Digital Transformation

On platforms like TikTok, sound-centric creative has a good ring to it

By Jill Gray |

June 15, 2022 | 6 min read

While sound was once an afterthought — or even an undesirable element — in creative production, it's now become a cornerstone of some of the world's most powerful ad campaigns, thanks in large part to the growing popularity of audio-focused social media like TikTok and Instagram. VidMob executive Jill Gray, explains how brands can better harness the power of sound in their social creative.

The pendulum is swinging back in favor of sound-on creative on social media. After a decade of defaulting to sound-off creative design for platforms like Facebook, many newer platforms demonstrate that sound-on default banners perform much better — and not just in short-term attention metrics. Sound-on fits better with immersive, music- and audio-oriented platforms like TikTok, creating a better overall experience.

Apple Airpods headphones

The smartest brands are using sound as a way to differentiate themselves and create immediate recognition with their audiences. The creative industry phrase has long been, 'Design for sound-off, delight for sound-on.' But it’s not good enough to just delight. Sound is starting to play a much larger role in the digital experience and should be considered an integral part of design. Sound affects the brand tone, narrative arc and visual pacing, all of which dramatically impact creative performance.

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Evolving sound design for new experiences

The power of sound isn’t new to the advertising world. Traditional ads have been utilizing jingles, music and sound effects for the last century to capture audiences and differentiate the brands they represent.

Today, however, amid an increasingly urgent battle for audience attention in a saturated advertising landscape, brands need to evolve the use of sound to be more inventive and direct. Let’s take the jingle for example. Long-form jingles worked well for a captive TV audience watching a 30-second commercial. The nature of the jingle has to evolve to just a few notes that work on a six-second YouTube ad. Now, brands like Farmers Insurance have gotten their jingles down to just a few memorable notes.

Platforms like TikTok and Instagram are constantly innovating how we can use music, sound effects and others audio to capture attention in the first second or two of viewership. Another tried and true way advertisers have used sound is through a creative technique known as pacing, which is about syncing visuals to the beat of the music to drive a brand story forward. TikTok has advanced pacing by introducing slow motion, time-lapse, and reversal options, encouraging brands to experiment with music and sound as an integral part of their ad experience. It takes just one look at the Billboard Top 100 list to realize the impact that social media audio trends have on popular music. Tiktok users are listening — and more importantly, engaging — based on what they hear.

A recent successful example can be found in Stella McCartney’s 'Tell me it’s summer' campaign, which ditched the normal ad campaign format. Instead, the fashion house used simple visuals paired with atmospheric music to create the feeling of summer, garnering millions of views on TikTok.

Sound transforms ads into content

User-generated content often uses a style in which real users speak directly to the audience, using everything from humor, statistics and education to build brand recognition and credibility.

For example, Maybelline created a branded hashtag challenge for a new product launch in Vietnam. The cosmetics giant created a custom song, launched an accompanying music video and tapped some 75,000 influencers to create their own videos paired with the song. This kind of effort bridges the gap between entertainment and advertising — creating memorable music that's associated with Maybelline products.

Finally, there are some innovative ways of thinking about sound. The increasing popularity of content rooted in autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) — which refers to physical sensory responses from certain sounds — is one such example. Advertisers have just begun to consider how audio trends like ASMR can play into their campaign creative. Imagine the power to elicit a positive, physical response — literally a tingling sensation in a viewer — from the sounds of an ad campaign.

KFC created an ASMR video featuring imagery of rain falling along with what seems to be the relaxing sound of raindrops — only to reveal that the sound is that of chicken being fried. The ad’s unique play on sound surprises the viewer halfway through the ad.

Creative accounts for the largest percent of measurable ad performance, and on many social media platforms, sound is a major creative element that brands should consider — even more so than audience or context.

To ensure that concepts are resonating with their audiences, brands should take a data-driven approach to creative, and that includes sound-on design. By testing different approaches and using analytics to understand which sounds resonate most with their audiences, brands can drive major increases in campaign performance.

Jill Gray is executive vice-president of global client solutions at VidMob.

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