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Fight COVID-19 Gloom With Audio Normalcy in Ads

Fight COVID-19 Gloom With Audio Normalcy in Ads

Let’s hear some familiar sounds from our ads and in our lives again

Have you ever found yourself dancing in the kitchen to a catchy Walmart commercial because the music just compelled you to have fun? Patricia Houston, COO and Founder of The ExperienceBuilt Group, has been there!

For this blog, Tricia catches us up with how differing audio experiences have impacted her entertainment experiences.

By Patricia Houston

We connect music with experiences and have emotional reactions when we hear certain sounds. Savvy brands understand that sound and music are a crucial part of the customer experience. But during the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems like even the savviest brands have forgotten those auditory basics.

Over the last three months, I’ve noticed a difference when I turn on the TV. Instead of “Welcome to My House,” I hear somber piano notes and some version of “In these uncertain times, we’re all in this together.”

It’s a sentiment that I appreciate— togetherness in the face of uncertainty is important. But the messaging arrives in a darker package than I’m used to hearing.

Dark and dissonant sounds don’t connote that we’re in this together. Instead, they serve as a reminder that the world has been upside down all year with no end in sight.

We watch TV for escapism, and the ad messaging has become inescapable. In my house, we don’t dance during the commercials anymore.

Teleflora’s Mother’s Day ad made me want to weep as they showed socially distanced, sad-looking moms over music that belongs in a funeral home. I found myself contemplating an ad blocker for my smart TV for the first time (sadly, ad blockers don’t work on TVs, no matter how smart).

Halfway through an Uber commercial that thanked the viewer for not riding with them over a tear-inducing piano riff, my seven-year-old turned to me and said in exasperation, “When will TV stop sounding so SAD?”

Somber piano music has become the ubiquitous signal for “an important message from our brand.” It’s time for that to stop so we can return to audio normalcy.

Cut through the noise with a return to (audio) normalcy

It’s time to reclaim the ordinary and the joyous. If you tune in to what your audience actually wants to hear, you’ll know that familiarity is the way to go. As TV viewers and as people, all we want is a return to normal life, even if it’s only on the big screen.

The sounds you include in your adverts become part of your audio signature. Do you want your audience to connect your name with gloom and doom (and face masks)? Or will you set yourself apart by teaching the world to sing in perfect harmony as Coca-Cola did decades ago?

Today, Coke reminds us over an upbeat guitar riff and bubbly male vocals that “For all the scaremongering, there’s also care-mongering.” THAT is what I’m talking about! And that’s what brands should be trying to emulate in their messaging right now.

This year is a trying time, but it’s a little less trying when you’re humming that you want to buy the world a Coke.

But music’s not the only audio normalcy we need. We need to hear Jake from State Farm selling insurance to cover holographic mapping drones and sonic shields over intense light-saber sounds. Or the sound of this couple’s clogging problem, which the Geico gecko has a solution for, like always.

Escape the tiresome tones of COVID-19

Your entire message changes based on the soundtrack you pair with it. The audio you use can remind your audience that we’re living in dark times, or it can provide a 30-second escape. And right now, escapism is what your audience wants and needs.

Our ears are where our emotional reaction begins, and you don’t want your audience to associate negative emotions like sadness, fear and anxiety with your brand.

Instead, use the audio in your ads to reassure your audience that life will be normal again. Look for an audio signature that’s positive, upbeat and familiar.

Check out these examples of who’s doing it right (besides Coke):

  • Target celebrates graduating team members over upbeat pop music with a statement that “We’re so proud of all you’ve done.” The music makes you feel the joy of the graduates, whose face masks are the only indicator that it’s a COVID-19-related commercial.

  • Chick-fil-A kept the same upbeat brand tones that its commercials featured before COVID front-and-center even as the messaging changed to provide practical information everyone can use during the pandemic.

The best COVID-19 commercials are the ones that make you forget that we’re in a global pandemic. It’s time for Walmart commercial dance parties to make a comeback.

TV viewers are ready for normalcy after months of quarantine with even more months ahead. This is a time when we want to hear what the Geico Hump Day camel has been up to (but if he comes bearing a sad piano scale, we’re not listening).

I don’t want to see a 90-second documentary that reminds me that our collective heart has been cracked open as a nation. I especially don’t want to see the Bank of America logo after watching what I thought was an Emmy-nominated short film about the pandemic’s effects on the economy.

TV is the only place that many of us get a break from the global pandemic. Don’t make your commercial yet another reminder – it's not the place for a cinematic masterpiece.

This is your time to bring levity to TV

Now’s the time to return TV ads to normalcy, both in terms of audio signature and messaging. It’s time for viewers to hear and see what they expect again.

That means ads that:

  • Promote your products and services ... yes, viewers actually want you to sell to them again

  • Offer useful resources like discounts or programs

  • Serve a purpose beyond empathizing about the global pandemic

  • Include a sense of familiarity in terms of audio, messaging and visuals

The ExperienceBuilt Group can help you redesign your customer experience, including the way you present yourself in light of COVID-19. As an ExperienceBuilt brand, you’ll connect with the right people and bring genuine value and purpose to them. Learn more about the LIVE 8 experience design principles, our strategic approach to building a better business. Post-COVID-19, presenting a people-first business is more important than it’s ever been!

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