All Ears: New Brain Research Shows How Audio Increases Marketing Effectiveness

In the age of VR and digital visual advancement, audio often takes a back seat; an afterthought or a final dressing for the visual idea. Yet, new research into brain science shows that sound is a critical factor to building strong emotional connections. For healthcare advertisers, audio could be the key to more effective campaigns — campaigns that motivate people to take action.

Institutions like Northwestern’s BrainVolts Audio Neuroscience Laboratory and Washington University’s Laboratory for Auditory Brain Sciences & Neuroengineering conduct studies on how our brains interpret sound. They have found that sound, especially music, can enhance our memory and motivate us to take action, according to an article by Nina Kraus in Scientific American.

In his presentation at this month’s SXSW in Austin, Texas, Sam Crowther, a leader in radio marketing, demonstrated the power of using sound and music to increase ad effectiveness. “Eyes tell us facts,” says Crowther, “but what you hear tells you what you feel about those facts.” It is through our ears that we understand nuance and meaning. Try watching a scary movie with the sound off and you’ll see how critical sound is to generating an emotional response. 



This ability to elicit a strong emotional response makes sound highly effective in marketing campaigns. The Australian PSA by Metro Trains in Melbourne developed by McCann promoted awareness about accidental deaths with the song, “Dumb Ways to Die” and went viral worldwide. With over 100 million views, it is the third most shared video of all time. The song is catchy, to be sure, but what is even more interesting is that in communities where the song has gone viral, the number of accidental deaths are down substantially — railway accidents are down 21% (Best Marketing, 2017). It didn’t just make people want to hum along, it changed their behavior.

There is an intimate connection between sound and action. We are conditioned to respond to a sound on instinct to protect ourselves – studies show humans react to sound faster than to a visual cue. Our ears are wired directly into the action centers of our brain, while visuals go through layers of analysis before we react. 

Sound marketing is not a new concept, but aside from radio, it has not been embraced by health brands at the same level as visual design. Yet, studies such as a Spotify Ad Recall Study in 2013 have shown that when sound is aligned to brand, ad recall increases by as much as 60%.

Through digital sound editing technology brands can personalize sound experiences. Data-driven custom sound editing alters audio dynamically to align the message with the geography, day of the week, past buying patterns and other data. The voice of the brand can literally talk to each and every consumer.

Direct Stream Digital (DSD) full analog format can be scaled for mobile technologies, bringing high-definition sound that rivals live performance. This enables us to bring rich soundscapes to our markets like never before. Could a disease awareness campaign for a respiratory aid improve its effectiveness by featuring detailed audio of the sound of impaired breathing? Could our advertising have greater impact and authenticity by featuring more “real world” soundscapes?

In health care we are inundated by ads featuring “slice of life” images that seem increasingly flat and uninspiring. We need our messages to be stronger and more compelling. Strategic use of sound could be the key to rising above the clutter and motivating people in a unique way. 

As VR and high-definition video become more central to our campaigns, we would do well to remember the incredible power of sound. Let’s bring sound to the forefront of our marketing efforts — giving it deeper consideration as a conduit for the message and inspiration for action. Using data to customize an audio message or brand sound signature, we can give consumers a personalized beat to move toward improved health and wellness.

The author served on the 2017 North American Health Effie Awards Jury.

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