Sounds: The Colours of Blind People?
by Dr. Carsten Dethlefs
Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen. During the next few minutes I am going to speak to you about how blind people perceive. As a first step, I want to show you that „blind“ is a very inexact word. When we speak about blind people, we know nothing about their access to pictures and imaginations. After this I intend to give you an impression of the world of perception. Having done this I will talk about blind people in a consumers‘ society.
On the basis of this Information I will give some recommendations; how to use sound for promoting products and services to blind people. In this area there are many questions left we can discuss later. But the main question behind all this is how you can transfer your intended brand message to blind people! Since there are many different receptions of the intended brand message you will not reach a general brand image which covers all kinds of perception which is very important in the selling process.
What does Being Blind Mean?
You cannot compare one blind person and his or her perception of his or her environment to another. Every blind person has become blind a different situation with a different private background and at a different age. Every blind person is unique. So it maybe that one blind person can remember visual impressions which are different from those of another blind person. To make this clear here are two examples of blindness. The first person is a professor of theology, John Hull. He became blind after three decades in which he was able to see. But after losing the ability to see he had no remembrance of his former environment. Maybe we can call this the „dark blindness“. Another Person, Zoltan Torey, has become blind after an accident in a chemistry factory. He exercised his imagination very hard and said that he is not living in a dark world and still has pictures in his mind (Sacks, 2003, Was Blinde sehen, in: Fachzeitschrift für das Sehbehindertenwesen).
My Own Experience
Let me tell you about my own perception of the world. I became blind at the age of four. At first this made no big difference to me. The colours were still clear to me. It was a very colourful environment I was living in. So colours were very important for me, I knew what they were like. In this way also the colours of my dresses were very important in my view. And, even today I have got an impression of what colours look like. But, and this is a mysterious thing, the pictures become weaker and weaker. Today I have got many other things to think about as earlier in my life. Maybe this is one of the reasons of the decline of my pictures. But, and this is of course another very interesting thing, when I am listening to music pictures in the mood of the melody come up in my head.
I think this is a phenomenon worth thinking about. I want to show you what I mean. For example, listen to the following sound sample. Which pictures do you associate with this sound?
And now, let us listen to another piece of music:
What was the difference? I think the first piece (Marc Knopfler’s Princess Bride theme) sounds much warmer. The speed of the melodies has been nearly equal but I think the second piece (Voices Of Tranquility – Aqua Marine) sounds colder and more uncomfortable. Maybe the metallic sound in the second piece confirms this impression. But, let me come back to this subject later. Meanwhile, let us consider another point.
Blind People As Consumers
For blind people in a consumers‘ society it is difficult to decide on a certain product because of its outer appearance. Maybe the power of imagination is different with different blind persons. But, they all have common that they cannot be sure that the pictures of their imaginations are true. So they have to get help. Maybe you go with another person, who is not blind to buy you a dress. This person can describe you what the fashion is like and then you can decide on your own. But, different people have different tastes in fashion or furniture and influence you.
There is the danger of being dominated or manipulated by other people in your decision. You, as a blind person can just make a statement on utility or comfort. You cannot make a statement on the appearance of the brand and the look of the product. I have never seen the Milka cow and cannot receive the intended brand message from the product. This may go along with different associations the producer did not intend.
Now there are some people who possess the ability of synesthesia. Simply speaking: We are talking about the connection of senses and the transfer of stimuli. So there are people who can hear colours or something like this.
I’m no synesthesist, at least, I do not think so. However music can produce pictures in my mind. It is the connection of music, mood and picture which makes products and services imaginable for me. Music transfers me into a special mood and in this mood certain pictures come up in my mind. So it is the question whether music or generally sound can be used to promote a certain brand recognition even in the minds of blind people. Pictures in advertisement also have got the function of getting you into a certain mood. We think about the panorama in the Bacardi advertisement. For blind people who cannot see these pictures it is more useful to use sound pictures instead of visual pictures. These sounds you can use in the TV, in the Internet, during a telephone call, on the answering machine or in the radio. If you use music to promote products or services it is important to use the same melody all the time to make your brand recognizable. Here we have got the emotional function of sounds in connection with your own imagination. But sound is not just important to emotionalize people.
