound.

Sometimes it's best to leave it UNBRANDED.

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By the way: Windows Vista users can mute their browsers (or any individual running application). Visit the Windows Vista Team Blog to learn more or find out how.

Just want to mute Flash movies? Einar Otto Stangvik has created Flashmute, a custom app for Windows users which, "will disable or enable sound output globally from Flash movies".

Mac users can install Firefox and add on Adblock, which is a partial solution. Alternately, on his own blog, Arve Bersvendsen suggests Mac addicts browse with Opera, which offers a global plugin shutdown by simply pressing the F12 key.

* * *

Click any link below to read all the articles in the six-part July 2008 UNBRANDED series detailing the relationship between Effective Sonic Branding and Black Noise (Silence):


That is the Question.

Part 1: Non Branding For The Best Branders
Part 2: Sonic Branding or Silent Branding?
Part 3: Websites and Sonic Branding
Part 4: The Sonification of Everything
Part 5: Silence Please, for the Soundtracks of Our Lives
Part 6: Black Noise Branding

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