Are Sonic Trademarks the Next Frontier in Fashion Branding?


In recent years, fashion brands have launched podcasts in an effort to reach consumers in an ever-growing number of mediums, and the pandemic has brought this trend to a climax. In the wake of the first immersion in the game of podcasting in 2017 through its “3.55” series, for example, last year Chanel introduced a new podcast venture called “Chanel Connects”, in which the French fashion house offers intimate conversations. on the future of culture with the likes of Pharrell, director Lulu Wang, editorial director Edward Enninful and curator Andrew Bolton, among others. Not long after, Balmain launched “L’Atelier Balmain”, Versace launched “Medusa Power Talks” and Dior debuted “ABCDior”, while Maison Margiela, Gucci and Hermès also boast their own podcasts.

In addition to serving to educate and captivate consumers through their audio endeavors, brands are still bolstering their already strong digital and, in some cases, print ad campaigns, at a time when in-person events like fashion shows are struggling to find. once again a place in the post-pandemic landscape. At the same time, brands are also starting to look for alternative ways to market and interact with consumers, especially younger ones, that are perfectly suited to the zeitgeist. This, of course, is prompting companies to experiment with things like social shopping and live streaming, and is seeing the former like Gucci, Balenciaga, adidas, and Nike enter into partnerships with gaming brands like Fortnite and Roblox or efforts on metaverse platforms. such as Decentraland and Sandbox.

It is likely that this push towards audio that has been established in fashion (and beyond) to some extent by podcasts and advertising in the form of video clips living on social media platforms, will continue and develop further. This is not simply due to the considerable amount of time consumers spend on social media platforms and in the digital realm more generally. Beyond that, there is likely a welcome home for sound branding (i.e., the sounds or songs associated with a brand, product, or service) in the so-called metaverse, which is the developing phenomenon that combines immersive virtual reality, massive multi-platform online gaming for gamers and various other aspects of the web, and which should amount to a fully immersive online experience should it ever be fully realized.

In this context, there is something companies may want to consider as they plan their next moves on the branding front in the metaverse: a specific extension of their brand’s audio via sound brands. “With consumers moving rapidly to more audio-centric lives, brands increasingly seek to play to develop deeper customer relationships,” according to Veritonic. The New York-based audio marketing agency works with companies to create what it calls “audio logos,” which include everything from “a custom melody when you turn on your car to a unique sound that plays when you buy something. in a shop”. Such audio brands can also be turned into branded podcasts.

And it turns out that many brands – from Elon Musk’s Amazon, Audi and Hyperloop to Jergens, Gilette and Wayfair – are working on distinctive sonic bites to help solidify in the minds of consumers. In light of the large-scale adoption of social media and e-commerce by consumers (including those who did not interact with the web in such extraordinary ways before the onset of the pandemic), coupled with the sustained use of ads video by brands and the obvious potential for audio uses when it comes to budding virtual initiatives of brands, the use of sound as an indicator of the source “makes perfect sense,” says digital media strategist Moti Grauman. “It aligns with the breaking of clutter and is synchronized with the need to reach consumers multiple times” – and in more ways – “across platforms.”

“Your brand’s sound is now as important as your visual identity,” echoes Lucas Murray of Made Music Studio, a global sound design and branding studio that counts as clients on American Express, Disney and HBO, among others. “The simple fact is that if you want to get into people’s brains, hearts and wallets now, you’ve got to have a strong, well-designed audio presence.”

Sonic trademarks and sound protection

Regarding the protection of sounds as trademarks, the United States Patent and Trademark Office, for example, recognizes sounds as trademarks if those sounds are not functional and serve to indicate the source of a party’s goods and / or services ( that is, “to create in the mind of the listener an association of sound with a good or service”). Therefore, “If a sound makes consumers think of a company’s product or service, it is eligible for trademark registration in United States and other countries, “says Diane J. Mason, partner of Faegre Drinker.

The same is true in the European Union, where last year the Court ruled in a lawsuit that sounds are, in fact, protectable as trademarks, and subject to the same criteria as other categories of trademarks. In particular, the Court held that sound brands, in order to be registered, “must have a certain resonance that allows consumers to perceive [the sound] as a brand and not as a functional component or indicator of intrinsic characteristics “.

Reflecting on the court’s decision in a case resulting from the failed attempt by German beverage manufacturer Ardagh Metal Beverage to record the sound of a soft drink or can of beer being opened as a sound mark, Graf Isola Rechtsanwälte GmbH lawyer Claudia Csaky stated last summer that the key element in the eyes of the court was “the perception of sound by interested consumers”. A sound mark “must be able to convey the commercial origin of the products on its own without the support of verbal elements, images or other marks,” he says, noting that, although it is not impossible, it nevertheless appears “rather difficult to overcome the obstacle. distinctive character ”in the context of sound.

(In that case, the General Court upheld the European Union Intellectual Property Office’s determination that the sound in question is intrinsically linked to the use of the products in question, namely carbonated soft drinks and beer. , the average consumer is unlikely to consider the opening and bubbly sound of a beverage can as an indicator of the source of specific branded products, thus eliminating sound marks from the table.)

While the sound of an opening drink will likely not be adopted as a source indication role in any of the many fashion podcasts or their budding metaverse endeavors, a spoken version of the slogan, “It’s all a matter of seconds,” for example. , which Chanel uses in its J12 watch advertisements, doesn’t look extravagant. Ultimately, it’s not hard to imagine brands coming up with – and seeking and enforcing recordings for – sound brands of their own to include in their often already robust brand arsenals.

This article was initially published in July 2021, but has been updated to consider the role that sound branding and corresponding brands can play in the metaverse.

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