Gen Zers can recognize brands based solely on ‘sonic memes,’ report says

Some Gen Zers can name a brand based on sound alone, according to a new report from sonic branding agency amp.

The agency’s research and insights team analyzed the sonic branding work of 72 companies that Morning Consult previously found were most popular among Gen Z to see if sound might be making an impact on consumers of that generation.

While the report indicates that sound likely won’t make or break a brand in the minds of Gen Zers, it can certainly help when it comes to recognition.

Name that meme

If there’s one thing brands and Gen Zers both love, it’s TikTok.

From licensing popular tracks to creating custom “brand beats” (don’t call them jingles), marketers have embraced sound as a way to stand out on the platform. Sometimes, brand sounds even become “sonic memes,” aka they go viral on their own. According to amp, they can drive recognition, even if the sound doesn’t mention the brand name.

The agency had 75 Gen Zers listen to a handful of brand sounds, several of which have gone viral, like the old Windows XP startup sound and Burger King’s “Whopper Whopper.” More than three-quarters of the respondents (81%) said they recognized viral or meme sounds, compared to 41% who said the same of the non-meme sounds.

Plus, Gen Zers correctly named the brand associated with a meme sound without being provided with a list of options to choose from 54% of the time. One-quarter (25%) were able to do the same with the non-meme sounds.

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“It’s really about just creating it, and then handing it over to Gen Z,” Rex Hirschhorn, a research and insights consultant for amp, told Marketing Brew. “This age group has this incredible desire to not just listen and be like, ‘Oh yeah, the brand has a sonic identity or a sonic logo.’ Actually, they take it and they make a meme like that. They do what they want with it, they create it, they mix it. It’s self-propelling, really.”

Best of the rest

Gen Z’s favorite brands aren’t necessarily the ones with the highest sonic branding scores, which amp calculates based on a variety of factors, like whether or not the brand has a sonic logo, how often it’s used, and if the brand uses owned or licensed music. For instance, Mastercard, an amp client, got the highest score overall, at 74.4, per amp’s 2023 Best Audio Brands report. (Mastercard has long held the top spot.)

But, of the brands on Morning Consult’s list of Gen Z favorites, the highest sonic score was Nintendo’s, at 52.8. PlayStation had the second highest sonic score of Gen Z’s favorite brands, followed by Capri-Sun, Sephora, and KitKat.

“Kids like sugary sweets, and kids like to play video games,” Hirschhorn said. “Branding can enhance this to a next level. The question is: Can they stay with those same demographics as they get older? That’s going to be where I think sonic branding probably makes its largest impact.”

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