Sound also can produce trust in the quality of products. In this moment, for example, I think about the sound of a car door or the sound of my computer. For me it is important that the sound of an electronic product is clearly recognizable and never changes. When my computer changes its sound I expect a failure in its system. It is very important to build up a trustful relation between the consumer and the product. So we have to find out which impressions sounds leave in the minds of different blind people.
Important Questions – No Findings Yet
To decide on the construction of a compatible sound landscape for blind people I think the following questions also have to be answered. I am very sorry that I cannot tell you about certain results yet but my research concept has not been realized to this date. The questions are:
- Which factors are most important for blind people to make statements on different products or services?
- Which sound produces pictures in the minds of blind people and what are these pictures like?
- Are there statements to be made which can be generalized?
- What does the picture world of blind people depend on?
- Are there differences between the imagination of blind people and that of „visually non-impaired“ people?
- How strong do these pictures differ between the groups of the visually impaired and the non-impaired people?
- Is there a change in the picture world with blind people even after they have become blind?
- Which impact has the age at which somebody has become blind?
- Do people who are blind from their birth also have an imagination of the world?
I can tell you that I have got pictures in my mind which I could not have seen before I have become blind. So the question is, can blind people even make visual experiences after losing the ability to see?
Sounds and Perception
But let us come back to the role of music and sound in this case. Of course, as we have seen, there is still a lot of scientific work to be done. I definitely think this work will be worth it for the future. Sound in advertisements will play a more important role in the next few decades. The role of sound can be seen in connection with low Involvement marketing. Not only blind people fail to receive the advertisement message. Many of those who are not blind do not even notice an advertisement. When you sit in front of your TV set and you read your newspaper you are just as blind as me and you have to use your ears to receive the message from the TV. In this connection it is also important to use the brand’s name spoken aloud. In some spots I hear wonderful song but do not know which product there is behind it. But, this differs also between the media. In the Internet you have to be a more active user. In the front of the TV you can easily fall asleep. We must not forget the demographic development in western industry societies. There are a lot more old people. In old age the ability to see usually decreases. So it will be very important to contact this target group by sounds. (The WHO-report 2004 says that there are 0,2 percent of the German population which are totally blind. 1,3 percent ; visually impaired). The older you are, the more your ears get worse. I cannot deny this. But all in all it maybe a useful thought to establish a holistic selling approach. The touch of a product, the sound in the advertisement and of course the quality associated with the sounds are important. To me a product is not just an instrument for solving problems to me it is a being with its own soul. From this holistic approach of products also visually impaired people will benefit. In my interpretation of brands I agree with Hans Domizlaff. He said that it should be the goal of every product to reach a unique position in the minds of consumers. He does not just think about the visual appearance of a product but also of the quality and the character in general (Hans Domizlaff, Die Gewinnung des öffentlichen Vertrauens, 1939).
To characterize a product or service an associated melody or the original sound of a product are very important. The touch of a product, sometimes the smell, the shopping situation and the consumption situation are very important as well. Especially the shopping situation for blind people may be very different from those of other people. For example, when you think about buying soap the smell might be important. Without help you will not be able to read the attached papers on chemistry input. I suppose blind people will then, more than other people, rely on often used products. It is more difficult to draw their attention to new products and build up trust.
But trust in products and services for blind people is much more important. Because of this it is much more difficult to convince blind people of the quality of new things. Following these thoughts you have to build up trust in new products in many ways. The sound of a car door is to evoke the impression of a solid product. The sound of a computer should give you the feeling that you buy a reliable friend and so on. The advertisement in the radio often uses these considerations. But, I do not think that there is a scientific background behind it. Maybe advertisement in all the media would be more effective if we solved all the problems that we’ve been talking about.