The Power of Audio Triggers

This weekend, we drove past an auto repair place in Tucson, and as we passed by, I heard from an open bay the unmistakable sound of a pneumatic wrench taking the lug nuts off a tire:

Here’s what it sounded like…

In that brief instant, I was immediately ten years old again, hanging out in the original Slater’s Garage in Woodridge, NY, listening to my uncles work on giant mid-70′s model American-made cars while my brother and I dismantled old carburetors they gave us to keep us busy until it was time to go fishing. The memory was so strong, and so concentrated for that moment, it was quite remarkable, if not a little disconcerting.

Here’s another great example. One of my friends posted this on Facebook this week, and it immediately conjured some VERY strong childhood memories of getting ready to watch the Charlie Brown holiday specials CBS aired back in the 70′s.

It made me start thinking about how we use sound effects in radio ads. Just like a song can take you to a certain place or time in your life, ANY sound can act as a trigger in a listener’s mind, to effect, if you will, a desired emotion or response.

But the key is to make sure the sounds work WITH the copy, and not independently of it. Sounds (and background music) must work to strengthen the emotional connection your spot seeks to build. There has to be a cohesive reason for the sound to be there if you hope to not only get (and hold) a listener’s attention, but also evoke a strong enough emotional response to get the listener to act upon, or at the very least, remember the advertiser’s message. (Just as an aside, this is why I’m perpetually confused by explosion sound effects in car commercials: In addition to being cliché to the point of ridicule, is “kaboom” really a sound you want people to hear when you’re trying to sell ‘em a car?)

Don’t underestimate the power of a sound effect, a jingle, musical hook, or some other audio cue in your advertising to help you make that emotional connection with your listener.  Of course, the other part of this equation is making sure you run an advertising schedule with enough FREQUENCY to make sure that trigger is repeated and remembered.

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