Sonic Branding

By: K.G. Sreenivas             Photo Credit: Teena Khan             Dated: March 01, 2014

Crafting campaigns by day and playing the flute by dusk for over 20 years, Rajeev Raja took a pause and in 2009 co-founded BrandMusiq, seeking to push the frontiers of brand identity, by infusing it with music. Rajeev, who calls himself ‘SoundSmith’, says brands have organic identities that have an aural dimension

In 2009, J.S. Mani, President, and Rajeev Raja, National Creative Director, DDB Mudra, quit their jobs to create a space where they could understand how a brand would sound. Thus, BrandMusiq — a sonic branding studio was established, where Mani is the ‘Brandsmith’ and Rajeev Raja the ‘Soundsmith’.

“Brand understanding,” Raja says, is at the core of building brands. “Especially for a creative person it is important to get a very simple understanding of a brand. The essence of a brand should come through to you as the essence of a well defined personality,” he adds. Raja has spent most time “analysing brands” in his 25 year-long career in advertising. That is one part of the journey. The other part: “I have been playing flute for 25 years; and that’s a strong part of my persona in advertising,” he says.

“In earlier days, we used to have more time for music all of which led to a particular decision: I felt that I had reached a certain place where I wanted to do something new and not just advertising, but exploring my music along the way. I think music really was what drove me as a human being.”


“In my 25 years of advertising, there are lots of lessons that I learnt from music and the playing of music with other band members — the concept of brainstorming, of sharing ideas, of being open-hearted, and generous enough to allow other inputs to come in and collect the sum of all those to create a greater whole than the individual whole. Everybody knew my love for music and I was called upon to play at office jam sessions or office parties or even bring the band and play for office functions etc. My bosses understood my passion for music and would, literally, indulge into it; give me a free hand to explore and express my music. Music was a strong parallel in my career.

converting the brand identity into a sonic expression is a two part process: identifying the key persona of the brand and the key emotion of a brand

I was the Executive Creative Director and J.S. Mani, the head of Bates, Mumbai. That is where we started forming this whole new space where, even in office we used music as a wonderful way to create an atmosphere. A Friday in a month we used to have something or the other. We would call in musicians, form a band, jam, explain musical concepts. We used music as a very interesting world of creativity from which we could draw analogies into our advertising expression. We would hold little workshops using music — how a musical idea can have longevity versus a musical idea being a ship that passes the night — and draw parallels to brands. Mani and I were always talking and thinking about various possibilities and interesting combinations of things that we could do.”


“We used to create a lot of music for our brands and just as we approached our brands where we tried to create longevity as opposed to say something like a ship that passes by in the night... we also tried that with our music. So, we used to ask are we creating ideas or simply some commercial TV spots. We used music as an interesting world of creativity and draw analogies... Then I would do a concert along with a presentation on the history of jazz and punctuate it with a live band. We would have wine and cheese and call in our clients and partners... But, we found [that] very often something was lacking, because the music created was an afterthought; it was created in the last minute for a 30-second commercial. You have the visual, the idea of the commercial, and music then becomes a supplement; but it doesn’t actually necessarily express what the brand song is. The music then serves the commercial or the ad spot, and not the brand aura or brand personality or brand values…

We found that this was limiting and in the course of over five years of talking, when we reached a certain stage in our careers, we said what next!

Personally for me, the creative journey, the sense of fulfilment and fun was no longer there in pure advertising, because I found that the pleasures of running a national team and the mechanics of dealing with people took a lot of my time. It started pushing me into an area that was not my core competence.”


“We asked, is there a way we can get into understanding what a brand is, before even getting into any music? When you create a visual identity for a brand, you do not create an identity for a press layout, you do not create an identity for a hoarding; you create an identity for the brand which is media neutral. Then, the relation between the kinds of colours that you use. So, all this comes into play when you start designing the visual identity of the brand, including the fonts. Fonts have a certain character. They express the mood of the brand and are consistent with what the brand is. So, that is how you arrive at the visual identity.

