Top 10 Mistakes Brands Make with Sound

8 min read

Avoid these 10 common sound mistakes to maximize your brand's impact.

Imagine you’re an Agency owner or the Marketing Director of one. You just finished your latest ad campaign and you’re ready to publish it everywhere. You’re so excited, you’ve spent months working with the client, found the perfect target market and spent a massive amount of money crafting the perfect looking ad. Today’s your day! Everyone is going to know your name, you’ve made the ad of the century! All you’ve gotta do is click the 'submit' button and it goes live to the world.


You wait. The silence is deafening. Any second the unending flood of customers will start streaming through your door. The mountain of dollar bills is sure to add a lovely crunch to the carpet in your office. The clock hands tick. Almost defying time. Tick, tock, tick, tock, tick…

ANNNNNND, nothing. Crickets. Where is everyone? You check your ad to make sure you uploaded it correctly. Why is no one converting? Is it the ad, the copy, something in the visuals throwing customers off, or could it be your sound?

If this story feels even a little bit familiar, you’re not alone. Here are 10 common mistakes brands make when it comes to their use of sound.

1. Inconsistent sonic identity

Many brands source ad campaigns through an assortment of agencies. Often, this is because the scope of work is quite large. While this style of outsourcing work can be very efficient, it can also create issues relating to brand identity, not just visually, but sonically as well.

When sound is sourced by multiple agencies, it will have characteristics that may not be familiar to your customers. Sonic identity is a superpower! When you play your brand’s sonic elements your audience will immediately know who they’re listening to. Brands with a sonic identity have higher amounts of trust and memorability from customers too.

A study conducted by Leicester University professors Adrien North and David Hargreaves showed that 96% of consumers are more likely to remember a brand if it is paired with music that fits the brand identity. And 24% are more inclined to purchase items linked with music they remember and enjoy.

If there is one rule I suggest in this blog, it’s to treat your sonic identity as you would your logo, tagline and any other public facing assets you may have. Have a creative team build your sonic assets and then share them with all your creative vendors. 

2. Not having a consistent voice

Voice is both literal and figurative here. How are we speaking to our audience? Is it humorous or serious? Who is our brand's spokesperson? What is our slogan or creative copy? Do we have a consistent sound to our music, ambient sounds, and sound effects?

All these elements make up voice. Voice is the emotional steering wheel of your campaign. Done poorly and your listener will mute your ad. If it’s done well, your brand will have people turning the volume up just to hear what you have to say.

If you’re early in your creative process, test out multiple ideas; when one gets a strong response you’ll know your audience loves your brand's voice.

soundwave (1)

3. Not investing in sound

Inside Radio reported that a 1.2% shift in ad spend toward audio increased return on total ad spend by 23%. That’s an incredibly powerful piece of information.

Now, I’m not saying that you need to put an equivalent amount of funding toward your sound budget, I don’t think that’s necessary at all. But I do think we need to open our eyes, and ears, to the data in front of us. Brands that put more funding in the creation of their sonic identities and other sonic elements have an improved ROI. It seems like an excellent investment to me.

If your campaign is still photography, bus stop posters, or billboards you get a pass here. For anyone else, it’s time to up your game. Picture editors are incredible storytellers, but when it comes to sound, they are limited in their knowledge, access to high quality sound effects, and tools professionals use to edit, mix, and clean bad sounding audio.

Your sound team will discuss your brand’s goals and markets to help build a campaign that truly converts. Sound artists use their expertise to create engaging cinematic experiences that will last in the hearts and minds of your audience, sometimes for life. 

4. Poor quality audio

So, you hired your Cousin Lenny to do production sound for you. Just aim the mic at the actors, you say. It’ll turn out fine, you say. Well, a couple days after your shoot you listen to the production sound from good ‘ol Lenny, and you can’t hear anything. Turns out your Cousin Lenny didn’t know which side of the microphone was the front. Oops!

You know you can’t run an ad with bad production sound. So naturally, you take your actors to a sound house to record ADR. You get the dialogue re-recorded and now you can feel confident pushing the ad forward. Quality audio matters! And it’s not just the sound of your actors voices, but also the sound effects you choose.

