When we were asked in February to tender a proposal to sonically reposition the UK’s largest commercial broadcaster, it’s safe to say the call piqued our interest. Combined with the requirement to devise a sonic identity for their brand-new free digital streaming service as well - we were unquestionably in.
We’re super-proud to reveal that we have just delivered a full new audio system, devised and executed from the ground up - one that reintroduces ITV to the world.
Commissioned by multi-award-winning design agency DixonBaxi (The Premier League, Audible, Fox, Hulu, Samsung) and ITV Creative, our challenge was to build a strong and memorable sonic strategy for ITV that positioned the broadcaster squarely as a leader in the digital streaming space.
Getting to Work
The first step of our process is always to deeply understand the client and distil their intent - why the change?
With 65 years of heritage, ITV is truly an iconic and beloved brand yet one that hadn’t undertaken an audio rebrand on this scale before.
Talking about what something should sound like is an understandably tricky and abstract construct. The old saying “trying to describe music is like dancing to architecture” springs to mind here. Even those clients with a deep passion for sound are usually primarily ‘visual thinkers’ (i.e ideas are conceived using a visual language - colour, shape, typography, motion to convey meaning or positioning).
Simply applying visual branding approaches rarely yields the most elegant execution of an audio brand strategy. Which is where we came in...
Offering clients a unique perspective and insight into the potency of sound in a branding capacity, is arguably why a supplier gets the gig. But one of the most important roles an audio partner should bring to any project is to act as translator.
We believe it’s our first priority to help our clients articulate their needs in whichever way they feel most comfortable - not one we dictate. It’s then our job to turn those thoughts into a sonic language. So understanding the client in this highly nuanced way, involves asking the right questions.
And the best answers come from the best questions.
The Futz Butler have been a pleasure to work with from day one. They are extremely collaborative, taking time to gather feedback and research from our team before even starting, making everyone feel part of the journey. The work they produced, in every round, was exciting, challenging and original - taking us out of our comfort zone whilst still hitting the brief and expressing the brand. How they work, the process and the original way they approach the work is not only fascinating, but effective. It’s been a joy.
Tony Pipes, Executive Creative Director, ITV Creative
Talking Out Loud...
Over a period of several weeks, using our proprietary eight point programme, we worked closely with DixonBaxi, ITV Creative and cross departmentally with teams at ITV through a series of curated workshops, questionnaires and interviews designed to audit core brand values, positioning, competitive landscape, objectives, touchpoint suitability, sonic opportunities and futureproofing, amongst other things.
Using techniques honed working with international clients over twenty years, we are able to extract and distil key data necessary to formulate the backbone of an effective audio strategy moving forward.
Moreover, by collating and refining variances in ideology for the project before anything is actually created, solidifies an all-important group consensus mindset. It ensures everyone is heard and is part of the journey, not at arm’s length from it.
Combined, this delivers maximum buy-in of the impending direction at the earliest opportunity - essential with large brands of this nature with multi-stakeholder sign-offs at play.
We hadn’t worked with The Futz Butler before but I’m so glad we did. What has been incredibly refreshing is to experience The Futz Butler's unique, honest and often bespoke approach. This helped our sonic design cut through and align with the visual approach that we were developing in tandem.
Matthew Caldwell, Lead Designer, DixonBaxi
Armed with the findings of our initial consultation phase, we were now able to put some detailed audio-centric objectives on the table, for which ITV and Dixon Baxi could hold us accountable against.
We were now in a position to begin ideating conceptually on creative approaches to deliver the audio strategy, with confidence.
Our approach would clearly need to balance retaining what was intrinsic to the brand whilst breaking new ground and our conceptual thinking needed to skillfully balance innovation with a populist accessibility that ITV’s core demographic has come to expect.
No small challenge.
Therefore, having a conceptual backbone at the heart of all assets would aid this and allow for maximum cohesion across the identity as a body of work.
One of the key tenets of our initial (and somewhat intentionally provocative) competitive pitch was the concepts must pre-date the actual expression of the concepts. There must be an idea - a thread, that any execution of that idea manifests first before we start creating what it might tangibly sound like. It is not enough for it to simply sound good - there should be a story too.
