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Thursday, February 24, 2011

It's a Sony

     “It’s a Sony”.
      That was probably the most powerful corporate slogan in history – anywhere.
      After all, what does it actually say?

     At first glance, not a lot.  It could be a slogan for just about any manufacturer of just about any product.

     Still, it was remarkably effective. And continuously imitated, even after Sony stopped using it.

      “The medium is the message”, as Marhall McLuhan said. it wasn’t just the words – it was the voice used to communicate them and the way those words were spoken

When would you hear a phrase such as this?

Scenario #1
Imagine a man with some cool electronic device.  . You just have to ask “What’s that?”

He replies – with pride“It’s a Sony”.  He doesn’t say a “Walkman” or a portable DVD player or a digital camera.  Just “It’s a Sony” --as if the type of device didn’t’ matter so much as the fact that it’s made by Sony. He is interpreting the context of your question as:

a.)    You think it’s COOL
b.)    He thinks to himself “WHY is it cool”
c.)     Because it’s made by a manufacturer that makes cool things – unique things “like no other”.  Sony.

This is how normal communication works.  We often don’t answer questions exactly as they are asked. We infer the REASON for a question and its underlying meaning (context) and answer accordingly.

Scenario #2
     You bought a new plasma TV.
     Your friend says, “Wow, the quality is just superb! I’ve never seen anything like that.
     You answer?
     Here there is no direct question. But all  human beings have an innate drive to look for “reasons”– we see the world in terms of reasons&results, cause& effect.
    “It’s a Sony” implies a world view.  Sony = Good. Sony = Quality.  Of course, the quality is superb – it’s a Sony. And that’s what you answer.

     “It’s Sony” is dramatic. 

       Which why the choice of voice is so important.

        The voice is not an “announcer voice”.  Rather, it is a little older with a bit of a rasp.  Like a favorite uncle.  Somebody with experience. Somebody who has lived life and knows. This voice has personality and character --and it has authority. You can trust this person.  You can believe him.  He is real.  

          So naturally he talks like a real person – not an announcer.

              Most Japanese directors want slogans voiced with every word more or less of equal value.  This is because English is a foreign language for them.  They study it as a written language and have little feeling for the subtleties of intonation -- especially for the way in which some words are de-emphasized.   It is not , “IT’S A SONY” with  each word spoken clearly and given equal time.  BOOM BOOM BOOM.    Rather it’s, “Itsa (almost undetectable pause) SONY!   Ba-ba …BOOMba!  There’s change in pitch on the word “Sony”, which is not pronounced as in Japanese with equal emphasis on each syllable but with emphasis on the first syllable and a euphonic shift.

    If this slogan was done in Japan (and I doubt) it the Japanese director got very, very lucky.

    As we said, “The medium is the message”.

    But it wasn’t just the voice. Or the subtle inflection, that draws the listener into an imaginary dialog and expansive meaning.  

      There was also the way the voice was recorded and mixed.

      Simply put – if you can’t hear the voice, nothing matters.

       Japanese is simple in terms of pronunciation and intonation.  English is hugely complex.    It has a lot of subtle sounds and markers that are barely heard –but still have to be present for understanding.   If these things are masked by music or background sounds, then the  impact of the message is lost, and with it meaning and feeling.      

For the so-called “American sound” so obvious in movie trailers, the voice of a tagline has to the same apparent level as previous narration – or louder – with music mixed in less than half as loud as it would be with Japanese.   The tagline or slogan has to be the climax of the CM – not an add-on. 

       However, Japanese mixers and directors mix English as they do Japanese – with the music too loud and the voice too small.

      A corporate slogan is more than just a couple of words.  It is difficult to get it right.  But if a company can’t get it right, no one will believe them or trust them.  Psychologists say that people decide if they are going to like someone in the first 30 seconds.  And usually, that decision is not based on what you say – because people often say the same kinds of things—I is how you say it.



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