Brand Strategy

A sonic branding agency analyzed and ranked the audio efforts of 250 brands

We spoke with sonic branding agency amp about the winners and losers of its fourth Best Audio Brands report.
article cover

Oana Gherghe/500px/Getty Images

· 4 min read

It’s no secret that brands are paying more attention to their audio strategies. But which are doing it best?

For its fourth Best Audio Brands report, sonic branding agency amp partnered with four tech companies to answer that question and more by analyzing the use of sound and music in the branding of 250 companies.

And the winner is… Mastercard. Shell, Audi, Apple, and Phillips rounded out the top five, followed by PlayStation, Nintendo, Mercedes, State Farm, and HDFC Bank to make up the top 10.

Mastercard, an amp client that’s widely known for its sonic branding efforts, has held the top spot on the list for the past three years, according to Bjorn Thorleifsson, amp’s head of strategy and research.

That’s in part thanks to its sonic logo, Thorleifsson said, which debuted in 2019. Of the top 25, 19 brands had a sonic logo and had used it in the past year.

“Brands have the need to be recognizable in screenless systems much more than two years ago, three years ago, and the sonic logo is the very first step they think to do,” Michele Arnese, amp’s founder and global CEO, told Marketing Brew.

How they did it: The existence of a sonic logo doesn’t necessarily equal solid sound strategy; amp notes that consistency of use also matters in its methodology.

  • Mastercard, for instance, used its sonic logo in 86% of its digital materials last year, including ad campaigns, social media content, and voice apps, according to amp’s analysis. Generally speaking, brands that have a sonic logo on average use it in about 40% of their materials, per the report.
  • Mastercard also uses its own music in 84% of its brand content, as opposed to licensing songs or stock music, Thorleifsson told us, which contributed to its score.

“When you think about the amount of money that is spent on licensing, it can be crazy amounts,” he said. If a song is hyper-relevant to the story a brand is trying to tell, then licensed music is worth the cost, but Arnese and Thorleifsson said brands shouldn’t go that route automatically.

Forty-three of the 250 brands analyzed were using owned music in at least some of their materials.

Methodology: The research team selected the 250 brands they analyzed based on frequent appearances on lists like Interbrand’s Best Global Brands and the Fortune 500, then evaluated them using a mix of AI and human analysis.

  • Amp’s Sonic Radar tool did some of the heavy lifting, identifying the tone of a brand’s sound across digital platforms like YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok, according to Arnese.
  • Additionally, about seven people from the amp team also spent time watching video content from each brand’s social channels over the past year to determine factors like whether a brand uses owned or licensed music, or if it uses a sonic logo in its digital content, Thorleifsson said.
  • Once that data was gathered, amp worked with its partners—audio AI tech company Aflorithmic, music AI tech company Cyanite, social media monitoring company Social Blade, and audio intelligence company Veritonic—to calculate an “audio brand ranking score” based on “six key pillars” of effective sonic branding strategy.
Get marketing news you'll actually want to read

Marketing Brew informs marketing pros of the latest on brand strategy, social media, and ad tech via our weekday newsletter, virtual events, marketing conferences, and digital guides.

Notable categories: It’s no coincidence that tech brands like Apple, Samsung, Amazon, and Google all ranked within the top 25, Arnese said. They all have recognizable brand voices in the form of their voice assistants.

“The tech brands are using voice sometimes more than other brands, and considering sonic as a really 360-degree expression of the brand,” Arnese explained.

Auto brands also dominated the rankings. They have a “long tradition” of using sonic logos and jingles, Thorleifsson said.

  • That tradition dates back to the 90s, Arnese said, when a lot of car brands transitioned to focus more on their overall branding as opposed to promoting individual models, and decided to “add the sound to differentiate the brand even more” from the crowded sector.
  • Ford started adding the slogan “Built Ford Tough” to its ads dating back to around the 80s, while Chevrolet first used the Bob Seger song “Like a Rock” in a spot from 1991.

The Godfather(s): amp dubs McDonald’s and Intel as “the godfathers of sonic branding” in its report. If you’re wondering why, take a second and see if you can call to mind their audio logos.

McDonald’s rolled out its “I’m Lovin’ It” jingle in 2003, and Intel used the same five-note audio signature for about 27 years, according to Thorleifsson, before updating it in 2020.

Despite their histories with sonic logos, McDonald’s ranked at No. 17 this year, and Intel at No. 91. Both brands decreased usage of their sonic logos from 2019 to 2020, according to amp’s report, then started using them more in 2021.

Get marketing news you'll actually want to read

Marketing Brew informs marketing pros of the latest on brand strategy, social media, and ad tech via our weekday newsletter, virtual events, marketing conferences, and digital guides.