Turn on your TV or radio, or just walk through the local mall and listen. Broadcast sound is everywhere. It is deliberately and painstakingly designed to induce laughter, to make you feel good and linger just a little longer while adding yet another item to your shopping cart or making a mental note to dash out and buy another product. In traditional media, sound is an integral persuasive element of the branding and buying experience.
Now sit in front of your computer monitor and log onto the Web. Notice the difference? While logos twirl and Shockwave movies flutter, sound additions are rarely used online to create an immersive brand experience. Even well-known sounds attached to well-known brands – Intel’s bump-bump-bump-bump, NBC’s ding-ding-ding chimes, General Electric’s six-note “We bring good things to life” audio watermark – are absent or hidden on those splashy sites
“When used well, even simple sounds can engage, motivate, and influence users,” explains B.J. Fogg, director of Stanford University’s Persuasive Technology Lab in Palo Alto, Calif. “But we have yet to leverage the power of sound on the Web.”
Online, the silence is deafening.
The promise of an experience
For most people, sound adds infinite depth to our understanding of our surroundings. Whether the neighbor’s dog is panting gently or growling is definitely going to influence your interaction with the pooch. Sound influences us just as profoundly in our entertainment and buying experiences. In The Media Equation (CSLI Publications and Cambridge University Press), authors Byron Reeves and Clifford Nass showed that audio fidelity can be a more powerful force than video fidelity – movie audiences actually perceive increased visual quality when only the quality of the audio has been enhanced. Audio cues and audio branding have been a standard feature of radio and TV for decades. Musical stings (the brief musical setup before an action), jingles, background music in advertising, and audio signatures are proven techniques.
“Most often, when people watch TV, they are doing other things,” explains Alan Gerson, President of Interactive Marketing and a longtime senior executive at NBC. “Audio cues tell them what’s going on during the broadcast. It signals them that they can go away for 10 seconds and it’ll be OK.”