When shopping for a computer or a new appliance, what makes you choose one brand over the other? There are lots of things to consider: How it works, any special features it may have, cost, repair reputation–even color and design. But here’s one feature you probably never thought about: How it SOUNDS.

Some of these sounds are integral to the item, but others are actually engineered to attract potential buyers. For instance, Dyson, which produces expensive vacuum cleaners, wants its vacs to have a pleasing, low tone, which sounds more upscale. Snapple wants the "pop" you hear when unscrewing the top from a new bottle of juice to indicate that it’s fresh. The particular "whish, whish" of a clothes washer spells confidence in its cleaning ability to customers who are trying to choose between the many different washing machines out there. The "thunk" of a car door closing and denote elegance and high quality.

Sounds are important for small items as well: Clinique’s High Impact Extreme Volume mascara produces a soft, crisp "click" when the top is twisted shut. That click reassures customers that the package is closed and the liquid mascara won’t dry out, but it also conveys the elegance of the $19.50 formula, which costs much more than a similar product for sale in a drug store.

In the October 24th edition of the Wall Street Journal, Ellen Byron quotes package designer Ted Owen as saying, "These little touches can really separate you from the other guys. We call them the intangibles."

A Frito-Lay spokesman agrees: Byron quotes him as saying, "The packaging of the product is a multisensory experience for our consumers." GE has a sound designer who has composed a "soundtrack" for each of its four major brands. Each brand’s music is meant to appeal to the target customer. Hotpoint, a budget-friendly line, will have a grunge-rock tune, while the Monogram line, GE’s priciest, will feature light piano music.

Sound promotion is more subtle than it used to be, in the days when there were TV ads for "Snap, Crackle, Pop" and Alka-Seltzer’s "Plop Plop Fizz Fizz." But for a few items, silence is the key. A new tampon brand has a textured plastic wrapper that won’t make loud crinkling sounds, so that women, especially teens, can have more privacy in public restrooms. Byron quotes Tampax reseach director Alex Albacarys as saying, "They are trying to keep the secret and the wrapper wasn’t able to do that. On this wrapper we took it to the next level in terms of sound avoidance."

And with more people living close together, in city apartments, there is a demand for quieter products of all kinds. Byron quotes acoustic engineer Rachael Pink as saying, "People now expect products to sound good–not just sound quiet, but have a nice quality."

When it comes to our wonderful radio shows, we hope you think WE have a nice sound quality. Did you know that subscribers can still listen to the Dreamland shows of the late, wonderful Laurence Gardner?

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