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Season Five.
"The Sound of Persuasion"

Airs Saturday May 21st and Thursday May 26th, 2011.

This week, the Age of Persuasion listens to the sounds of persuasion.

Advertising has used sound to sell for decades. But sound can be used for more than painting pictures on radio - sound can be carefully created to persuade. The stories behind those sounds are fascinating - from the earliest recorded sound in history, to the first use of sound in radio commercials, to signature sounds on famous TV ad campaigns, and even to the startup sound we hear on our computers everyday.

Each one created specifically to persuade you of something.

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All of the TV commercials and print elements we referred to in the episode, as well as some bonus materials, are below. Enjoy.

On September 15th, 1967, the Who performed an historic set on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour TV show.

It was historic because of the song, My Generation.

As everyone knows, the Who had a unique way of ending all their performances.

They would destroy all of their equipment in a violent storm of guitars bashing amplifiers, feet kicking holes in speakers, guitars being smashed on the ground, and drums being... well, blown up.

Drummer Keith Moon was a big fan of explosives.

On the Smothers Brothers show that night, a small amount of explosive was put into the small cannon that Moon kept in his bass drum. But it didn't go off during the rehearsal.

Unbeknownst to Keith Moon, the stagehand put another explosive in it. And later, Keith Moon put yet another explosive in it.

For a total of three, instead of one.

So when the Who came to the end of My Generation, and started destroying their instruments - suddenly - there was a tremendous explosion, caught on tape:

You can see singer Roger Daltrey jump back in sheer fright. There is smoke everywhere, and out of that smoke wanders a disoriented Pete Townsend.

He is patting a flame out in his hair, and he is rubbing his ear.

The unexpected sound of that explosion would rob him of something very important in his profession:

His hearing.

He lost a substantial part of his ability to hear in one ear that night, and it would begin a gradual disintegration of his hearing that would haunt him his entire life.

Our ability to hear is arguably our greatest sense.

It has been our 24-hour, early-warning system throughout history.

The average human ear can discern over 1,300 barely noticeable differences in tone. But we can only see 150 hues of colour. Using this scale, ears are 100 times more sensitive than eyes.

It's no surprise, then, that sound is such a powerful part of marketing. It can inspire desire and remind you of a brand instantly when you hear a cue. You can listen to a commercial from around a corner even when you can't see it and sound can make your mouth water.

All of which is highly desirable to marketers.

When I went searching for the earliest examples of recorded sounds, it was amazing what was available.

In 1860, a French inventor recorded a folk song called "Au Clair De La Lune," using an invention he called a "phonoautographer."

Seventeen years later, Edison created and patented the Cylinder Photograph. Edison immediately tested the machine, and chose a nursery rhyme as his first words. He recorded it, and to his amazement, the machine played it back to him:

Edison then experimented with synchronizing recorded sound to moving pictures. He invented something he called a "Kinetophone" in 1884.

A film was made by William Dickson using Edison's invention, and was thought to have been lost for over 80 years, but was found in 1964 and repaired in 1998:

In 1925, there was Gus Visser and his singing duck:

I do not want to know how he made that duck quack.

All of the above pre-dated "The Jazz Singer" which is often referred to as the first "talkie" - it was the first full-length talking picture - but sound and film had been married earlier.

Maxwell House Coffee harnessed sound to sell their product.

The smell of fresh brewed coffee was a powerful selling tool, but it was impossible to employ on radio and television. So Maxwell House used the "sound" of brewing coffee to stimulate the smell in people's minds, and persuade them of freshness:

"Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is" was a sound logo that Alka Seltzer used to persuade people to not only dissolve the pills in water, but to take two pills, not one. Here's a commercial where Sammy Davis Jr. takes over the sound-effect duties:

In his book, "Buyology," writer Martin Lindstrom notes that Kelloggs has spent years cultivating a signature "crunch" sound, even going so far as to hire a Danish lab to design a one-of-a-kind crunch for cornflakes. They wanted kids to be able to hear the difference between the sound of eating generic cornflakes and the Kellogg's brand:

The new Nissan Leaf had to deal with different issue - namely, that electric cars make no sound. Which can be problematic for seeing-and-hearing-impaired pedestrians.

The Leaf needed "audio visibility."

So in a four-year international study, Nissan consulted acoustic experts, universities, a Hollywood sound company, and the National Federation for the Blind to test for the most appropriate sound.

One hundred were developed.

And from that list, this sound was chosen for going forward (go to the end of this clip to hear the Leaf's sound, around the 3:28 point):

It's interesting to me that Nissan chose a sound that was "futuristic." It not only solved the problem of the electric car's audio visibility, but it also persuades us that the car contains leading technology.

The use of audio logos (or 'mnemonics') goes back a long way.

Avon used an audio mnemonic for years in their advertising:

The Avon doorbell was an inviting sound, and it captured the essence of Avon - which was a door-to-door sales strategy. It began as a company in 1886, and because so many customers were rural at that time, Avon salespeople had to travel to reach them.

By the 1954, sales had reached $55 million, and the famous "Avon calling" campaign was launched.

The doorbell mnemonic had two tasks - one, to brand Avon commercials, and two, to persuade women to welcome Avon reps into their homes when they heard their own doorbells ring.

Nokia uses a very familiar mnemonic:

It is a musical phrase that has its roots in a classical composition:

The original composition is called Gran Vals, by the Spanish classical composer, Francsico Tarrega, written in 1902.

The phrase is taken from bars 13 to 16, and you can hear it around the 2:34 mark of this clip:

The Nokia mnemonic is heard an estimated 1.8 billion times a day, which means it is played more than 20,000 times per second. Reinforcing Nokia's dominance in the mobile phone category.

Recognize this sound?

It's the startup sound on all Apple computers.

It was created by Jim Reekes.

In the early days of Macs, he was charged with composing a startup sound. He knew the sound would be heard often, and since the early Macs would crash often, he didn't want the sound to become annoying.

Instead, he wanted a sound that was, quote: "Zen, calm and like a palate cleanser."

In other words, Apple wanted that sound to persuade you that booting up your Mac is always the start of a pleasurable experience.

At the same time, the Beatles were suing Apple for infringement on their Apple Records name. As a result, Apple Computers had to be very careful that they didn't venture into any "musical" territory. A legal issue that wasn't solved until recently, by the way.

So when Reekes was developing other various Apple sounds, he wanted to call one of them the Apple "chime."

But the Apple Computer lawyers were against it, saying that the world "chime" was too musical, and would risk another lawsuit from the Beatles.

So Reekes then said let's call it "Let It Beep" as a sarcastic take on the Beatles "Let It Be" song - which further annoyed the lawyers.

So then Reekes just said, "So sue me."

And to this day, that is the name of one the main Apple sounds:


Here's a great interview with Jim Reekes, where he tells the whole story:

Who knew?