101 Great Minds on
Music, Brands and Behavior


Arne Brekenfeld

Global CEO at MetaDesign


“The market is well educated in the visual territory and most brands are pretty advanced in creating a distinguished and well managed brand design system. Sound, for many years, was totally underestimated.”

Arne Brekenfeld, Global CEO, MetaDesign


Arne Brekenfeld is leading the brand consultancy MetaDesign since 2010 as CEO. He has multiple years of experience in brand communication, strategic planning and brand building, what makes him an expert in those fields. Arne gained comprehensive management and leadership experience in international operating advertising and branding agencies. His emphasis lays in consulting for multinational or global operating corporations and brands.

Reese: Let`s talk about value in sound branding, which the client never sees at first.

Brekenfeld: We started quite early in 1999 to think about sound and music in branding. We thought about the value of sound, and music for brands, and explicitly, how we can use and develop sound, which has its strategic foundation at the core of a brand. We wanted to develop a proprietary set of sounds instead of just evaluating existing music for its brand fit. At that time brands mostly profited from the popularity of songs and celebrity of composers or musicians. We really started thinking about the core of the brand and what it stands for, and then try to define a process, a way of thinking, how we transfer this into a core theme, sound elements, sound logo and further develop it into a broader, recognizable sound system. In the first stage it was really a laboratory. We often did not know whether we would succeed. But we had good people with a great mix of brand and musician background. We established a sound branding department and the first client was Siemens. The project became extremely successful even though there was no methodology how to do it at that time. Siemens was brave enough to take risk because they had the strong feeling, that sound could be a strong differentiator for their brand. They also believed in a strong systematic approach. So, we pretty much started to adapt the process we had established for visual design. We did everything the first time, and there was no blueprint in the market, how to do it. But we really invented something which in a way, opened up a new growth spectrum for sound branding as a differentiator for brands. We made it popular to talk about this systematic approach. Music is not something that just touches you because you like it, but you can create sounds which are strongly linked to the message that you want to send out. The Siemens story and a couple of good speeches attracted other clients like Allianz and Lufthansa. We really started to have that fundamental conversation in the market with people who were absolutely amazed by the potential for emphasizing and differentiating their brand. 

“Sound was never used strategically on brand level. The implementation of sound in dozens of different touchpoints, has gotten brands to really get it.”


Reese: Did these clients originally come to MetaDesign for their visual needs?

Brekenfeld: No, we never did any visual project or work for Allianz, we just did sound. The same with Lufthansa. We started with their sound project and because of its innovative capacity many departments and colleagues were involved. It was a great spirit: once a CMO spontaneously called all the staff together and said, “You all have to come to here, this is the best meeting of the month! Both brands use their sound branding system almost unchanged until today. It is implemented across various touchpoints.   

Reese: What are the challenges you had to face when working with your clients?

Brekenfeld: Sound is still a side topic. It is seen as ad on, so to speak as cherry on the cake of branding. But if you consider the increasing importance of invisible interfaces, i.e. avatars or robots, then sound and voice become incredibly important for brand recognition and expression, perhaps even more important than images. Sounds, music and voice have to be unique and immediately recognizable. The sound system has to be as flexible as possible. The system needs to be open enough to create variety in sounds and music. The most heard killer argument for sound branding systems is that they have too little variability and wear out too quickly. Preventing good sound branding projects are not only clients but also communication agencies. At first, classic ad agencies try to do this by themselves because being creatives, they think it`s their territory. Even a very open and variably designed sound branding system with hundreds of assets are often undermined by agencies because it restricts their sense of creative freedom. Frames and side rails are not as established in sound branding as in the visual brand world. Sound in the agency understanding is to be seen as an amplifier for emotions. Sound therefore primarily supports the story and the creative idea. The relevance of the brand level is often not seen or understood. We see this as our task not to restrict creative freedom or to limit it, but to strengthen the brand perception as much as possible and to ensure recognition. This becomes even more important when the average time spent on a piece of advertising is less than a second today.

Reese: Brands have extremely high visual recall, but zero recall in sound. Where do you think this is going?

Brekenfeld: I couldn`t agree more. On a visual level, many brands are very disciplined, they know about a systematic approach, about defining a DNA. The market is well educated in the visual territory and most brands are pretty advanced in creating a distinguished and well managed brand design system. Sound, for many years, was totally underestimated in its value for the brands, to express certain aspects of the brand. It was mainly used to create a mood and atmosphere and to support the visual story. Sound was never used strategically on brand level. The implementation of sound in dozens of different touchpoints, has gotten brands to really get it. But I think there`s still not enough knowledge about how to do it. Also, sound is a very emotional and individual taste-driven thing, and there are very few people in an organization that really understand and get the value of sound. Sometimes a CEO or CMO likes a song and surprisingly it will appear in the next TV commercial. What often drives the discussion in the right direction is money. Because the media landscape became so fragmented you have to create sound/music for so many different markets, media, devices and applications, of course the cost exploded. The usage rights, reproduction rights, versions, asset production, etc. are so expensive, that companies are looking for a moreefficiently way to create sounds and music. We don´t care if the reasons for a holistic sound approach are financially or efficiency driven. It is the door opener to underline the strategic advantage of an overall sound branding approach. I`ve seen companies that have saved millions by developing their own sound branding system and music libraries.  

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