Sensory design within aviation is becoming more commonplace. Brands are no longer just a visual manifestation of a company, as companies across the world embrace all of the senses to create lasting memories. Whether its fragrance, touch or sound, lasting memories are built when all of the senses fire in unison, with sound and scent being some of the most powerful. 

Etihad has invested in a brand-new sonic identity, which will now be present across virtually everything from boarding music to ringtones which has just won it awards. We take a bit of time out of Etihad’s Vice President Brand, Marketing and Sponsorships’ Amina Taher’s day. 

Thanks for spending the time to talk to us. Can you tell us a little bit about your sonic identity?
Our sonic identity is inspired by our home, Abu Dhabi. It is an expression of who we are: the aviation group that brings the world to the UAE capital. We wear our heritage with pride, and our sonic identity is one of the many ways through which we do this. Our sonic identity was composed by adding layers of instruments that overlap and respond to each other; a technique inspired by Al Sadu, a traditional form of weaving in the UAE.

To start with, we undertook a massive audit of all our environments and examined best practices within and outside the industry. Following this, our partner, Sixime Son developed the sonic DNA or the musical universe for Etihad. From this, the sonic logo was born – the four seconds of music that you hear across all our touchpoints. Musical adaptations were then created for use across our lounges, on board, radio, video, events, and our contact centre. Working together, 18 musicians from the UAE and France adapted the sonic identity. 

It sounds like a big investment in something that may not even be consciously noticed by some passengers. Why did you invest in creating one?
Sonic branding expresses the brand’s values in a language that’s universally understood. There is science behind the lasting power of audio. People remember songs they heard as children, the music their parents listened to and advertising jingles that were aired on the radio and TV. Those memories stay with us for years. 

Audio branding is as important as visual branding. Research has proven that sonic branding drives brand recognition and recall. We recognised that by launching our own unique sonic identity, we could increase brand awareness and establish an emotional connection with our guests. It was an opportunity for us to translate our brand into audio; to convey our story through music. 

Sonic branding can also drive efficiencies. It simplifies the process of choosing and paying for music when producing advertisements and social content because the business already owns these assets. 

Today, we’re proud to be one of the few brands in the world with a full sonic identity, which means we not only have a unique look-and-feel but a distinct brand sound unique to us.

That makes sense, in fact, we are seeing more in the realm of sensory design, how does this fit in with your other sensory touchpoints such as smell, colours in the cabin etc.?
Sensory design is an important part of the brand identity and more companies recognise the need to go beyond just visuals. At Etihad, we make sure that any work we do, be it on visuals or sound, always aligns with our brand strategy. We are not immediately looking to work on scent branding, but hopefully sometime in the future. 

It’s a beautiful melody, so where can we find this sonic identity throughout the passenger experience and where is it used in your brand?
We’ve created 14 hours of bespoke music, built from the same sonic DNA, to accompany travellers through each phase of their trip. Etihad employees and guests can experience these different sounds across the airline’s internal and external channels, at events, on board, in our lounges and hospitality spaces, across Etihad branded content or even downloaded as a ringtone.  

It can be a long process to get it right, how long was the process for Etihad from start to completion?
From inception to launch of our sonic identity, it took 18 months of hard work, which paid off last month. Our sonic brand won gold at the Transform Awards Middle East/Africa for ‘Best Use of Audio Brand’, truly setting new higher standards in the industry.  

Boarding music does become synonymous with airlines, how long before you adapt or create a new one?
We wouldn’t change the onboard music completely, but we might incorporate adaptations based on the needs of our guests. That would be based on our sonic DNA. 

So it sounds like it is here to stay! How does the identity reflect your Abu Dhabi home?
When developing our sonic identity design, we ensured that the brand’s Emirati roots and outward-facing cosmopolitanism were front and centre. The airline’s sonic identity was composed by adding layers of instruments that overlap and respond to each other; a technique inspired by Al Sadu, a traditional form of weaving in the UAE. Traditional Arabic instruments with both organic and electronic textures were blended to create a unique melody that is culturally Emirati, while elegantly modern. The musicians used a wide variety of local Arabic instruments including the ney, kanoon, oriental percussion and oud.

I’m grateful to have the chance to speak with you. Finally, before we go, what other brands outside of aviation do you admire for doing the same?
The McDonalds sonic logo is iconic and is in line with their ethos of feeling happy. The Netflix sonic logo (ta-dum) is powerful too and creates a cinematic feeling wherever you are streaming from. 

Posted by:Jonny Clark

One thought on “Exclusive: TheDesignAir interview with Amina Taher on Etihad’s new Sonic Identity

  1. Interesting. I’ve heard of sonic identities before. This seems like an especially well thought-out one. I can only imagine the 14 hours of music they have created. Perhaps your entire flight has its own soundtrack!

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