Ever paid heed to the lilting tune at an HDFC ATM as the machine speaks to you? Been mesmerised at the recent advertisements of Raymond, where the fine melody intertwines with the fabric and lapels and the buttons do a merry dance?

That is sonic branding for you, also sometimes called audio branding or acoustic branding.

The practice of using auditory elements to brand your product or service is gaining ground in India, but entrepreneur Rajeev Raja has been strumming the tune for some time.

“It is the use of sound to reinforce your brand identity, just as you would certain colours or words,” he says.

If you have ever felt the beats of a power ballad in your heart, or felt the hair rise on the back of your neck listening to some soulful music, you know how evocative sound can be.

Rajeev, an advertising veteran for 25 years, decided to give brands a little finetuning.

“My last paid position was National Creative Director of (advertising agency) DDB Mudra,” he grins, “though I have been a professional musician all my life.”

Earlier in Bengaluru, Rajeev had his own band. Once he moved to Mumbai in 1989, he played with the likes of Fazal Qureshi, Shankar Mahadevan, Salim Sulaiman and Taufiq Qureshi.




Passion for music

“Music and advertising have always been interrelated,” says Rajeev, adding: “They are like two parallel tracks. I have always been passionate about music though a management position (at an ad firm) did take over that passion.”

Rajeev was at a concert at a multi-million dollar advertising pitch event. And that was when the proverbial coin sank and he decided it was time to march to the beat of his own drum.

“We have only one life. I had to take a call on the most important thing I wanted to do in life. And music won, hands down,” he says.

Though Rajeev decided it was the right time to strike a chord, the actual drum roll had started a little earlier, when he realised his flute-playing technique was suffering. Advertising had also lost its charm. Voicing his concern to his friend JS Mani, President of DDB Mudra, and engaging in umpteen jam sessions on the creative aspects behind advertising and music helped.

The duo decided to look at music as a strategic brand asset. Not just in terms of a jingle, or for communication, but as a brand identity. BrandMusiq was born, in early 2012.

As Rajeev says, it is all about bringing the synergy of brands in music.

For most marketers and business owners, the easiest way to imagine a brand is by visualising logos, specific colours, and even popular marketing materials. However, Rajeev insists there’s more to a company than looks.

Sonic branding, he says, is about making sure that your organisation is ‘heard’, as well as seen, for building a brand with sounds and music that align perfectly with the brand attributes in an incredible way to give greater depth. “Brand identity should subtly grow on its own. That’s the whole concept of an identity. Just like visual identity, sublimely it is there, all around you. If you walk into an HDFC Bank, you will spot the colours and see the brand logo. Brands have a subtle visual identity, similarly for music. It is not necessarily as engaging as a jingle, but much more subtle and reflects the presence and persona of the brand,” says Rajeev.

A ‘sound’ strategy

Speaking about the science of sound, he explains: “We know in Indian raag , there is morning raag , afternoon raag and evening raag . These are different moods, created by different combination of notes and tempos. Similarly, in western classical music too, when you listen to the Four Seasons by Vivaldi, you will see and feel the spring season. There’s a science,” he insists. Rajeev says a certain emotional impression can be created, either happy or aggressive, with combination of sounds.

Little did Rajeev know this would be a ‘sound’ strategy for business growth.

Sonic branding turned out to be an opportunity to be part of the symphony of the modern world. Rajeev and Mani decided to pool in their resources and started with a paid-up capital of ₹1 lakh.

Though the initial two years did not generate much business, the duo ploughed on. The main hurdle was getting used to the change of mindset.

“From getting a fairly attractive paycheck at the beginning of every month to the uncertainty of zero income living is quite a scary proposition. But I had a couple of things going for me. Wife Meera (working) fully understood my burning need to pursue a life which revolved around music,” he says. Creative firm DDB Mudra, where Rajeev was working, also offered him a creative consultant’s role that helped with the transition. This lasted 18 months. After witnessing a fair degree of success with BrandMusiq, Rajeev decided it was time to take the plunge.

“In our interactions with clients in the initial years, even though we had some starts and stops, one thing came through loud and clear: everyone was excited by our idea and felt it had great potential. Now, it was a question of converting that excitement into tangible business,” says Rajeev.

The breakthrough

The earliest breakthrough was with Cadbury Eclairs, J&J and Standard Chartered Global. “Cadbury was one of the first to give us an opportunity to do something. We did work for Cadbury Eclairs and for Johnsons and Johnsons’ Clean & Clear. Though we got paid, for various reasons the work never really saw the light of day,” he adds.

Slowly BrandMusiq started cruising with a blue-chip client list including Vistara, Tata Salt, CNN News 18, IndusInd Bank, Raymond, Myntra, and the sonic branding for HDFC Bank.

Suddenly, life stepped in, and decided to change the tune.

“End 2015, Mani, my partner, mentor and best friend passed away due to a sudden heart attack. This was a huge personal loss and a significant setback to the momentum we had built up,” says Rajeev.

It was then another childhood friend and former JWT MD, Ajit Varma, stepped in, “helping maintain the books, taking care of corporate legal issues that come with a company Director’s passing, and immersing in the ongoing projects.”

Ajit, also an advertising veteran, decided to join BrandMusiq as Co-Founder/CEO. “The synergies work perfectly, that of his practical business mind and my creative, over-imaginative one,” maintains Rajeev.

While earlier it was necessary to drum into people’s head the concept of branding and music, Rajeev insists he has dealt with “some fantastic content over the years.”

And while a compelling sound, just like the right logo or graphics, can set a brand apart, even as it enhances recall, evokes emotion, and strengthens affinity, Rajeev says being an entrepreneur is way better than dancing to someone else’s tune.

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