It has surely been a difficult time for commercial airlines in the past couple of years due to covid, energy crisis and climate impact. The current situation calls for new ideas, new approaches and new ways of attracting customers. This means making the airline seem more appealing as well as improving the actual travel experience. To a great extent the right sonic branding can have a postive effect.
Take it slow
There are a lot of touchpoints for a passenger during the interaction with an airline. Besides the pure branding purpose sound can also help mend the ache of the seemingly endless waiting time that many people associate with air travel. A study shows that slow-tempo background music reduces perceived waiting time and enhances relaxation - useful when waiting to board a plane. Air France has taken this one step further and turned the chill-knob up to 11 and released meditation tracks for both adults and kids on their proprietary app. This may lead your mind to Brian Eno’s work “Ambient 1: Music For Airports” from 1978 which could without a doubt work excellent as music for meditation as well as soothing a restless traveler.
Let's get physical
Digitalization has given birth to the so-called silent travelers, who avoid physical interaction with the airline until they get on the plane. Therefore a crucial touchpoint is the boarding event when travelers are entering the plane and subsequently waiting for take-off, as this is the first point of physical contact. In 2021 Singapore Airlines had a new sonic identity made that has its main focus on the physical interaction between travelers and the airline. They created a sort of “journey music” to accompany passengers along their travel, consisting of three 10-minute pieces of instrumental music called “Lounge Music”, “Boarding Music”, and “Landing Music”. Of course a complete sonic identity was made to cover all brand touchpoints that use sound such as customer service, social media and apps, but they keep the physical touchpoints as their main focus.
The way the sonic identity was conceived is quite interesting. Singapore Airlines got a new visual identity involving flowers native to Singapore, and the music is directly inspired by that, using technology to “translate” the flowers to different musical elements and then composing the final pieces from those. This is obviously a very literal method of creating music that connects to the brand and it can definitely work. But there is always a risk of the music being too constructed and maybe even forced upon without reflecting the true personality of the brand. A fine balance for any sonic brand.
Another approach is that of British Airways. In 1984 they started using “The Flower Duet” from the 1883 opera Lakmé by Léo Delibes (the brand version of the piece is known simply as Lakmé) for their TV commercials and did so until around 2011.
It remained in use afterwards in more “background” formats like the in-flight safety video, until it returned to commercials in late 2020. Through the years it has been remixed and reappropriated several times, but it has always been recognizable as Lakmé. That is quite a long period of relying on the same core piece of music for your branding purposes and the thing that really sets it apart from Singapore Airlines and others is that the music existed before British Airlines began using it. It was appropriated rather than created for the purpose. It could be argued that using a piece of existing music for your branding purposes is not ideal and that it will not fit the brand, but it worked out great for British Airways thanks to years of exposure and repetition. But is it the sound of air travel? It was not conceived as that, but apart from now being connected to British Airlines, it has a gentle flow and a lightness that lends itself well to the feeling of air travel and relaxing holidays. And on top of that classical music will, by most people, be associated with quality and the finer things in life. So all in all Lakmé works just fine for British Airways as any tailored brand music would.
Make aviation great again
Through our extensive research we can conclude that the sonic focus for most airlines (including those mentioned here) is on orchestral/classical music and/or regional characteristics such as native instruments or music styles. This makes good sense because classical music can convey an elevating, flowing and maybe even flying sensation, and regional characteristics can set a brand apart by clearly connecting it to a specific culture and legacy.
Aviation brands are complex and the overall amount of touchpoints for airlines towards customers is quite big comprising mobile apps, website, social media, TV commercials, customer service, events, airport lounges and the whole experience from boarding the plane to exiting it again. Travelers spend a long time between home and their destination and because of climate change awareness, air travel has become less and less desirable. So airlines need to re-connect with their customers on an emotional level in order to make the experience engaging and as pleasant as possible. Music and sound can certainly help with that as a consistent and holistic sonic identity creates trust among consumers - something which the airlines strive for these days. And trust will ultimately strengthen brand perception and customer retention.