We are doing exactly the same thing with sound. So, we said nobody is really doing that here — the way you understand what a brand is all about and then start translating those values into sounds; ultimately leading to a sonic template and clearly defining the boundaries of the sounds that the brand will operate in and these sounds will be consistent through the life of the brand and through the various media channels. Today, we prefer going to the CEOs who’ll understand the bigger picture. For BrandMusiq, converting the brand identity into a sonic expression is a two part process: identifying the key persona of the brand and the key emotion of a brand.


“The first step is to arrive at what we call the brand avatar — how does the consumer see your brand, what avatar do consumers see in your brand? So, drawing inspiration from Carl Jung’s work on archetypes, a brand can be a ruler, a friend, a lover, a confidante, a rebel. Now, once we start identifying these avatars, then it, very beautifully, links itself to sounds. So, what does the ruler sound like or a rebel sound like! If a ruler has more pomp — ‘ja ja jaaa, jajaja jaaaa’ kind of feeling, outlaw might be (rusty sound) ‘jhang jhang /papa paaaon” more rock for example… so, these are the starting points. And also depending upon the culture of the brand whether it is Indian or global or an Indian brand wanting to be contemporary, etc, the sound starts changing. If it is an ethnic Indian brand, we recommend the use of sitar, of various other sound palettes like the dholak, mridangam; but, if it is a fusion brand, we may say along with this you also need to bring in guitars, piano, and such. If it’s a global brand, we may suggest an orchestral score, but, at the same time, if you want to express Indianness, we may recommend an Indian voice along with that orchestral score. So, we arrive at what we call the ‘Mogo’ — musical logo. We create a mogo script for a brand — short hand for the brand in sonic terms. But currently, we are using mogos only for brand recognition – does it tell you anything about the brand? or what does it stand for?

We start by creating sonic mood boards for the client. So, when brand owners start listening to the sounds, they start talking about their brand. But we create a process whereby the final decision is as objective as possible. Today, if brands do not have an emotional connect they are dead because product parity is over — the only difference between an Airtel and a Vodafone is ‘brand’. There is no difference in the service. So people need to have a feeling for the brand and not a rational sort of thing. Intangibles operate from the heart, and so do sound and music. If the world were to be blind how would you experience the brand — only through the ear. You can shut your eyes, but you cannot shut your ears. So we have created what’s called consumer ear points as opposed to touch points!

The first step is to arrive at what we call the brand avatar — how does the consumer see your brand, what avatar do consumers see in your brand?

Currently we have done the entire rebranding and sonic identity of Club Mahindra. And they called us in at the time of creation of the identity. So, the visual identity and the sonic identity came out together. We are currently helping to reposition Zee News. The entire sonic branding has happened along with Zee’s brand positioning. In the past, we have done Cadbury’s, TATA AIG, Stay Free and Clean & Clear.

I think this is the new world — the new world of sound. The possibilities are just enormous. And brands just scratch the tip of the iceberg.”


“We have a two-part process — the first, creating the avatars, and the second is the Navarasas. We identify the key persona of the brand and the key emotion of the brand. So, what emotion does the brand operate from? Does the brand operate from love or laughter? Does the brand use humour like Virgin Mobile? Does it operate from a sense of dissatisfaction like Steve Jobs? Or does it operate from anger? Aam Admi Party is a party that formed from anger — anger towards the system.

Then we start putting together the avatars and the navarasas and you immediately start hearing the sound of a brand — that’s when we enter the musical black box and go into creating sounds.”


“We want to create a sonic lab which will actually be a physical entity researching sound and the effect of sounds on human beings. We are talking to various people about that... we are meeting up with a musical anthropologist, Joseph Easter Jones, double PhD in musicology — he is a professor and also a Sax [ophone] player. He is very interested in how music affects culture, how music has evolved with culture, what are the relationships, why is it that Indian music has evolved in a certain way. So, that is also the larger part of our context.

We are working with Indian classical musicians to codify Ragas, so that we know that there are certain ragas that make you feel happy, melancholy, joyous… so, plotting various navarasas and ragas to get into the whole scientific understanding of how music plays on the human mind and how people perceive music.

Because, music, at the end of the day, is an instinctive thing… but, we don’t want it to happen without due process.”




© Copyright 2015. Creative Brands Magazine. All rights reserved. Privacy Policy /  Disclaimer /  Terms & Conditions