While George Lucas receives a lot of criticism for dialog and directing, his contribution to audio crafting is nothing short of mastery. Sure the words spoken in the Star Wars films aren’t the greatest of all time, but the sounds of those words and surrounding environments are undeniably iconic. As organizations consider their brand’s portrayal to audiences, they could learn a lot by listening to Lucasfilm's achievement—after all, it’s the most familiar phonic franchise in the galaxy.
Movies attempt to immerse us with characters and settings—and in the era of CG, great effort and expense are applied to the visuals. At the end of a flick, as you wait for the post-credit scene foreshadowing the next canon release, watch the miles* of names dedicated towards graphics scrolling by. But visual is only part of the equation. Over the years, Hollywood has developed a library of iconic earworms. In science fiction alone, we’ve heard some contenders such as Star Trek’s automatic sliding door “swish” or the teleportation’s bendy chime. But does any cinematic universe possess as many highly identifiable noises as Star Wars?
Before getting to the innovative created audio snippets, think about the distinctive delivery and cadence of the most well-known humanoids. There are Luke’s “ah-shucks” sheltered farm boy whine, Han’s smart-ass smuggler inflection, Lando’s smooth-operator vibe, and the Emperor’s evil raspy “rise”. All of these tones are calculated to intentionally establish a desired perception with its intended audience. The sounds are characteristic elements in their own right designed to represent the identity and values perceived by those who are listening. Brands similarly have listeners, but most organizations neglect the importance of aligning their audio field to their organization’s self-being and fail to do it with distinction.
The Star Wars universe further transmits an identifiable aural brand by offering an orchestra of unique sound effects. Without seeing anything, fans can immediately and easily recognize R2D2’s comical bleep blorps, a TIE Fighter’s flyby whirl, Vader’s ominous breathing, and a lightsaber’s buzz and crackling. We can even “Name That Tune in One Note” when it comes to John Williams’s Main Title score. If you’re a brand manager when you close your eyes, can you clearly hear any of your organization’s sounds? If so, do they accurately represent who you are and what you do? Think about Chewbacca’s gravely yowl. It’s not just a repurposed bear growl. It’s not a sound of one-dimensional aggression. It conveys warm and empathy and an element of friendliness, which is his persona. Brands too have the opportunity to associate their sounds with their desired identity.
A brand is something that emerges in the mind of the audience. It’s perception. And once it’s alive great care must be taken to sustain and nurture what’s expected. I imagine that J.J. Abrams and the new crews felt a palpable responsibility to maintain the audio esthetic established by the previous films, as a departure would have felt “off brand.”
Does your brand have a signature sound? Does it exemplify your aspired personality? During brand development and ongoing brand management, marketers often fall short by not including the sense of hearing. But if an organization wants to create an emotional connection with their audience and optimize their communications, they should consider and command the brand experience across all human senses in a proprietary fashion.
And if you think it’s not that big of a deal, have you seen how many “Pew-Pew” Star Wars t-shirts there are? That’s the sound of a laser gun. But I didn’t need to tell you that, ‘cause you know good branding when you see it, or hear it.
*parsecs if you prefer