• Transform magazine
  • June 06, 2020

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Talking drums

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Using percussion to communicate Axel Springer’s brand positioning of freedom, integrity and open-mindedness, why do birds built an audio brand full of rhythm. Its implementation across the publisher’s digital touchpoints has enhanced the richness of the brand’s communications

In 1946 Berlin, freedom was not something to be taken for granted. Publisher Axel Springer set out to build a publishing company that would be straight-talking, creative, open-minded and free. With a headquarters abutting the Berlin Wall and overlooking East Berlin, the road was not necessarily an easy one. But, a corporate rebrand and audio brand has propelled the media company into digital publishing with a sense of self and a determination to retain its integrity.

Most widely known for its tabloid Bild and for newspaper Die Welt, Axel Springer has followed the beat of its own drum since its founding. That was something Superunion and why do birds tapped into in the development of the new brand. Superunion, which developed the corporate brand, depicted words as if they were being typed out and used a colourful ribbon as a means of uniting the brand and delivering key messages.

But, when why do birds first discussed audio for the new logo animation, the results weren’t exemplary. “It was really unsatisfactory for everybody because what we did was add the typing of the letters as they were asking for,” Alexander Wodrich, MD of Berlin-based audio brand agency why do birds, says. The brand had a digital future and the typewriter sounds left it stuck in the past. That dilemma prompted a greater understanding of the purpose of an audio brand alongside the development of a wider brand, rather than just adding sound to a logo animation. Once the company understood what the audio brand would offer in terms of a strengthening of its ability to communicate digitally, it tasked why do birds with building its sonic brand.

After a workshop with CEO Mathias Döpfner, why do birds began working with brand attributes like ‘daring,’ ‘bold,’ and ‘rebellious.’ Alongside an experimental and minimalistic visual identity, those key words provided the foundation for the development of the audio brand. “We quickly found out they’re not like most brands that are very careful when they do something,” Wodrich says. “They want to be very forward-driving and rebellious. We liked that and we tried to find a way to convey that in our sound.”

The notion of freedom remained important throughout the brand’s history and also during the audio brand development. Jan Bauer, a member of the corporate communications team at Axel Springer, says, “In conjunction with its visual design, the audio design was supposed to be creative and rebellious – like Axel Springer. That’s why our objective was to focus on the very fundamentals of our offering: content.”

And that content was bold. It was loud. And it was digital. “When we heard how rebellious and daring they were, we knew this had to be something that sounded really rhythmic, offbeat and not straightforward.” It was a clear logical step from that positioning to a focus on rhythm and percussion. The first step why do birds took was to dub a video of founder Axel Springer with percussive sounds, lending each word a sound. “It was a little awkward at first,” Wodrich says. “But we went on to discover that you can have different syllables or different vowels or consonants connect to different rhythmic sounds. Add all that together and we had something like talking drums and that was really good.”

The percussive focus helped the brand express its positioning around the freedom of speech clearly through its audio brand. There were multiple, varying rhythms and sounds – expressing the notion of freedom –but they were still cohesive due to the focus on percussion. Bauer says, “The focus on percussion vividly embodies our brand: like Axel Springer, it’s dynamic, fast-paced and bold. At the same time it works well with the ‘impulse,’ which is also used in our logo: an icon that not only stimulates and inspires, but also irritates and provides a stage for our brand diversity. The impulse is a pacemaker, represents movement, dynamics, tempo change, going forward, in short: shaping the future. This of course demands an audio brand that can not only keep up but push forward.”

"The focus on percussion vividly embodies our brand: like Axel Springer, it’s dynamic, fast-paced and bold. At the same time it works well with the ‘impulse,’ which is also used in our logo: an icon that not only stimulates and inspires, but also irritates and provides a stage for our brand diversity. The impulse is a pacemaker, represents movement, dynamics, tempo change, going forward, in short: shaping the future. This of course demands an audio brand that can not only keep up but push forward.”

Transform Awards judges were blown away by the effect this had on the brand. They thought the percussion-based audio brand was unique and was well-suited to the corporate brand’s positioning. One said the audio had a “great framework that provides flexibility and breadth. The jazz drummer conveys the idea of the creative source. You don’t know what’s coming, but you know it’ll be good.” Another added that the “percussive approach applies to the business of being a media house all about words. I like the fact that this is a style that can be used and blended.”

The flexible nature of the brand is apparent in even the earliest of brand touchpoints. By overlaying the founder’s words with percussive noises, then assigning sounds to each of the letters in the company’s name, the core of the audio brand makes itself apparent. Across different types of content, the audio brand truly shines. Its ability to flex from a corporate brand film to different styles of reporting is clear. But it is also able to express different emotions and communicate aurally alongside the written word.

The resulting audio brand aligns perfectly to the corporate brand. But it also enables Axel Springer to deliver a richer experience through sound, enriching its digital content. Judges deemed it excellent work and named it the gold award winner in a competitive ‘Best use of audio branding’ category at the 2020 Transform Awards Europe. “It means a lot to us because we know that we are in a tough, competitive space. To see that we’ve continuously been successful and getting gold is absolutely amazing,” Wodrich says.

But the work hasn’t stopped there. “At this very moment we’re still working on extensions of the sound,” Wodrich says. The agency is compiling a sound toolbox comprised of sound snippets that convey different feelings but can be combined in any way to express different themes and emotions. Axel Springer is therefore enabled to create content of any tone with its audio brand. Bauer adds, “With our new visual and audio branding, we are showing Axel Springer for what it is: a media and technology company that successfully shapes the future of relevant and independent media offerings in the digital world. Our corporate identity is a bold interplay of logo, font and colours, the central element of the impulse as well as the audio branding.”

Transitioning from simply applying sound to a logo to an audio brand that can better communicate the brand’s positioning and enrich the experience it delivers means Axel Springer is better prepared for an increasingly digital future. Its heritage relied on the bold ideas of a driven founder, an ethos which is carried through the brand’s positioning, its content, and now, its audio brand.

To get in touch with why do birds, click here.