Life at Aviva

The power of a sonic logo

When Aviva unveiled its new brand positioning, 'It takes Aviva', it did something it's never done before.

Image: woman standing in front of house in the countryside

Aviva has developed a sonic logo and a bespoke piece of music. The plan is to use this sonic branding everywhere - from adverts to apps to customer phone lines. In fact, you've probably already heard it.

In this episode of the Aviva Podcast you can hear from Alex Wodrich from Berlin-based agency 'why do birds' who created the sonic branding and Sally House, Brand Design Lead from Aviva. 

Discover why sonic brands are important, what goes into making them, and find out how 'why do birds' brought to life 'the sound of yellow'.

A picture of Alex Wodrich
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It is a few steps more than just saying "they're an insurance company, it's probably about trust... let's use a piano"!

Alex Wodrich

why do birds

Ben Moss

Hello, my name is Ben Moss and welcome to the Aviva Podcast, one of our brand specials. Now if you're a regular listener, you might have noticed that we've changed our music. 

There is a good reason for that change. This piece of music you're hearing underneath me right now is part of a multi-million-pound brand positioning project, and as part of that project Aviva has actually done something it's never done before: commission a sonic logo, which is going to be used... well, pretty much everywhere. 

[Aviva’s sonic logo plays]

Ben Moss

Now that was the sonic logo. It is quite quick, so we're going to play it one more time. 

[Aviva’s sonic logo plays]

Ben Moss

Now you'll be hearing this music and the sonic logo in more and more places as we roll it out, whether that's in our adverts on radio and TV, or social media, or on the phone when you call us. Or, of course, in our podcasts like this one. 

Ben Moss

So the idea of using a sound to associate with a brand is actually growing in popularity. Now if I say Netflix or Intel inside, I imagine some of you right now have got their audio branding ringing in your ears. 

Now the audio brand development for Aviva has been led by Germany based agency 'why do birds'. And I'm really pleased to say that from Berlin I'm joined by Alex Wodrich, founder and managing director. 

Alex Wodrich

Hello. 

Ben Moss

Thank you very much for joining us today. And we're also joined by Sally House, brand design lead from Aviva. Hello Sally.   

Sally House

Hi. 

Ben Moss

So, Sally, I'll start with you. Why is it that Aviva decided to get into having an audio brand? 

Sally House

So as you said, audio brands have been around for loads of years, so if you think of Intel, Audi, McDonald's... but if you think more broadly past the sound logo, it can be seen as consistent themes or melodies within other areas such as... like, we've used James Bond as an example when trying to talk to the business. So James Bond has got a consistent melody that's been used in its films for like five decades. You always know what's going on, whether there's a love interest or an exciting moment. There is that kind of emotion that's coming through the music that's consistently played.  

So it's been around for a very long time, but it really has grown over the last few years, as you mentioned, and more retail and service brands are moving into this as part of their broader, overall identity and building it as new brand cues to use.  

Brands within the finance sector have started to move into this area, and we also wanted to leverage that because research is showing how strong and successful using those brand cues can be to help recognise – to help our customers recognise – our brand, and build that emotional connection as well. 

Ben Moss

I do wonder if this is the first time that Aviva and James Bond have been spoken about in the same breath. So I think that may be a first. 

Sally House

You know we want to be a strong British brand, and James Bond is a fantastic export for us! 

So yeah, we wanted to obviously use this as a new area to help support our overall ambitions as a “go to customer brand” and build that as a new asset into our toolkit. 

It also brings in an aspect of accessibility. so not all of our colleagues, customers, partners will be able to experience our brand from a visual perspective, and so by bringing in audio branding, that means that we are inclusive of everybody. 

Ben Moss

Alex, I'll come to you just before we get more into the technicalities of how you do this. Just give us a bit of backgrou nd on you and the agency 'why do birds'. How long have you been working in this field? 

Alex Wodrich

I've been doing this audio branding topic for I think over 15 years now, and I started out in branding agencies and that was classical corporate design and I was doing a lot of consulting there and at some point, we had the idea that brands do not just communicate visually, but that we’re all multi-sensory people. You know we have five senses, and that's how we perceive the world, and so why not use more than just a visual sense to communicate? 

And that's how it actually started. About 15 years ago when I was still working at another agency, we had that idea to bring that forward and actually come up with a process. How can we translate brand personalities and brand attributes into sound? We had a good methodology for the visuals, and that's been, I think, been done for a long, long time already. That's not such a new topic, but in audio it was a big question mark for lots of people. So, yeah, that's how it started about 15 years ago, and I then started working with my own agency, 'why do birds', I founded that about 10 years... 11 years ago, actually, now yeah. 

