Sounds Like Creativity: Creating a “Theater of the Mind”

This blog post is part of a series celebrating Cannes Lions and creativity in advertising. If you missed the kick-off, you can catch up here

The phrase “Theater of the Mind” originally characterized the way classic American radio dramas invited the listener’s imagination into the story. It’s a phrase very familiar to traditional radio folks but not as well known by visual storytellers today. In the years since radio dramas were a thing (and especially since the advent of TV in the 1950s) the creative community at large seems to have forgotten about the power of audio-only stories.

Luckily, today’s media climate has given new life to these classic–yet effective–audio storytelling tools. With society becoming increasingly connected, it’s digital audio that stands out as one of the few mediums capable of reaching consumers no matter where their attention is directed. We’re seeing brands across industries take note of this and start experimenting with how to forge stronger connections with their target audiences through audio.

So, what is it? The Theater of the Mind comes down to the idea of using only spoken words and sounds to paint a picture in the listener’s mind, which they can then fill in the “gaps” with their imagination. It’s a powerful creative device for conveying action (the revving engine of a speeding car), expressing emotion (a quivering voice) or creating a sense of place (crashing waves).

But what’s especially impactful about tapping into the Theater of the Mind is that it gives the listener a sense of agency in your brand’s story. Now, they are not only experiencing it, but actually participating too — an important step in forming deep and memorable connections.

Let’s see an example…


This Sonos ad does an excellent job of transporting the listener into an at-home experience with lush, intricate sound design. Without realizing it, you begin imagining scenes and memories from your own home that fit with the sounds you’re hearing. As a company trying to reinvent home audio, employing the Theater of the Mind in this way allowed Sonos to resonate with consumers in the place that matters most to their business: the home. This is a great example of how fostering a Theater of the Mind experience can not only uplevel your brand’s storytelling but also create more intimate and personal connections between brand, creative and listener.

Sonos also successfully checked the boxes on our proven best practices for telling a brand story with sound:

1. USE A CONVERSATIONAL TONE
Most audio is consumed through earbuds, so there is no need to shout anymore. Consumers will appreciate you more for speaking to them like you would a friend.

2. ADDRESS THE INDIVIDUAL LISTENER
Digital audio allows brands to reach millions of people, one listener at a time. So make it personal! A natural tie-in to the platform will make your message stand out as part of the experience, rather than just another ad.

3. EMPLOY A CLEAR CALL-TO-ACTION
Tell the listener exactly what you want them to do and why. Be specific and straightforward, and they’ll be more likely to follow your direction.

4. COMPLEMENT WITH DISPLAY
In an ideal scenario, audio and display go hand-in-hand. Let the audio message deliver the hardworking information, while the display captures the eyes.

Does this sound interesting but audio creative isn’t exactly your expertise? We can help. From copywriting to production and hiring voice talent, our internal Ad Creative Team can act as an extension of your own marketing team. Get in touch so we can tell you more.

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