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Measuring the emotional impact of sound logos

This week Professor Rumsey reveals that sound logos can dramatically affect your emotions

Music has a shortcut to the emotions and is capable of arousing feelings of elation, sadness, power or despair, for example, without one always being aware of the logical reasons. The study of this relationship has gone on for a number of years in research circles, but has recently begun to find a direct practical application in the evaluation of sound logos and corporate ‘sonic brands’. For companies that increasingly rely on a catchy sonic identity (think the ‘Intel Inside’ logo or the Nokia tune), it’s important to know how their customers might react emotionally to that identity. Surely it’s no good if the sound logo for a brand of anti-depressants leaves people feeling suicidal (hmm, but on the other hand…). The number of sonic trademarks is apparently growing faster than that of visual ones, although there are many fewer sonic trademarks at present, according to Daniel Jackson and Paul Fulberg in their book Sonic Branding: An Introduction. As Noel Franus and Martin Ware of the company Sonic ID ( say in an online presentation, Demystifying Sonic Branding and Identity, “we use the emotional power of sound to position brands, improve products and enliven environments”. They identify sonic branding and identity as “the intentional use of sound, voice and silence to create rational and emotional connections between people and organizations”. Charlie McCarron, a consultant with Soundlounge (, speaks in a blog about the parallels with the song bird – one of nature’s best musicians with a talent for sonic branding. Just a few notes of a male bird’s song, he suggests, is enough to give the female bird what she needs to know about the state of a potential mate. In the same way, the sonic identity of a brand can be a liability or an asset when it comes to the relationship with its consumers. While the primary purpose of a sonic logo may be to act as an easily recognisable identifier for a product or organisation, there is the important secondary aspect of the emotions it arouses. According to the Danish company, Sonic Branding (, the McDonald’s “I’m lovin’ it” audio logo is recognised by 93% of customers hearing it, but how can we know more about the emotional impact of sonic brands? The Danish consultancy, Delta SenseLab (, working in conjunction with Sonic Branding, has recently undertaken a study of the emotional profiling of sound logos. This was partly work undertaken for a master’s thesis written by Jesper Ramsgaard. The measuring of emotions is a hotly debated topic among academics, as you might imagine, with behaviourists taking the view that the internal constructs of emotion (for example, verbal reports of feelings) should not be the main focus of study. (Behaviourists would typically be more likely to trust the observable behaviour or actions of subjects.) However Ramsgaard opted to investigate three different self-reported measures of emotion and tried to evaluate the perceptual relationship between sound logos and verbal statements of company values, pay-offs or associations. He compared the self-reporting of listener preference with two other approaches – Self Assessment of Core Affect (SACA) and the Geneva Emotional Music Scale (GEMS). In simple terms, preference can be considered as an evaluation by the listener of the goodness or badness of a sound in a particular context, or the liking or disliking of it. However there is little agreement about how it should be measured and preference is notoriously dependent on training, culture, expectations, context and other factors. In Ramsgaard’s research the results of preference tests on sound logos were somewhat inconclusive, although they gave some insight into sub-groupings of the listeners in the focus group. He concluded that preference testing has limited potential for assessing the emotional characteristics of sound logos. Core Affect, on the other hand, was claimed to be a more basic measurement of the simplest raw feelings in moods and emotions. In Ramsgaard’s tests these were evaluated on two dimensions of ‘arousal’ and ‘valence’ – the arousal dimension ranging from ‘dull/passive’ to ‘lively/active’ and the valence dimension ranging from ‘sad/displeased’ to ‘glad/pleased’. This gave rise to a clearer distinction between the emotions aroused by the sound logos tested, although the valence dimension gave rise to quite large differences between listeners, possibly because of the hedonic (pleasure-related) terms involved. The GEMS scales were developed by Zentner (, specifically as a means of evaluating music-evoked emotions. He suggests that these scales are more successful in music applications than those derived from emotions research more broadly. 25 core descriptors boil down to nine factors, described as ‘wonder’, ‘transcendence’, ‘energy’, ‘tension’ and so forth, which in turn boil down to just three ‘superfactors’ – ‘sublimity’, ‘vitality’ and ‘unease’. Ramsgaard’s listeners used the nine intermediate descriptors and found they could interpret them in relation to the sound logos without much difficulty. Agreement between the listeners was also good. It was suggested that measures based on these scales would be easier to use and more meaningful to composers and sound designers than more general terms. Examining the relationship between sound logos and verbal statements of company ‘pay-offs’ such as “creating peace of mind”, “we make it easier for you” and “the window to the world”, the SenseLab study used a simple method of paired comparisons whereby the listener would rate the similarity between a sound logo and one of the pay-off phrases. Analysis using forms of multi-dimensional scaling provided an easily understood way of mapping the sound logos onto meaningful dimensions, which in this case were interpreted as one related to energy or arousal level and another related to introversion/extraversion or intimacy/openness. In a world of confusing consumer choice and limited attention span, the company that can harness a sonic identity to stimulate a desired emotional response in potential customers will probably gain some notable advantages.