Ben Moss

It's interesting you say you've been working in this kind of area about 15 years. It still feels very new... we’re making a podcast about it cause we're quite excited that Aviva is doing this. I mentioned in the introduction is it's growing in popularity - is that something you've experienced with your agency? 

Alex Wodrich

Absolutely, that's the big breakthrough we were talking about that 15 years ago already when we had the first project. “Oh, this is the big breakthrough. Now everybody's going to jump on this and say this is happening,” but it actually it took longer...  small steps, small steps, but it is growing in popularity I think. Just in the recent two or three years it's been a big boost, I think because there's so much happening in the context of voice-based services. So there's stuff like Alexa and Siri, and communication possibilities where brands do not have the chance for visual feedback anymore. 

That means you have no chance to show your logo anymore in podcasts, as we speak right now, and so you need some way of, you know, how do you transport your brand, how you communicate it and make sure everybody recognises it right away. And when you're talking about skills and so on, you want to be recognisable. And now brands have to think about it: What is our sound? 

Ben Moss

Sally, why did you choose 'why do birds'? Why did Alex get the nod? 

Sally House

We did talk to several agencies, but what clearly stood out with why do birds is their creativity. So they, you know, they’re obviously experts in their field, but they really did make tailored and bespoke solutions for their clients. So you could see in their case studies, et cetera, how different everything was, but also how it was clearly built out of that that brand attributes and personality as Alex said. 

Ben Moss

Alex, had you heard of Aviva? 

Alex Wodrich

I have to be honest, no! So I did go on the internet, and I checked it out and I had a look at Wikipedia and stuff and yeah, but now I know a lot more about Aviva 

Ben Moss

Now you do know a lot more about it, and I know you've worked... if you go to your website, you work with a whole host of brands across industries, but I mean, I'm not musical person... I can't quite get my head around how you even start to think about what the sound for an insurance company should be. So what can you talk us through a little bit of the process that 'why do birds' go through when you start working with a new company? 

Alex Wodrich

Yep, that's actually funny because people say, oh, you're an expert. You've done this before. What do we sound like? 

People always say "what's your idea for our sound?" and you go "I have no idea. Tell me a little bit about yourself!” 

Well, you know, it's like... imagine you call up somebody... "What kind of sweater would suit me?" I don't know! Come over here, I'll have a look at you and I'll see what size you need, you know... and that's a little bit of what it is like when you're creating a sound for a brand, because I can't know what the brand is trying to achieve in the next few years. 

So it's a little bit about finding out: who is this brand? What's the heritage? Does it have a background? Is there a strong story that's being told, and maybe that's something that's part of the brand? Or you know, if there's somewhere where you want to go. What does the competition do? Who're you up against? 

So all these... There's millions of questions to be asked, and once you understand all that, you can say "OK, now I understand who they are, where they're trying to go, and what the stories are they're telling" and as soon as you find that, then you can look at that story and say it's their way of translating what they've told me, or what we've learned, and where they want to go... is there an audio equivalent for that?  

So it is a few steps more than just saying “they’re an insurance company, it’s probably about trust, let's use a piano” so... 

[Laughter] 

So it is a little bit more than that. 

Ben Moss

The sound is quite distinctive, and we'll get we'll hear it more and more over the months and years, hopefully. But just talk us through how you've reached that final point that was going to be the finished product. 

Alex Wodrich

You know, we had a workshop together with Sally and the team, and actually it’s an extended team. We talked about the positioning statement and we got the visual design input and the history. So there was a lot of conversations and so when all that came together, there’s so much information. So our main goal was to digest that and you know, break it down to ‘what's the story out of this' And one thing that we had is a derivation of the sentence where it says: “Only Aviva helps to take small steps to a brighter future”, and coming from that was actually where we said, “OK, let's try and turn this little bit into sound and those small steps was actually one of the first ideas that we had, and that worked really well as we thought small steps that can also be like tonal leaps.  

So we said, let's take small steps in the tonal leaps and have them gradually grow larger and so that it feels like a growing composition. And we did the same for the rhythm. How the density of the rhythm, it starts really small and then get gets larger and the rhythm itself as well. 

And we did the same with the steps that it keeps on walking in the harmonics. So it means that we have a chord structure that seems like it's ongoing and growing, and it's not ending and that was actually a very nice way to start a composition and you know when we say, take small steps to a brighter future, and we said we can’t just do the small steps, we also have to show a bit of the result and that brighter future.  

