Paul Sumpter, Creative Director of music and sound studio, The Futz Butler, explains the process behind the sonic rebranding of ITV and ITVX

When we were asked in February to tender a proposal to refresh the sonic branding of the UK’s largest commercial broadcaster, ITV, it’s safe to say the call piqued our interest. What’s more, the brief included creating the sonic identity for ITV’s brand-new digital streaming service, ITVX, which officially launches today.

Commissioned by multi-award-winning design agency DixonBaxi (The Premier League, Audible, Fox, Hulu, Samsung) and ITV Creative, our challenge as a bespoke music and sound studio was to build a strong and memorable sonic strategy for ITV that positioned the broadcaster squarely as a leader in the digital streaming space. We also had the task of sonically re-introducing ITV’s five broadcast channels to the world.

As with all of our work, the first step was to really understand the intention behind the brief, and then slowly start translating it into the language of sound. After all, talking about what something should sound like can be tricky and abstract. Simply applying visual branding approaches rarely yields the most elegant execution of an audio brand strategy. Which is where we came in.

Over a period of several weeks, using our proprietary eight point programme, we collaborated with DixonBaxi, ITV Creative and other interdisciplinary teams within ITV on a series of workshops, questionnaires, and interviews to identify core brand values, positioning, competitive landscape, objectives, touchpoint suitability, sonic opportunities and future-proofing. This allowed us to extract the insights we needed to start formulating the backbone of an effective audio strategy. We knew our approach would clearly need to balance retaining what was intrinsic to what people love about ITV whilst breaking new ground. No small challenge.

We experimented with literally hundreds of creative thought starters. For example, what would it sound like if we created a ‘virtual choir’ from recordings of hundreds of people from around the UK singing into their iPhones? What would it sound like if we scratched an X (from ‘ITVX’) into the groove of a vinyl and sampled the sound as a rhythm? Could we use the sound of ambient field recordings from outside the ITV studios on London’s Southbank as an audio trigger for other instruments? For the launch of the ITVX streaming service, what would happen if we nodded to the birth of streaming – the humble video rental store – and ‘printed’ musical ideas through a custom modded 1980s VHS player, using VHS tape like a studio tape machine?

These creative ideas, and countless others, all helped us engender a truly unique sonic palette that was 100% ownable to the ITV brand, unavailable anywhere else, and impossible to mimic.

We presented five main concepts to launch the new ITVX streaming service to DixonBaxi and ITV Creative at our studios in Holborn. The final route chosen for the ITVX mnemonic was a bold, sonic articulation of the ‘Spark, Amplify and Discover’ story that Dixon Baxi had created for the visual animation ITVX. 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 people’s discovery of the seemingly infinite world of streaming options on the new ITVX platform.

Our other deliverables focussed on the sound of ITV’s broadcast channels. Instead of the traditional approach of producing individual assets for each channel (ITV1, ITV2, ITV3, ITV4 and ITVBe), we produced a suite of overarching music beds instead. These could be used across all of the channels and stylistically ‘glued’ the diverse ITV family together in one holistic sonic brand.

The challenge here was how to create music that felt nuanced enough to work across different channels whilst having a recognisable sonic thread: the ‘sound’ of ITV. We also wanted to strike a modern, inclusive, bold and human tone.

Our response was to create a brand new ‘virtual voice instrument’ – one that was inherently human, but wasn’t a simple sung melody. It needed to feel distinct and identifiable as an ITV brand asset in its own right. So we recorded and sampled multiple sung notes and then programmed them in such a way that they could be reperformed like a synth. Merging unconventional, yet recognisably human, voices with modern production techniques built a sound world that is distinctive, modern yet familiar, and one that the ITV brand can truly own.

While our unorthodox approach may have been somewhat of a departure from the usual workflows ITV had been used to, we are so pleased to have been part of the brilliant journey in refreshing ITV and launching ITVX. We can only thank the incredible teams at ITV and DixonBaxi who set us up 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 began rolling out across the ITV broadcast channels in November, with the ITVX streaming platform launching on 8th December. We can’t wait for you all to hear it!

Jon Creamer

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