By some estimates, it’s played once every five minutes somewhere in the world. A simple five-note mnemonic tune composed 20 years ago that, with the help of a clever marketing slogan, helped Intel become one of the most recognizable brands in the world.
“Nobody was going to run a 30-second ad with the logo there the whole time, it would look stupid. An audio component seemed like it would work really well,” Carter said.
That audio component would become what might be the most iconic three seconds of branded audio ever recorded: the Intel bong sound.
Five perfect notes
Walter Werzowa is the man who made the five perfect notes.
“The sound needed to convey reliability, innovation and trust,” Werzowa said. He says the “Intel Inside” tagline triggered a melody in his head, and those were the notes that became the Intel bong sound: D flat, D flat, G flat, D flat, A flat. The rhythm, he says, was inspired by the syllables of the tagline.
Werzowa then spent the following weeks refining the five-note sequence into the jingle that’s since become so recognizable. Each of the five tones is a blend of various synthesizers – mostly a lot of xylophone and marimba.
Interestingly, Werzowa and Intel discovered that the sound of the notes was at least as important as the melody itself. Among a 60-person focus group, researchers found only 80 percent of participants recognized the correct melody played on a violin, but 100 percent recognized it with the proper sound – even when an incorrect note was added.
A bong by any other sound (How did a jingle become a bong?)
Since the original jingle premiered in 1994, Werzowa says he’s updated it every two to three years. Now that the sound is globally recognizable, Intel is much more hands-on. The chipmaker’s in-house creatives, marketing team and legal counsel all provide input before any changes can be made.
It’s hard to count how many versions the bong sound has gone through over 20 years, but while the visuals have changed and some bass has been added, the essential five-note sequence remains the same.
Even will.i.am’s brief tenure as Intel’s director of creative innovation hasn’t had much impact, although the Black Eyed Peas frontman sampled the jingle for his 2013 track “Geekin.”
Perhaps the most creative iteration so far is from a group of Intel engineers in Finland, who turned themselves into human cannonballs, and launched into a giant row of chimes – likely with the aid of some video-editing wizardry.
While Intel has brought in a new chief marketing officer to revamp its brand image and marketing programs, it’s not clear whether the tune will change, go away, or morph into something new. Whatever the jingle might sound like in the future, Werzowa says one thing is certain in his mind: It’s not likely to be phased out any time soon.
“I cannot imagine that. The Sonic Mnemonic is worth millions of dollars,” he said.