That was something that we didn't do in terms of a composition, but rather in terms of a sound creation of an atmospheric sound. So, we used these shimmering sounds and bright pads and airy vocals that translate that and give you this feeling that it's something really light and sunny and bright actually. 

Ben Moss

The piece of work that you guys did isn't just the two- or three-seconds audio brand which will appear in lots of places. There is that longer ‘masterpiece’ piece of music which people will have heard at the start of this podcast. 

(And if you did like it we will play some more of it at the end as well so you can hear exactly what Alex was talking about) 

And Sally, just on to the point... Aviva's had brand campaigns run in the past, some of them very famously that will stick in people's minds with certain comedians and that type of thing. When this project started out and the idea of a Sonic brand came up, can you remember what the reaction was like internally from different people in Aviva? Was it kind of like “Well, that sounds like a good idea” or was it hesitant, “that sounds a bit unusual, we’ve never done that before.”? 

Sally House

People were really interested and actually been really excited about this, which is fantastic. There's so much internal engagement and positivity about using what we've created.  

I did learn that actually there was an Aviva song I haven't heard. It was before my time, but apparently yeah, there was an Aviva song, so I think it's been regarded as a massive step forward from that. 

Yeah, people have been really open and engaged in the in the process and using what we've created. 

Ben Moss

How long does it take for a sonic logo or sonic brand to become really recognisable? I mentioned in my introduction, Intel Inside, they seem to have been doing it for years. And Netflix, obviously, with its growth in popularity every time you turn it on, you get that certain sound, which I won't try and imitate. But how long does it take for a sonic brand to become sort of embedded in people's minds and be associated with the company? 

Alex Wodrich

There's a few things behind that. I think it's a little bit about consistency. It means you should use whatever you do use as your audio brand across all media and all touch points and everything that you create that is audible should carry that sound in it somehow. 

That's the first thing that's really, really important to make it work. Then of course there's some brands that have more media power than others. 

Alex Wodrich

If you... I don't know... if you watch TV or walk around outside and you hear radio, wherever it happens, if that brand has a lot of media power, then obviously they have a good chance of getting a certain sound into your head.  

But you know the famous examples that we all have, and you know who I was asked about Audi and in Germany, T-Mobile I don't know if you have that T-Mobile ring in the UK, but those famous sound logos... Audi has done theirs back in 1994, so that's almost 30 years, and I'm sure they're not going to change it. I mean, they've updated it every few years to go with the times, which makes sense to keep it fresh, but it's still the same sound basically for the past 30 years. 

So it is something that does take time. The successful brands are successful because they've used it for so long. 

A lot of the time somebody new comes to marketing and says “OK I need to do something new, something fresh and let's erase what we've had and do something completely new.” 

So, it's... I think it's a sign of strength if somebody can come in new and say, “Oh, that’s successful, that's powerful. Let's keep it.”  

I think it's about consistency. 

Sally House

I think it's also about touch points, because if you think of some kind of tech, you turn it on and it makes a noise. You know, whether that's Microsoft or a PC or a Mac or whatever, or a phone, that you’re interacting with those on such a regular basis, and it's part of the the tech and the experience. 

I think Siemens also, they embed their sound within their UI - their user interface - so that then you get that experience as well, and it might be something that we look to do with MyAviva. So when you create a fund switch with your pension or you load the app or whatever, that then we can see if we can put in a moment there, because obviously people are going to that on a more regular basis. 

Alex Wodrich

Yeah, absolutely, because it's about I think creating something like an audio universe, and it's a lot of people say “oh, audio branding is a sound logo, sonic logo”, but it's more than those two seconds that you hear at the end of an ad. 

Ben Moss

When I've just been listening to you both speak, it's just realised the power that audio can have to create an emotion, and I can completely see why audio branding can be so powerful. 

Sally House

And you can do that with the content that we create. 

So whether that's a product video... Alex and I have seen this example around our claims that's going out to the intermediary audience in the UK, and it's so emotive. The content is so emotive, but that's just amplified by the music that's used as well, by the way that it's been embedded within that, and it has the build and the flow that goes with the with the storytelling, so it just amplifies what we’re already creating, or can create that in the first instance if, you know, it's just an audio piece. 

