Sonic branding for fashion

AS I am researching this topic to include in my lecture next week, I want to share some interesting things I have found out with you, my dear readers.

Sonic branding – it is the stuff our windows PCs are made of when we start it up, what makes (some of) us love McDonald’s or know that a 20th Century Fox movie is starting. Yes, these are all familiar sounds, forever engraved in our minds and representative of the brands they are attributed to.

But how does it work for fashion? Fashion rarely makes use of repetitive jingles, perhaps because fashion is built on the concept of always presenting something new, something fresh, something yet unthought of. However, fashion DOES use music to its full advantage! Think of the famous Levi’s commercial which my dear friend John Altman arranged the music for.

“Levi’s Engineered Jeans were promoted in 2002 in “Odyssey”, a TV commercial that has come to be known as a classic. A young man (played by French actor Nicolas Duvauchelle) opens a door, steps back and emotionally prepares himself for the odyssey. And then he runs. Through the door, through the wall of the next room, and the room after. As he continues to burst through one empty room after another he is joined by another runner, a woman (played by Antoinette Sugier). Finally they stop, breathless. They catch a glance at each other, preparing for the next stage of the journey. It’s through the exterior brick wall, out into the forest, up the trees and into the sky. The text: “Levi’s Engineered Jeans. Freedom to move.”.” (Levi’s ‘Odyssey’ was the first major project delivered by special effects production company Framestore CFC since its inception at the end of 2001.)

The beautiful music was produced by Jeff Wayne and arranged by John Altman. The music is Handel’s ‘Sarabande’ from the Suite in D minor for solo harpsichord. John Altman employed a late-classical chamber orchestra — 22 strings, flute, clarinet, bassoon, three French horns and timpani.

This is a classic example of fusing – erm, classical music with fashion to get a very specific brand experience across.

But now lets fast forward a decade and a half to 2016, when Uniqlo (one of my favourite Japanese brands) made a fantastic music video to accompany their flagship store launch in London on Oxford Street. The campaign is created by Faster Horses and what they managed to do in this commercial is to capture the very unique spirit of London through visuals and sound. They used a German DJ named Konstantin Sibold: [this has a great sound cloud link so you can sample his art] for the music and 8 individual dancers whose sequences were choreographed by Lukas McFarlane. They actually used derelict buildings and passages with graffiti all over London to make it authentic, unique and more cutting edge.

I hope the link works and you can watch their “This way to Utopia” commercial and I would love to hear your thoughts on this. What emotions does the video evoke? What do you make of the soundtrack?





One thought on “Sonic branding for fashion

  1. In the case of Levis – they are a long established brand and so I feel like they have a lot more freedom in portraying their product than many other brands might. Of course I’m simplifying this because corporations spend millions in R & D and surveys and the like in trying to see how their brand is perceived, but nonetheless, I feel like they have a bit more latitude in their creativity.

    Now the choice of music is good because it has a lot of kinetic energy. Of course they could have gone a lot of ways with the arrangement, and with having kids burst through walls, going for a more modern arrangement possibly using guitars or synths yet still playing that Handel piece might have worked against them because they have to worry about not being seen as a “stodgy” old brand trying to appear youthful, so the choice of arranging it for chamber orchestra is a good choice because it’s a nice contrast to the energy that the kids are displaying on screen. The forward motion of the Handel piece compliments it nicely and almost presents a slight calm as a counterpoint to what’s happening on the screen.

    The thing is that Levis though has always tried to push their brand, or jeans, as taking you places. When I was a kid, this commercial amazed the living heck out of me. I used to wait for it to come on TV, and I’d sit there, absolutely motionless for the 30 seconds! I managed to find it on YouTube and I’m posting it below – But again, a different time but the very same idea – that you’re going places with their jeans. In another note, I feel old to find out this commercial aired in 1984! Haha This commercial has been so vivid in my memory for decades that I forgot how old it really is:

    What’s amazing is that I probably haven’t seen that commercial since it aired and it’s still every bit as cool and amazing as I remembered it to be! haha

    Now there’s also this commercial which stands out in my mind. It was also very early 80s and used to play on Saturday mornings between cartoons. This one is so vivid in my memory that for the past 30 something years, I can’t even hear the word “Levis” without hearing that alien in my head say, “Levis-uh!”. Seriously – it’s something that’s amazed me over the years, how these things form patterns in our head from young ages and how advertising can influence you. Anyway, This one shows a kid on a planet talking about Levi’s jeans. Again showing that if you’re wearing Levi’s, you’re going somewhere – preferably somewhere that doesn’t exist!

    It’s not like I follow Levis ads or branding but I just remember those two commercials from my childhood and realize the pattern is that Levis wants you to feel that they’re taking you somewhere. As far as the sonic branding, You can see they’re always experimenting. The alien cartoon just has weird sound effects, and the one I love with the flying silver mannequin has futuristic synth music. But first and foremost they’re trying to push the concept that with Levi’s Jeans, you’re going places beyond your wildest dreams. The sound, or music almost comes secondary or is more of a backdrop to what’s happening onscreen. Like I said, in the modern Levi’s ad, the classical music almost serves as a counterpoint so that the commercial doesn’t get “too over the top” and seem almost comical.

    Now as far as the Uniqlo, I have an opinion on that, but I feel as though I need to preface that my opinion is coming from the direction of being in America. What I mean by that, is that I see the Uniqlo ad differently because they don’t have a strong presence in America. I know they’re more common outside of America, but they’re still struggling to make inroads here in America and become known, so my opinion on their ad will be coming from that realization.

    Anyway, when I see the Uniqlo ad, my first thought is they’re still struggling to establish who they are and what they’re about to their potential audience and so their commercial is going to be 100% all about that. It’s going to be loud, and in your face, and try to hammer into your head what their brand is all about. In this case, the sonic branding is every bit as important as the visual in this commercial.

    It’s the 1-2 punch of showing you urban kids, in urban settings, while gritty urban music blasts at you creating a cohesive vision that “THIS IS OUR BRAND. WE ARE ABOUT GRITTY URBAN KIDS”.

    With the Levi’s ad, the music feels more like a condiment – it’s something to slightly alter the flavor. It’s the milk that takes the slightly bitter edge off the coffee. But the coffee is still the main focus.

    With the Uniqlo ad, the music is another ingredient. It’s essential to the entire meal. It’s the egg that’s needed to get the bread crumbs to stick to the chicken cutlets! (Man, I’m getting hungry!)

    Another thing that stands out greatly in the Uniqlo ads, is how they’re conveying a completely different message than the Levis ad. In every vignette in the Uniqlo ad, everyone is moving a lot, but they’re not going anywhere. They’re all staying in one, little space – kind of like treading water. A lot of motion, but never travelling.

    So in that respect, they’re still trying to convey the energy of youth, like the Levis ads that have young adults blasting through walls, but in Uniqlo’s ad, it’s more to the effect of that you can create your own craziness in your own little space. You don’t need to go anywhere. The music ramps up the kinetic energy and shows people that they can just stay where they are and be over the top.

    Also, I think on a subconscious level, they’re trying to reach out to urban kids, because if there’s one thing urban kids know, it’s that we have no room. We have no backyards, we barely have public parks. Most of us spend our summer playing handball off a stoop, or hanging out on a street corner. So in that sense the Uniqlo ad is also trying to show urban kids that you don’t need room to do your thing. You can go places in your own little space.

    The music, the energy, the subject matter – it all combines in essentially equal parts to create the final branding – which is a completely opposite message to the Levi’s jeans.

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