Multisensory Series #4 – Sound

The Greek Stoic philosopher Epictetus was recorded by his pupil Arrian in the latter’s Discourses as teaching “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”

Never a truer word was spoken.

As anyone that’s ever listened to us evangelise on multisensory marketing and advertising (MsMA) can no doubt vouch, we’re particularly fond of reminding clients that very few of us live, work or play in a vacuum.  As a result, we’re constantly surrounded by all sorts of multisensory stimuli.  It’s just the majority aren’t usually ones conducive to whatever it is we’re trying to achieve, even if that’s achieving peace and quiet.

When it comes to sound, which is what we’ll be considering here, the complete absence of it is not actually that relaxing.  If you’ve ever had the debatable pleasure of being in an anechoic chamber — a room designed to absorb reflections of sound, whilst being insulated from exterior sources of noise to simulate a quiet open-space of infinite dimension — you’ll know first hand that the absence of auditory stimuli is rather disconcerting.  We built one once.  It was so well insulated, when standing in it one could hear the blood coursing through one’s veins, throbbing in the ears.  All somewhat disturbing.

In fact, our brains receive so many subtle cues from what our ears pick up, that a great deal of our conscious and unconscious moods and behaviour are attributable to what we hear.

At this stage, let us make clear that what we’re referring to is hearing as opposed to listening.  It’s a gross oversimplification, but hearing is the brain’s perception of sound by the ear; as opposed to listening, which obviously requires hearing, but is a conscious action requiring concentration to enable the brain to process meaning.

Most of us are familiar with the palpable excitement experienced when listening to a well-liked song.  It is this ability of carefully crafted audio to affect users’ actions that should be of great interest to our industry.

Music has been used in this way for years and even something as simple as a playlist can have a significant impact on those within earshot (see the infographic below, courtesy of Alternatives Finder), but the use of non-musical audio is far more interesting.  This is especially true when one understands how sound can have an impact on our organ and tissue systems, with the proactive use of sound being able to elicit increased and decreased heart rates, specific electrical impulses in the brain and the production of key neurotransmitters.

music infographic

Such methodologies are already in place, with examples to be found hiding in the most mundane of places.  Take the sound of a car door closing, for example.  That reassuring ‘clunk, thud, click’  (or whatever sound your cars’ doors make) may be something you take for granted, but it’s likely to be the audible product of over a dozen carefully curated micro-events, resulting in an expertly tuned calibre chord that speaks volumes, if you’ll excuse the pun, about the build quality, attention to detail, luxury and safety of the vehicle you’re sitting in.

To Epictetus, all external events were determined by fate, and thus beyond our control.  By taking hold of people’s two ears — figuratively speaking, of course — it turns out we can get some of that control back.