Last month, Sam Smith won an OSCAR at the 88th Academy Awards for “Writing’s on the Wall,” an original song he wrote for Spectre, the 24th installment in the James Bond film franchise. “Writing’s on the Wall” is not the first James Bond title theme to win an OSCAR (that honor went to Adele for “Skyfall”), but it joins an impressive number of chart-topping and award-winning musical siblings, including ”Goldfinger” (Shirley Bassey), “Live and Let Die” (Paul McCartney & Wings), “Nobody Does It Better” (Carly Simon), “A View to a Kill” (Duran Duran), and “For Your Eyes Only” (Sheena Easton).
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The success of Bond music offers a great lesson for brands.
All of these popular title themes have a harmonic signature that is composed to complement the world famous James Bond theme (think fat guitar twanging “dum di-di dum dum”). That instantly-recognizable theme may be one of the greatest examples of sonic branding of all time. Created by Monty Norman and advanced by composer John Barry, the theme relies on four simple chords that alternate between major and minor. This pattern holds the magic that has allowed five decades of pop stars to riff on it in a contemporary and relevant way. Audiences sense a Bond theme before it has fully played out. The brand is revealed without cluttering the song. It is the true secret agent.
Many brands have learned to achieve this goal through visual means. You can sense the presence of Apple in a commercial without seeing a logo, for example. Modern visual identity systems often work harder than the logo itself. Typography, color palette, imagery and grid systems provide powerful cues that trigger our mind to credit a brand. But fewer brands achieve this goal with sound. For brands that are bold enough to employ sonic branding, most rely on mnemonics (the Southwest “bing”) and jingles (McDonald’s Ba-da-da-da-da … I’m Lovin’ It). But imagine trying to compose a pop song around these devices. You might succeed once. But could you build a legacy like Bond’s with this approach? Doubtful.