The signifier not the song

When looking at brand semiotics all the usual signifiers are there in the form of names, logos, colours etc. but sounds are rather less common. Perhaps the most ubiquitous use is in branding nation states – national anthems. Wally Olins noted this in his book Corporate Personality, where he pointed to the newly formed Confederate States, who in 1860 quickly assembled all the signifiers of a nation state, including a flag, corporate colour, capital… and notably a song. ‘Dixie’ immediately communicates a whole set of values.

Theme tunes are an intrinsic part of movie and TV series branding, and in radio and TV station ‘idents’,but in the more general world of consumer product branding sound and music is far less common.  Occasionally music from ads become brand assets, but due to the necessarily tactical nature of advertising, these are usually time constrained and short lived. Perhaps new technology will change this: two audio signifiers that spring to mind are the Windows sign on notes (Bill Gates’s door bell) and the Nokia default ring tone. With the spread of electronic devices, all it seems with in built audio capabilities, perhaps sound will move more centre stage when developing brand identities and their signifiers.


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