Originally from Tokyo, Inamoto spent his childhood and teenage years in Japan and Europe before completing his studies in fine arts and computer science in the US. In his most recent position as Chief Creative Officer/VP of AKQA, he was responsible for delivering creative solutions for the agency’s clients such as Audi, Google, Nike, Xbox and Verizon. In early 2016, Inamoto and his business partner Rem Reynolds founded their own ad agency, Inamoto & Co. Inamoto is a frequent speaker at numerous conferences such as Wired Conference, Cannes Lions Festival, SXSW and Spikes Asia. His writing and opinions have been widely published in publications like Fast Company and Contagious Magazine, making him a thought leader and a prominent voice in the industry.

 

Reese: In your opinion, how important is music in building a brand?

Inamoto: For brands, music is like the soundtrack of a movie. If you watch a movie without the soundtrack, you can still understand and appreciate it, but the emotional resonance will definitely be less.

Reese: How important is music for you personally and for your work?

 If anyone says that music isn’t important, there is something wrong.

Inamoto: If anyone says that music isn’t important, there is something wrong. For our work, we use music just as other storytellers might use it – as soundtracks. We also use music in interactive experiences – whether it’s on your mobile or in actual physical experiences.

Reese: Do you think the right choice of music can change consumer behavior?

Inamoto: It can definitely have a strong influence on the emotional reaction from the consumer.

Reese: Do you believe a brand should be recognizable by sound only?

Inamoto: In the 80’s and 90’s, “jingles” were a big part of branding. But I think in the last decade, it has shifted to other types of sounds. For instance, the sound of a Mac laptop turning on. Or the click when you slide the lock on your iPhone. Sound is still very much a critical component of our life and business, but it’s becoming more and more interactive.

Reese: Do you think there is a link between a brand’s level of discipline in their audio behavior and its economic success?

Inamoto: That would be interesting research to undertake.

Reese: Can you share your most memorable experience with music and how it influenced your work?

Inamoto: I have a story with a very famous musician. I went to a U2 concert when I was about 20. The next day, my brother and I happened to go to the Andy Warhol Museum. It was rather empty. As we were touring around, we saw Bono and the Edge also in the Museum. Growing up with their music, our jaws dropped and we decided to try to get their autographs. We went to the museum store and bought postcards that we’d hand them to autograph.We worked up our courage to go up to Bono. He picked the card with a painting called “Double Elvis” (two duplicate pictures of Elvis Presley) by Andy Warhol. With a marker, on one Elvis, he drew a cowboy hat and autographed “Bono 1989.” And on the other Elvis, he wrote “Bono 1999.” He was indicating the evolution of himself – in the 80’s, they released “Joshua Tree.” And in the 90’s “Achtung Baby” when he was wearing these big fly sunglasses. I was so impressed and mesmerized by how quickly he reacted to the situation and came up with a simple and elegant answer. It’s one of those unforgettable moments related to music.

Reese: Where do you see the greatest challenge in finding a brand’s voice?

Inamoto: I did some research last year about what makes brands successful over time. Up until the end of the 20th century, three common elements were: Innovation, Quality and Growth. Now in the 21st century, one of the most important elements – if not the most important – is this: Purpose. Finding and articulating the purpose of a brand is a crucial part of businesses today.

Reese: How do you communicate music when briefing a composer/music company/music supervisor or publisher?

Inamoto: It’s actually quite simple. Do we want the viewer to laugh or cry? We may provide some references but in the end, one of these two emotions is what matters. Music has the power to do that.

Reese: Is there a certain brand that you admire in their use of audio in their brand communication?

Inamoto: Nike in their commercials has always understood the power of music. Apple is different in that it’s a company that revolutionized the music industry since the late 90’s. But the critical component of their brand is the audio-based communication that is implicit in their products that we use every day. Those little audio cues build the emotional connection to their products and to the brand.

Reese: Do you see a shift in how important music is becoming in your brand communication?

Inamoto: I actually don’t. Music is one of the most primal means of expression that has existed as long as human beings have existed. A lot of religions have used music as part of their rituals – and I’d argue religions are some of the oldest form of brands that have existed in the world.

Music is one of the most primal means of expression that has existed as long as human beings have existed.

Reese: Where do you see the challenges and opportunities when working with music in a branded social network environment?

Inamoto: Commoditization. Just like images, with the plethora of visual and audio data out there, everything is becoming commoditized. That is the biggest challenge facing any business today.

Reese: What does the audio branding of the future look like?

Inamoto: I think more and more audio branding is less about communication and more about interaction. Audio branding will always be part of mass advertising but there will be less mass advertising in general. It will continue to be integrated into brands via products and services.

Reese: What does a big idea feel like? Do you recognize it immediately when it arrives? 

Inamoto: Some of the most influential software startups today –Twitter, Uber, AirBnB, etc –had trouble getting funding initially because investors thought they were ridiculous ideas that nobody would use. Now Uber is more valuable than 80% of Fortune 500 companies. AirBnB books more rooms everyday now than any other hotel chains. Big ideas often feel ridiculous at first. It’s up to us to decide which have potential and go for it.

rei inamoto on sound branding, music in advertising and sound identity