Sohini Sen

"It's amazing how brands don't think about what their 'sound' is": Rajeev Raja, Brandmusiq

A rage in international markets, sonic branding is beginning to catch on in India. Rajeev Raja and J Mani, who co-founded sonic branding agency Brandmusiq in 2012, hope more and more clients see merit in investing in a service like the one they offer. The duo recently created what they call a "master mogo" for airline brand Vistara.

Their clientele includes brands like Raymond, Standard Chartered, Eclairs, Johnson & Johnson's Clean and Clear, Stayfree, Zee News and Shapoorji Pallonji Group.

Edited Excerpts:

Edited Excerpts

What exactly is sonic branding?

Mani: All brands have a visual identity - logo, font, colours, etc. But what is the sound of a brand? The visual identity was created at a time when there was only the static medium (billboards and print). But, over the last twenty years, the whole media scene is shifting to audio-visual and digital. In an audio visual logo, you have the visual logo, but where is the audio part? That is the genesis of the idea. Today, every brand needs a visual identity and a sonic identity. We create the sonic identity for brands, based on their personality and value system.

Since most brands are defined by what they do in their TVCs, that same piece of music should be taken and adapted into other mediums. Titan, for example, has a brilliant Mozart piece of music in its TV commercials, but that piece of music is not present in the showroom.

Rajeev: So, every brand needs a logo and a 'mogo', a musical logo. The sonic palette we create around the mogo is the mogoscape. It reflects the brand persona. It is amazing how brands do not spend time thinking about what their 'sound' is. Sound goes straight to the heart, in a subliminal kind of way. Till now, brands have treated it in an ad-hoc manner. They use it for the television jingle. But, the mogo can be present right through - radio, shop, call-holds, ringtone, TVCs... anywhere the consumer has a chance to hear your brand. Brands, today, are schizophrenic; they sound like one thing on TV, like something completely different on radio, and like another thing on their website.

How is sonic branding different from a jingle?

Rajeev: A jingle represents a TV commercial idea, but does not necessarily represent the brand. For example, Idea's Honey Bunny is a jingle which became extremely powerful. But, it doesn't reflect the brand. Idea is not a funky, wacky brand. But, if you start with sound/music that reflects the brand values - and create that first, and then adapt it to the commercial - there is consistency in the sound of the brand.

The Airtel tune is a brilliant piece that everyone remembers. But, is it brand identity or brand recognition? Brand recognition is Britannia. Over time, when the mogo is played, it should unlock all your feelings, memories and experiences associated with the brand. A great example is Coke's sonic branding in the West.

Mani: In the West, this whole thing has started from music studios. They have come from the sound part of it; we (Rajeev and I) come from the branding world. The other scenario is - the client would go to a music director...but he wouldn't have an in-depth understanding of brands.

Speaking of the West, how far behind is India when it comes to sonic branding?

Rajeev: These are early days. We are educating people... virtually creating the market. It is also a slow burn. Last year has been particularly good for us.

We have started a very interesting journey with Raymond. It has used the Schumann piece for a long time. We have given them interpretations of that to suit the 'new complete man'. If your brand wants to be contemporary and modern, you cannot have a logo change with music that is stuck in the '50s or '60s.

Mani: People are recognising the power of what we are saying.

The medium from which brands are talking is getting very experiential. In experience, you need something that will impact your entire essence. All the media around you is audio visual. You can't just be visually present.

Do marketers see a sonic branding agency as yet another viable brand custodian?

Rajeev: Not just a custodian... also a brand asset. We think the time has come. Within the next three years, this is going to explode, and, hopefully, we will be at the top of the explosion.

What kind of time and effort goes into creating a brand's sonic identity?

Mani: Ten weeks, on an average.

The biggest challenge is to get brand owners see sound the way we see it in the journey. We actually get clients to talk to us about sound and music.

Rajeev: There is science in what we do. For example, to get to the sound of happiness for Coke, we may use the Indian database of raagas. Then, we start by using happy scales or major scales, and we create sonic boards. Then we ask them to choose from whatever we play. Based on the feedback, we work on it again. Only once we get some clarity that we are on the same page in musical terms, we get into the composition.

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