A few years ago, while enjoying the outdoor music festival splendor here in Austin, I was walking through beautiful Zilker Park during the Austin City Limits Festival, and a melody caught my ear from a stage more than a hundred yards away that caused me to start singing along from nothing more than musical muscle memory.
“It just takes some time/Little girl, you’re in the middle of the ride…”
The song was the hit “The Middle” by the rock band Jimmy Eat World, a group I’d had an intense love for circa 2001 or so but hadn’t paid close attention to in probably a decade. But “The Middle” and every other song on the record it appeared on have been carved so deeply into my brain to such a degree that in another 20 years, I’m sure I’ll be able to hum along and recite every word whenever I run into it on the radio, YouTube or whatever direct-to-frontal cortex content delivery system has taken over by that time.
If I had to guess, I’d say I’ve heard that song a few hundred times, so it’s no surprise that hearing it circa 2024 triggers not just the urge to sing along but brings back memories of when Jimmy Eat World was pretty much the soundtrack to my life. Great music has that effect, but if, for whatever reason, I’d only ever heard this epochal song once or twice way back when it wouldn’t even be a blip in my brain because you can’t memorize and become bonded to a potentially life-changing song in a short amount of time with only a few listens.
It’s a little de-romanticizing to say that “The Middle” is part of Jimmy Eat World’s branding, but it’s certainly accurate. Millions of people all over the world know the band and swaths of the rest of its catalog because of that song, and its undeniably catchy and crunchy guitars and vocals. When you take those three or so minutes and run them through the parts of the brain that process sound a few hundred times, they’re gonna leave a mark that won’t go away.
That’s what branding does. It’s why a tightly crafted campaign built around consistency, repetition, and a message anchored in the true desires and motivations of the listener will remain a powerful way for businesses to build an eternal customer base.
Think of any jingle or catchphrase – from Frosted Flakes’ “They’re grrrreat!” to Budweiser’s “What’s uuuuppppp???” – and you’re instinctively transported, or at least reminded of your own interactions with a brand and what you’ve been told about how they can play a part in your life. Those companies, once they were sure they had a winning sound bit, took the steps to make sure that every single person who could in any way be a potential customer was going to hear the slogan over and over and over again.
For me, any reference to the “What’s uuuuppppp???” spots flash me back to spring 2000 and the NCAA college basketball tournament when it seemed like those ads were on during every single commercial break. More than 20 years later, they still resonate.
When we work with clients to build their brand through well-made, smartly delivered audio messaging, we’re fairly quickly asked, “Well, how fast will this work?” And that’s a fair question because we’re pushing them to spend thousands of dollars a month on targeted spots that run with medium-to-high frequency so that we can use the special power of audio to win over hearts and minds. By tapping into the meaty, beautiful part of the human brain that captures sound and doing so in a way that makes the great audio message stick, we make it easy for customers to come to you when they need to, rather than being caught with the baited hook in the form of direct marketing.
And while there’s room for both approaches in any company’s advertising and customer acquisition plan, I’m always going to believe in the power of a song or any other sound to resonate and provoke a response months, years, and decades down the road.