Cats on a Plane: The Downside of a Notorious Audio Brand

Audio branding is important; more important than most people realize. I have written about this topic before in Not Just a Jingle, Why using sound to brand your business could be more effective than you think but the message was driven home unexpectedly by a curious incident on an airplane.

Recently I was sitting in an airplane waiting for takeoff at Marseille Marignane airport. During the wait I heard a "meow" sound. Then I heard it again, and again and again. My first reaction was to roll my eyes and curse the ringtone department at Samsung, the company that gave the world the whistled "over the horizon" ringtone, probably the most disliked ringtone in smartphone history.

But then just after the plane rotated a flight attendant jumped out of her seat, ran up the aisle and came back carrying a terrified cat that had escaped from it's bag, returning it to its owner.

There are many reasons for taking good care of your audio branding. Probably the most important is that, properly done, it makes your brand instantly recognizable. Almost anyone who has ever visited France is familiar with the SNCF's "Tatatala" jingle played hundreds of times each day in every train station. In spite of all the repetition the Tatatala jingle, created by the audio branding agency Sixieme Son, doesn't appear to annoy anyone. If anything it has gone to the other extreme and impressed one traveler -- guitarist David Gilmour -- that he was inspired to use it in his song Rattle that Lock.

But the downside of a poor audio brand is not just lack of recognition. Done badly it annoys people to the point where they dislike not just the sound but also the product and the company who made it. As I discovered, subconsciously I associated annoying sounds with Samsung, even though the company is completely innocent in this case and, as far as I know, doesn't provide a meow meow meow ringtone.

Other ringtones have become unpopular simply because of their ubiquity -- Nokia's classic ringtone is a good example. But as the SNCF case shows mere repetition isn't enough to make people actively dislike a jingle; it has to be actively annoying. Apparently some people like Samsung's whistled ringtone, otherwise why would they choose it, but I suspect that testing would have revealed that the response to this sound is highly polarized. Better to drop a tone that some people like if many others despise it. Otherwise you end up being blamed for any other background noise, like in the Cats on a Plane story.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching, Writing

For lectures, workshops, one-to-one coaching and writing about branding and other aspects of communication you can contact Andrew Hennigan by phone on 0046 73 089 44 75. You can also reach him by email at


Popular posts from this blog

Dear Best Regards: How to Start and End Your Emails

Reverting to Emails: Confusion and the Indian English Language

TED’s Magical Red Carpet