As part of some work for a client yesterday I went to the cinema.

There was no film, though. In fact, there was nothing to look at at all.

I was there with Pearl & Dean to hear some examples of some sound-only advertising that Vodafone have done in Portugal. P&D had in attendance a guy who monitored a colleague’s brain patterns over the course of a session, and another chap who was a real evangelist for the sensory impact of sound itself.

If you were being cruel you might say that the sell was slightly laboured.

Media cliches abounded, with radio’s ‘theatre of the mind’ welded to cinema’s ‘captive audience’ to create a very special chimera of media short-hand. But it’s fairly easy to accept the notion that a cinema ad without visuals would be pretty disruptive, and done well it could be pretty ‘impactful’ too.

Having said that, it would be a brave client that actually signed off such work. Everyone likes the idea of zagging while all others zig – but then people like the idea of a lot of things without actually acting upon them. Creating disruption requires boldness; selling a sound-only cinema ad to a marketing director would certainly be bold.

Mind you, it would save on production budget.

I was with representatives of another telephony brand. It would be easy for them to see this an as opportunity to talk about product features (and, if we’re lucky, benefits) such as clarity and definition. But in truth this is probably the least interesting application of the platform.

Anyway, as I said, that’s what you might say if you were being cruel.

Because some of the things these guys were saying seemed really potent, perhaps even powerful.

The way our brains receive and interpret sound is way more heightened than the way we receive and interpret visuals. When we see someone experiencing something, we can register the visual cues that help us understand the notion of that particular emotion. When we hear that experience, however, we experience that emotion ourselves more directly.

It’s pretty counter-intuitive, but by comparison, our visual sense is more mechanical. It creates a mere simulacrum of the experience that can be created by limiting the cues people have access to.

Part of the reason is that our brains generate our own, very individual images to go with those sounds we receive. Our personalised visual construct means we empathise more easily with the experience we hear being presented. It’s not happening to someone else – it’s happening to us. The limitations of visuals that are created for us – as opposed to by us – are obvious in the film-not-as-good-as-the-book syndrome. Do we ever consider how leaving an ‘audience’ to fill in the blanks might create more, not less, engagement?

Another reason sound works so well is its ability to prompt a shift in mind states – particularly from alpha to beta. Alpha is where you’re in the zone, the habitual mindstate where you’re barely thinking about what you’re doing – for example when driving.Sound, it seems, is far better at shunting you from your somnambulant alpha state into a more attuned, oh-shit-something’s-wrong beta state. I guess that’s why a car horn works better than flashed headlights to stir us from inattention.

This has interesting implications for marketing, I think. The focus of behavioural economics in trying to understand the differences between our habitual and ‘executive’ modes of thinking have focused on concepts such as information, framing and relativity – all largely expressed in the form of visual cues. Perhaps an examination of the role sonics could play in this begins to feel conspicuous by its absence.

The work itself was fairly strange, and you certainly wouldn’t call it advertising. They were in the main pieces of sound-collage that had been made by a company called soundvision to demonstrate the vivid platform sonics offer, then badged up by Vodafone. One was the soundtrack a plane crash, where a man escaped, found himself on an island, then was captured by natives (it was all a dream in the end). One was entitled Liquid, where everything sounded like you were submerged in water – eventually it became apparent you were experiencing the point of view of a baby being born. I think the idea was that they would appear in before films of varying genres, to best capture the mood of the audience.

But the main point of these pieces for me was that you had to work to understand what was going on. It didn’t feel like a choice, either – you instinctively needed to piece together your situation, because no-one was giving you any short-cuts or visual associations. It was a lean-forward experience where there was nothing to lean forward to. (Literally, as the copy instructed you to close your eyes at the start of each piece).

The brain patterns being tracked made fascinating reading. The right, emotional side of the brain was drifting between alpha and theta mindstates. That is, between the habitual, non-conscious and the intensely relaxed.

The left, rational side was going nutso, as it attempted to make sense of what was going on. As the inputs forced you to empathise with the experiece presented to you, the most stimulated part of you was the logical, rational part.

And the great thing is it was enjoyable. As with the gaming insights I’ve mentioned previously, working to achieve something can be rewarding.

I think we often assume that advertising has to take note of the shortcuts people use only in order to exploit them, perhaps because we fear people don’t really want to to hear from advertisers. We would rather infiltrate than disrupt. We’d rather sidestep barriers than use them.

Perhaps sonics are a way we can think differently about the levers that advertising can pull.