Sonic branding: Why is Samsung’s new clothes dryer playing Schubert?

May 6, 2013

After my first load of clothes dried, I heard music coming from the laundry room. When did household appliances become jukeboxes?

When my old clothes dryer finally died and signaled its last buzz, I had to replace it. My choice was a Samsung dryer with all the new digital bells and whistles: self-sensing drying based on the weight of the wet clothes, a multiple array of temperature and time settings, and more. But little did I didn’t know that it would literally have all the new bells and whistles.

After my first load of clothes dried, I heard music coming from the laundry room. Like some distant cousin of R2D2, there was the new dryer, merrily amusing itself by playing an endless loop of some unknown digital tune in electronic chimes. What was the song? When did dryers become jukeboxes? A little online research later, I discovered that the Samsung dryer was playing a theme from Franz Schubert’s Piano Quintet in A major, popularly known as The Trout.

Digging deeper into the Internet, I found that a clothes washer from LG, another Korean company, plays a digital version of a venerable old English folksong, The Lincolnshire Poacher.

When did household appliance become juke boxes?
Actually, music and sounds have always been a part of technology. Starting with jingles on the radio in the early 20th century, repetitive melodies and noises were designed to create mnemonic associations for the product sponsors. Musical jingles were used to extol a product’s advantages and messages, such as the tune that sang “you can trust your car to the man who wears the star, the big bright Texaco star,” championing Texaco’s service station employees (yes, people used to really clean windshields and pump gas for drivers).

The three-note xylophone chimes of the NBC radio network moved to television in the 1950s. And who can’t hum the four notes of the “Intel inside” audio signature. (Ba ba ba bamp).

It’s all part of the tool box for branding called sonic branding, And it isn’t just used in advertising. Musical sound effects have always been around for a long time connected to specific products. For those old enough to remember pay phones, there was the “gong” to symbolize the coin drop. In more recent history, the first modem connections to the Internet sounded off with a multi-tiered static signal. The Macintosh start up orchestral chime is well known by millions. With the advent of smaller and smaller microchips that could play a broader range of electronic tones, audio branding moved from cordless phone and microwave beeps to cars that told you when the door was ajar and a catalog of ring tones and music clips for cell phones that both entertain and annoy.

Which gets me back to my question why appliances need to play music. And why those particular songs on a dryer and washer?

Music is branding to our ears
Whether musical sound bites, electronic beeps or digital orchestral arrangements, these types of sonic brands connect with one of our most powerful senses: sound and the emotions that can be evoked through music. And what emotions are evoked by doing laundry?

Even with all the advances in laundry appliances that not only make clothes cleaner and the job easier to manage with digital temperature and time settings, doing laundry is still a chore. Sorting colors from whites, measuring detergent and softener, cleaning lint traps, emptying dryers, hanging, folding...and it starts again the following week.

Could it be that Samsung and LG want to associate a happier brand emotion with the onerous task of doing laundry by offering a “victory” song when the washing and drying is complete? What better way to say, “now that wasn’t so bad, was it?” than by playing light, slightly anonymous traditional tunes that would stick in your brain each time you finished your chores? And as for the tunes themselves, I’m betting that royalty-free music rights were also part of the decision.

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