Digital sound effects libraries have been around since 1987 and some analog libraries date back to the early 20th century. Using sound effects from that era can sound outdated and lack the fidelity of modern libraries. Just like you wouldn’t use your Cousin Lenny’s production audio in your campaign, you shouldn’t use sounds that remind people of the Great Depression either.


5. Using too many sounds, or the wrong sounds

Big sounds are fun. After all, you want your audience engaged and on the edge of their seat. But sometimes filling every single moment with more and more sound can become disengaging for the listener. French Composer Claude Debussy said, ”Music is the space between the notes.” Your campaign might do well to share that thesis. Let your sound push and pull your audience like an orchestra.

I mentioned ‘wrong sounds’ in the title of this section. Wrong sounds are things like car horns and sirens, really anything that can distract or bring fear to someone operating a vehicle. The majority of people listening to audio-only content are operating a vehicle, let’s not make that experience more dangerous for them. I understand why agencies do this, these are sounds that get attention, but doing so at the risk of someone's life is a cheap trick and lacks creativity. We can do better!


6. Project manager makes ‘their’ sonic style the brand’s

If you don’t have a clear sonic identity, your vendor will create one for you. If you aren’t crystal clear about what sonic assets belong in your campaign, your vendors will create what sounds best to them. I’m certain your campaign will sound incredible if you go this route, but what your vendor chooses for you may not fit your brand’s mission, values, or identity.

Get out in front of this by supplying the vendor with your sonic identity, and if you don’t have specific assets in place let them know the style and format you require based on your brand’s overall identity.

7. No signature sounds

Signature sounds are the most powerful piece of your sonic arsenal. How does your customer know who they’re engaging with? When they hear your jingle will they immediately know it’s you?

Signature sounds build trust, recognition, engagement, memorability, and emotional connection to brands. Sonic brand cues have 9 times more success in their campaigns and are 96% more recognizable than brands without sonic brand cues.

Sound isn’t just something to add to a picture. It is a powerful art form that increases your campaign’s ROI.

8. Wanting sound but having no objectives to track success

With almost any part of the creative process we have clearly defined metrics for success. How else can we know if we are doing our jobs well?

Sound is no different. How can we impact ROI? What does success look like for this campaign? How can we track and reduce our “Sonic Bounce Rate?”

All of these questions DO have answers, and we can measure them if we have a clear idea of our goals. Take the time to talk with your sound team about your desired outcomes. With your goals in mind, they can create sonic elements that will help you achieve more than just an ad that sounds good.


9. Thinking of sound as a commodity rather than a creative endeavor

With all we’ve discussed in this blog, I hope you’re getting a sense that sound is an important part of the creative process. It can create lifelong connections with your audience, increasing LTV and ROI for each campaign.

It benefits our creative endeavors to engage with a sound team early, and treat it with the same respect as the visual arts. Soundhelps craft stories, cultural memes, and emotions that bring communities together. Sound artists are creatives just like you, and they want to be a part of making incredible content.

10. Not following a clear customer persona

Lastly, but likely the most important part of this entire blog is this. Brands need to continually revisit and deeply understand their customer persona.

Frequently, I will speak to potential clients who are placing music in their content that would absolutely connect with a 23 year old woman living in Downtown Los Angeles, but unfortunately their ad is targeting men, 45-65, who want a more technology driven lifestyle. Does it work? Kind of… maybe, maybe not?

Having a clearly defined persona protects you from making choices like these. It takes the guesswork out of the process and clearly defines who you are trying to speak to, what benefits you can offer them, and makes sure your audience is capable of buying from you.

Wrapping up

This list is not at all exhaustive, but I hope it has given you a compass in your creative process. Sound can change the way you connect with your audience, creating deep, more meaningful engagement, rooted in trust and familiarity. Not to mention, when your audience is walking down the street whistling your jingle, it feels pretty good too

Working with a team?

Take the next step to empower your creative team to deliver the best sound possible with our free guide.




Andrew Kantos - Headshot

Andrew Kantos is a sound designer with 20 years of experience, now leading HiMidLow, a sonic branding agency.