The recent news that Google Chrome is looking to allow web users to automatically mute the sound on all web video ads is the latest activity to free consumers from receiving ad messages as they mine through political insights, sports gossip and pop culture. Sure, the visual remains. But let’s face it: When you cut the sound, you cut the impact.
The absence of sound often means the absence of drama, emotion and effect, whether in an ad or otherwise. Think of how a scary movie struggles to generate that nail-biting tension with no sound. Imagine the legendary movie “Jaws” without the “bump-bump, bump-bump, bump-bump” buildup music as the fish approaches the boat. Pretty sedate -- I wouldn’t have had to cancel my beach vacations all those years!
Audio possesses special qualities in the way it works neurologically, generating a rapid and direct ability to activate the brain’s sensory, emotional and memory networks – certainly more so than visual stimuli. One report says the mind can understand a spoken word 30 percent faster than it can process the printed word.
Our company was trying to convince a restaurant brand of the power of sound vs. the power of sight in helping to market their core dishes. They felt they had to “show” consumers what their food looked like. Our argument was that a picture of, say, a hamburger, limited the consumers’ perception – they either liked the look or they didn’t. But with sound, whether it was the sizzle on the grill, or the sound of someone biting into a scrumptious morsel, consumers’ perceptions can be enhanced beyond reality if they are not forced to see. If you can trust consumers to let their minds formulate what they want to perceive, based on sound, then you’ve created a strong marketing environment. That’s what we refer to as Theater of the Mind.
The power of sound is so strong that marketers buy radio spots even when they know they may be buried in the middle or end of a long commercial stop set. While some companies, like ours, make a living out of getting clients’ content away from the commercial clutter, some marketers believe some sense of brand awareness hits even the semi-engaged consumer as long as that sound is present.
While Google Chrome’s mute function appears detrimental to the advertising industry’s ability run effective messaging, in some backwards fashion, it confirms the power of sound. Giving people the option not to hear and, in effect, not be swayed by an ad says it all.
Google Chrome’s mute setting, incidentally, is not confined to web ads -- all sound can be muted. But from an advertising standpoint, withhold the power of that sound, and the visual is useless. Google Chrome might have done a service to consumers, but it also unwittingly confirmed that marketers need to make audio a larger chunk of their marketing mix in all the other spaces where it can’t go silent.