Ben Moss

Alex, you guys at your agency are clearly very good at what you do, but we played the Aviva sonic logo at the start and will no doubt play again at the end of this podcast, but as with many of them, they're quite short - I know we've got the masterpiece piece of music, which we also played at the start of the podcast, which is much, much longer - but from your point of view, when you've got different clients coming to you all the time and wanting different things, is it hard not to fall into a pattern of repetition, where you sort of find a comfort zone and go, “Oh that works. That's been successful. Let's do something similar for that company or that company.”  

Is that difficult thing to avoid? 

Alex Wodrich

Not really! Of course, if you work for a lot of clients, it does become tempting to say "Oh, haven’t we had something similar before?” But you know that's the thing if you work in a creative agency, it's an absolute no-go to repeat yourself. You can never do the same thing twice. It's absolutely impossible. 

But the stories that the brands tell are not always the same and everybody has different keywords or brand core value, or something in their strategic territory that does differentiate it from its competitors. And so we try to focus more on that than just saying, “okay, what's the branch working for” or, you know, “well, what kind of industry is it”? You know is it going to be more human. Is it going to be more digital or is it going to be more acoustic based. So you have these ideas, a little bit, of what the tonality could be like, but the stories that you tell are different. 

Ben Moss

I believe - tell me if I'm wrong - but part of this project of Aviva working with 'why do birds' was to define the sound of yellow... because that's the colour everyone knows Aviva is... is this rumour or is it correct? Did you define the sound of yellow? 

Alex Wodrich

Actually, research decided that for us. We haven't really done that before. You know, there's a lot of people who say they can taste colours, or who can hear colours, and so we did some research. And the interesting thing was about the colour yellow, is when they ask people, they play different notes, and ask “what colours do you see?” and so when they played an A, the note A, most people just jumped on yellow. And it was just such a big leap that was sort of like very recognisable, but there seemed to be something in there. What they also realised is if you play other notes, F... whatever you may have, a B or C, that did not happen at all. There were no colours that popped up. They were all scattered throughout all the different colours, but just with the note A it was yellow. 

So we thought, well, maybe you know it wouldn't be such a bad idea. You know there's 12 notes that we can use, why not use – the keys actually, the music is in the key of A, so is the Sonic logo - and we said that for those people who do feel that when they think about colours, when they hear something, that there is a good chance that they would probably choose yellow if they had to choose a colour when they hear it. 

So that was just one of the little gimmicks. Actually, that was an add on that we said, why not use that? But just not a creative thing to do, but rather coming from research. 

Ben Moss

It's fascinating how much goes into this. Sally, I don't know if you worked in audio branding before, but you must have learnt so much in the past few months. 

Sally House

Yeah, absolutely. So started off with being tasked with doing this and then learning through desk research, et cetera and then working with Alex and Leo. It's been fantastic, completely different to what I've done in the past. 

Ben Moss

And it be great to think that this piece of audio, this sound, is still going  in 20 years time, like the previous examples you talked about, I guess you do have to give it time, like you said Alex, you gotta give this thing time to breathe, get embedded everywhere and for people to get used to it. 

Alex Wodrich

I mean, I think key is also to keep it flexible. You know what you do not want to have is like one piece of music that's going to be ringing in your ear wherever you are. Actually, we have a saying, usually you know when it starts getting on your nerves internally, that's when it starts working externally. 

Because you know the people outside in the world, they don't hear Aviva every day, but when they do hear it, you know they should have that consistent feeling. And if those people are in marketing communications and wherever they may be internally and they work with it. Obviously they need to hear that a lot. 

And that's why people say “Oh, come on. We've used this now for years! Enough now!” and some people outside, they’ve only heard it three times and you know, so I think that's also an important aspect to keep in mind before deciding to throw something away already after a few years, be bold enough to keep it for a longer period. 

Sally House

And like you said, kind of refreshing things as we as we go was. As communication moves on, society moves on.00:20:30 Sally House 

You know, we've all been through a dramatic change over the last year and a half in how people digest content in in our lives, and so keeping things evolving as time moves on, I think it's really important from a brand perspective, so we're not static. 

Ben Moss

Well thank you so much to my guests on the Aviva Podcast today. It's been great to speak to both of you. That's Alex Wodrich from 'why do birds' and Sally House from Aviva. Just a reminder, this is the sound that you are listening out for. 

[Aviva sonic logo plays] 

Ben Moss

Yep, that's Aviva's new sonic brand. So, so keep your ears open for that one. If you'd like to find out more about how the sonic brand, sonic logo, was created, and what 'why do birds' do, please do read the show notes, or you can visit aviva.com. 

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Find out more about 'why do birds': https://www.whydobirds.de/en/

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