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Opinion and Insight

The Changing Sound of Car Advertising: From Petrol Prowess to Quiet Cruising

Golley Slater and SNK Studios discuss how automotive advertisers are adapting their sound for the future of car design

The Changing Sound of Car Advertising: From Petrol Prowess to Quiet Cruising

As we move into a greener and more environmentally conscious future, we’re seeing a rise in sustainable vehicles and travel. Hybrid and electric cars are becoming more prevalent and, characterised by quiet engines and mechanics, advertisers are unable to rely on sound design centred on roaring engines that is typical of traditional petrol car adverts. Creatives and Sound Designers have had to adapt their approach to showcase the features of these vehicles, leading to an evolving sound of car advertising.

Manufacturer of the UK’s best-selling plug-in electric vehicle, Mitsubishi Motors, has worked closely with creative agency Golley Slater Cardiff, Amanda Lowit at the TV Production Office and Audio Post Production house SNK Studios over the last five years to craft campaigns for its cars.

We talk to David Abbott, Head of Creative at agency Golley Slater and Sam Dillon, Senior Audio Producer, SNK Studios to find out how brand visions are changing and what sound trends are emerging on commercials for hybrid vehicles.

Q> How important a role does audio play on car commercials? Do the SFX have ahigher volume than music for example, in comparison to other ads?

Sam, Senior producer at SNK Studios> When choosing a car, people buy with their hearts, and audio is generally the most effective way of getting to that emotional response almost instantaneously. The right sounds and careful balance that can help convey the freedom and sense of adventure offered by a vehicle, or an air of class and aspiration, reinforce the ground-breaking tech features or highlight the precision and power under the bonnet. Certainly, the balance of music – and in that I'd include abstract sound design – to aggressive sound effects associated with the more traditional car ads is totally different on Hybrid or electric powered models. In the UK there are also restrictions on how fast the car can seem to be moving in an ad, and audio can play a big part in giving a sense of pace or slowing things down if needed. So striking the right balance and appealing to a more environmentally conscientious audience is always at the forefront of whatever goes into the track-lay.

Q> David, Mitsubishi Motors continue to be the fastest growing car brand in the UK for the third year running – what do you think has been key to their success in this area?

David, Head of Creative at Golley Slater> From an agency perspective, we try hard to get the brand to stand out, that’s vital in a very saturated market. Many automotive commercials stick within the generic tropes of the classic ‘car ad’. So, with every brief, we aim to create something that is more than just a collection of beautiful, gleaming product shots, but has an idea and concept behind it. We are lucky to have, in Mitsubishi Motors in the UK, a client that backs interesting ideas and understands that, in addition to great car photography, you also need a story that gives cars some personality!

Our sound briefs always stress the desire to stand out in addition to the production of visuals.

Q> Petrol engine cars are traditionally advertised by the roar of their engines. Comparatively, the engines of hybrid cars are increasingly quieter. How do you translate these new concepts into sound when you are briefing an audio post company / agency?

DA> This was actually a tricky issue to start with because traditionally the sound of an engine gives the car a huge amount of presence and also helps to bring realism and richness to what you are seeing on screen. So, of course, when working on campaigns without it, it was strange at first. But now, as technology shifts towards becoming more environmentally friendly and efficient, it works in our favour.


Q> Can you talk to us about the creative on ‘The Leader’? What inspired the mythical / black magic angle?

DA> At the time, the Outlander PHEV had just been announced as the biggest selling Plug-in Hybrid vehicle in the country, and what bigger statement than saying you are the king of ALL the ‘Hybrids’? To give the spot a really epic feel, we created our hybrid characters based on historical mythology. We wanted the ad to feel otherworldly, earthy and visceral with the sound element playing a huge part in bringing it to life.

Q> Sam, it seems there’s a lot of atmospheric, technical SFX in 'The Leader' and yet the car itself is relatively quiet. How do you approach that?

SD> To convey the movement and power of the vehicle we used more interpretive and conceptual sound design – we  created lots of original transitional effects, like textured whooshes, filtered sweeps and techy noises. Rob Baker, the wonderful Sound Designer on the job even reversed 'ghost' breaths to give it a spooky and organic quality! That was all then carefully balanced with a beautiful piece of music to help create a unique character. This is a very different approach to the 'engine led projects' we’ve worked on where the sheer roar of the car takes centre stage, for example the recent Aston Martin Valkyrie spot we sound designed, which were definitely aggressive engine sound-beds first and foremost, the music is really there just to support the energy of the car noise!

Q> David, How important to you is it to have an experienced and knowledgeable Audio Post company on board for your commercials?

DA> Making ads is a really collaborative process. We’ve worked with the guys at SNK Studios many times and they always get our briefs spot on. In SNK we've got really talented Sound Designers who have the experience to understand what your requirements are and can bring a scene to life in a way you didn’t expect.

Q> Sam, SNK have worked on Mitsubishi’s Channel 4 Idents for years. What was the brief and how has the sound evolved?

SD> Yes, we've been really lucky. The ‘Incorporating Life’ idents we worked on recently were brilliant fun - the concept is so unique and unlike anything else we've worked on. The brief was to create a textured sound-bed to help communicate the movement and absorption of the everyday objects as they are pulled towards the car. It was important that each vehicle spot had its own characteristic sounds reflecting the object and environment featured on screen - from inflatable crocodiles of the ASX to the snowboards of the Shogun Sport. These everyday objects were represented by augmented, twisted sound design elements - heavily manipulated so as to reinforce the surreal visuals. It was however, key to the brief that the idents felt like one cohesive set – all uber cool, unique in tone and bang on brand. So we created a heavily stylised two part sound-bed; part atmospheric pad and part drone, that evolves and moves under the SFX and voice that we could apply across all the idents, tying them all together.


Q> Sam, what do you find is the most interesting sounds for car advertising? Have you ever had to use something really off the wall?

SD> Oh definitely, all the time. Often the sound the viewer expects to hear has nothing to do with the sound something makes in reality. The guys will take the time to try all sorts of unexpected elements before settling on just the right combination – it's all about filling the full frequency spectrum and understanding what’s going to cut through on the final media. For example, for engine sounds we've deployed everything from gorilla roars, lion snarls and fighting rhinos to add growl and menace. Reverb tails of glassy noises (a bit like smashing a glass in a massive cave then reversing it!) to pick out the light reflections on paintwork, that can add a sense of quality and texture to close-ups. Personally, I’m a sucker for a crisp gear change... It's like cooking - for a juicy gear change – just add rounded thuds and body impacts to sword shimmers!
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Category: Automotive , Cars

Genre: Idents , Music & Sound Design , Strategy/Insight