Netflix recently expanded on its audio logo for cinematic presentation. You’ve heard the original many times before. It’s that signature percussive tone that precedes all their original content. And for this job, they brought in the big guns. They recruited film score veteran Hans Zimmer to bring some buildup and weight to their existing sonic identity.
It sounds fantastic, and I think he did a great job, and while I think it’s certainly a step up compositionally, I’m going to play devil’s advocate and explain why this may not have been the best move from an audio branding standpoint.
In the world of audio branding, frequency and consistency are crucial. It’s how your sound becomes part of the public consciousness. Somehow Netflix’s audio brand recall has always been disproportionate to its frequency. Often in my talks and presentations I’ll play a little game with the audience where I play an established audio logo and ask them to guess who it represents, and it’s very interesting to see their reactions. Everyone gets McDonald’s right away. HBO clicks in pretty quickly (most of us expect to hear the Game of Thrones theme right after it). 20th Century Fox is a fun one. I don’t even play the whole thing. That opening drum roll alone is enough bring people straight to the movie theatre. Netflix tends to leave people scratching their heads. This is not good. People watch Netflix shows all the time – often multiple times a day. This should be burned into everyone’s consciousness. So why isn’t it?
For starters, the best testing and most memorable audio brands tend to have a simple, accessible, and sometimes catchy melody. Everybody knows the audio identities of McDonald’s, Intel, and Old Spice. Melodic audio logos outperform non-melodic ones in testing by 15%, and with 25% higher recall (Veritonic). Netflix’s audio logo in its original form is just a single tone with a percussive knock. Hans Zimmer’s new contribution certainly adds a more musical quality, and a grand one at that, but it still doesn’t provide any memorable theme. And this is consistent with his approach. He’s a master of setting the tone and creating an atmosphere, but most of us couldn’t hum one of his melodies if we were asked.
There was never much to the audio logo in its original form. It’s just kind of a knock with a little tonal trail following it. It’s a good sound, but I’ve never felt it connected to Netflix’s brand. An audio brand that precedes cinematic programming should create excitement, signify quality, and/or connect you to the brand and experience. Netflix’s current audio signature never really achieved any of that. At Tyton, we go through a process of identifying brand traits, values, goals, etc. and translating them into sound. If you’ve taken steps to ensure that your sound is congruent to your brand, the two should almost be inseparable. This may be one of the reasons it has never really clicked with the public. But don’t just take my word for it…
The numbers speak as well. Netflix’s audio signature has never tested very well. It tested below average in Veritonic’s 2020 Audio Logo Index both in the US and UK.
Hans Zimmer is a brilliant composer, and I’ve always loved the way he blends composition with sound design. I’ve learned a lot watching (hearing) his movies. If you need someone to set the tone and create atmosphere in your film, there’s no one better. But at the same time, he’s a composer, and not a brand specialist. I suspect they brought him in more for his star power as opposed to any expertise in creating a sonic strategy. His contribution certainly adds a lot of buildup and weight to the existing Netflix audio logo. It does feel much more cinematic now, and hopefully this will create more of a sense of anticipation and excitement for some of their content. But again, frequency is one of the key ingredients in bringing a sound signature into the public consciousness. Is it a smart enhancement, or a band-aid solution? Time will tell if this move will pay off, or if they should go back to the drawing board.