Paul Sumpter, Creative Director, The Futz Butler
The Sonic Palette
Having fathered several overarching conceptual ideas, the next stage is to devise a Sonic Palette that aesthetically delivers on the core idea of each concept in the most elegant and challenging way possible.
The idea of a Sonic Palette is one we have long been proponents of having authored the idea over ten years ago and has worked for clients as diverse as SKY, Castrol, Jimmy Choo and Tesco. The Sonic Palette forms the building blocks of which all compositions or designs are built and developed out from.
This strong link between concept, building blocks and final piece means each and every asset not only sounds stunning, but has substance necessary for the longer term survival of a brand audio identity, mitigating the risk of it feeling disposable or dating quickly.
Down the Rabbit Hole..
We experimented with literally hundreds of creative thought starters.
What would it sound like if we recorded hundreds of everyday people individually singing into their iPhones and created a virtual choir instrument - a choir of the people, from the results?
What would it sound like if we scratched an X (from ITVX) into the run out groove of a piece of vinyl and sampled the sound as a rhythm?
Could we use the sound of ambience field-recorded outside the ITV studios on the southbank as an interesting audio trigger for other instruments?
What would happen if we paid a nod to the birth of streaming (the humble video rental store) and ‘printed’ some musical ideas through a custom modded 1980s VHS player, using the lofi VHS tape akin to studio magnetic audio tape?
These creative devices and countless others, all helped us engender a truly unique Sonic palette - 100% ownable to the ITV brand, unavailable or mimicable anywhere else.
We presented five main conceptual directions to launch the new ITVX streaming service to DixonBaxi and ITV Creative at our studios in Holborn.
Concepts ranged from The Heritage Chord - upcycling the first six notes of the first sound ever broadcast on ITV on 22nd September 1955, and stacking them on top of each other played all at once to produce a rich open chord that can be interpreted in a number of ways.
Or Strands - drawing on the idea of accents and dialects. By recording the same catchy four note melody on twenty different pianos all around the country - all played at a range of different tempos (representing the subtleties of dialects that form the eclectic tapestry of Great Britain) we formed a cascading phase shifting melody unlike any audio mnemonic currently in use.
However, the final route chosen for the ITVX mnemonic - called Burst, closely sonically articulated the Spark, Amplify and Discover story of the visual animation created by DixonBaxi.
Using sounds such as sugar dropped on a balloon, a cinematic booj (bass downbender) and synths processed heavily through outboard guitar pedals, the end mnemonic sounds open, engaging and exciting, setting up the user’s delve into the seemingly endless world of streaming options as the platform moves from just 3,000 hours (ITV Hub) to over 10,000 on the new ITVX platform.
Our final suite of deliverables into Phase 3 focussed mainly on linear broadcast channel beds.
Instead of the traditional approach of producing assets for each channel (ITV1, ITV2, ITV3, ITV4 and ITVBe) specifically, instead we would produce a concise series of overarching beds that would glue the stylistically divergent ITV family of channels together holistically.
The challenge here was how to balance versatility with a nuanced channel feel via a recognisable thread throughout the music, all whilst manifesting a modern, inclusive, bold and human tonality specified by the client required.
You’re the Voice
Our response to this brief was to create a ‘virtual voice instrument’ - one that was inherently human, but wasn’t predictably straight sung. Rather one that had a little more dimensionality and sonic character to it. This is what would take it from feeling obvious and potentially throwaway, to something that felt distinct and identifiable as a brand asset in its own right.
The voice lends itself to many different emotional contexts and of course stylistic vehicles, so represented a great fit for our task. We recorded and sampled multiple sung notes and then programmed them with synthesis in such a way they could be reperformed via MIDI like a synth. Merging unconventional yet recognisably human voices with modern production techniques builds a sound world the ITV brand can exist in for the foreseeable future.
Feedback from all parties has been resoundingly glowing - which for us is the most satisfying part of this six month project. Our distinctly unorthodox approach was unquestionably a departure from the usual workflows the client had been used to, but was always there to serve their needs and goals. So we can only thank the incredible teams at ITV and DixonBaxi who furnished us with the conditions that allowed us to challenge them with bold ideas and anti-obvious ways of solving creative conundrums.
The new ITV brand refresh rolled out across the ITV broadcast channels on 15th November, with the ITVX streaming platform launching on 8th December.
We can’t wait for you all to hear it!