Brand Insight in association withLBB's Brand Insight Features

“Music is In Our DNA”: O2’s Sonic Soul

Music & Sound
London, UK
O2’s Rachel Swift and MassiveMusic’s Roscoe Williamson explain the ‘digital oxygen’ of sound that breathes life into the mobile network’s brand
Why do we think of something visual when we hear the word ‘logo’? Ever since the golden age of jingles, a brand’s sonic identity has been intimately tied up with what it represents to people. And sonic branding is a concept that creative music agencies like MassiveMusic have taken to new levels. One of its biggest recent projects was working with O2, the UK’s number one mobile network, to launch its sonic identity. Tying in with O2’s mission of helping people ‘feel more alive’, the new sonic identity revolves around human breath as a core element.
MassiveMusic created a distinctive sonic logo, to be used to sign off all the brand’s communications, with many options and variations to allow it to fit in wherever it’s needed. The team also composed and produced a long-form piece of brand music, also inspired by the breathing concept. It’s a comprehensive kit for how the brand sounds moving into the future.
LBB’s Alex Reeves caught up with Roscoe Williamson, creative strategy director at MassiveMusic London, and Rachel Swift, brand and creative director at O2.
LBB> Big question, but what is the role of sonic branding to O2's overall brand?

Rachel> We see our sonic identity as a new layer to our brand, one that can join up customer touchpoints and experiences in a way that none of our other brand assets can. It will allow us to confidently apply our brand to audio-only channels and enhance many of the ways our customers interact with O2 today, both physical and digital. Creatively, we wanted to use audio cues that help our brand come alive and remind people that there’s much more to O2 than just phones. Music is in our DNA, with The O2 and 19 O2 Academy venues, and we wanted to further cement our association with music and give music a key role within our core brand.

LBB> Can you talk about O2's place in music culture?

Rachel> We’re very proud of our music heritage. The O2 changed the live music landscape in the UK and attracts the very best artists from across the world and hosts hundreds of shows every year, making world-class live music more accessible to even more people. And because the venue is seen as the home of live music, so too is our brand. We see this play out when we’re name-checked in songs. From Drake, to Stormzy, to The Weeknd – huge global artists have signposted The O2 as being the pinnacle of a live tour. 

Through our partnership with AEG, we have redefined what it means to be a visitor of an entertainment venue, placing O2 at the heart of the experience. Following the success of The O2 in London, we’ve continued to support live music across the full spectrum and on a more local level with our O2 Academy venues that are seen as an essential part of both the community and an artist’s development. And, on top of all this, we have Priority Tickets, which gives everyone on O2 access to tickets 48 hours before general release, for thousands of shows every year. It’s these sorts of things that help the millions of customers on our base to experience live music. And it’s why O2 has such a strong presence in the live music culture today.

LBB> That connection obviously transcends genres, but what unites the brand's musical identity?

Rachel> We’re very aware that our venues play host to all kinds of artists, so we didn’t want to skew towards any one style or genre. Instead, we started from the brand: our name, O2, and our meaning of being the digital oxygen for peoples’ lives. Rather than using an existing musical reference, our starting point was the sound of human breath. The inhalation of oxygen we take before we jump into life’s most rewarding experiences. Breath is part of our DNA, and it will be the thread that runs through our sonic identity.

LBB> What was the concept and how did it evolve as you were coming up with it and developing it?

Roscoe> O2 were great at allowing us access to interview a range of people from across the business. This process gave us a real sense of how O2 sees itself, and the type of emotions and feelings that we needed to distil into sound. For example, the idea of ‘digital oxygen’ came up in one conversation. This made us think about how the sonic brand needed to be very flexible but also it gave us the beginnings of an overarching concept, the idea of taking breath and making it adaptive and ownable for O2. Regarding how the sonic brand should make you feel, we really focused on expressing the brand message ‘O2 helps us feel more alive’ to the point that we made this a sense check at every stage along the process. If a piece of music or sound design didn't exude freshness or didn't invigorate you in some way, then it didn't make the cut.
LBB> Why did the ‘sonic logo’ need to be adaptive and what were the key decisions and considerations in creating it?

Roscoe> There are many relevant touchpoints for music and sound within the O2 brand ecosystem, but they all have different needs and different desired levels of sonic branding visibility. What I mean by that is that in some areas you want the sonic brand to really cut through and own the space, for example, maybe during a radio commercial offering the latest price offers. But in other areas, say a piece of film content that is more subdued in tone, then the expression of the sonic brand needs to dial down a bit. It is still there and it's still recognisable as the sound of O2, but it's a different incarnation of it - one that is appropriate to the context. The exciting thing is O2 are fully behind this idea and keen to roll it out to its full potential. 
LBB> You mentioned 'sonic experience' in the press release about the new brand identity. How does that go beyond sonic branding?

Roscoe> This is about the way in which sonic branding touchpoints are overlapping and merging at an exponential rate. For example, you now hear product sounds, like a push notification or UI sounds featuring as a hero moment in a TV brand campaign. Also, sonic brands are being deconstructed to the point that their constituent parts make up a much shorter branded sound sets, for example, a series of earcons on a voice experience. Yes, it's still sonic branding but it’s starting to go beyond that, we are entering the realm of sonic experience. There is a need for more nuance and we've designed the sound of O2 with that in mind. 
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