Sennheiser Exposed Audio Marketing

A shot across the bow of “cool” ads for headphones

I’ve used Sennheiser’s headphone marketing in the past as an example of bad, vague, hype-based nothing…but this week, they took an interesting new step.

In order to understand how to make something good, you first have to understand what’s “bad.”

Mainstream headphone marketing is all about hype and the cool factor, since it’s rather hard to accurately describe sound with words or images in a short time frame.

Look at this famous person, or gamer, or athlete. They use this audio product, and so should you!

That’s all well and good for creating a certain impression of coolness…but it does little beyond that. It doesn’t tell you why a particular headphone is better.

It just shows it looking cool.

Practically every major audio company has fallen into this marketing “trap” at some point.

I use trap in quotation marks because it’s probably lead to great sales success.

Bose, Beats, Sony, and even HyperX have all successfully sold audio products this way.

In most of those cases, the underlying products were actually decent-sounding, but they’re sold entirely with hype and sponsorship deals.

It’s a common tactic…and one Sennheiser is now taking a direct shot against. While also trying to market a mainstream product.

Hmm.

In this new ad campaign, Sennheiser’s going for a different, far more difficult route, and I hope it pays off for them. But it also feels a little…bitter?

I have no idea if it’ll work for them, but I sort of love that they’re trying it.

Instead of using coolness and endorsements, they’re trying to sell premium audio and a focus on engineering and performance as the main reasons to choose their products.

But they don’t quite go the distance on explaining that, instead just shunning other marketing approaches for comedic effect.

This second ad muddles the point much more.

It spends most of its run time brazenly showing a competitor’s product.

The sound person at the end is wearing Sennheiser HD 25's…which are not actually the headphone they’re trying to promote.

The new version of the Momentum Wireless, the actual featured product of this campaign, is not meant to be used as pro audio gear, but is in fact a high end noise cancelling headphone for commuting and general consumer listening.

It’s competing directly with the very sorts of products that get marketed by famous people, and doesn’t have quite the same audio signature or feature set as Sennheiser’s pro audio stuff.

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Official Sennheiser Marketing imagery for the Momentum Wireless, www.sennheiser.com

I still get the concept here. They’re going for: “Hey, our stylish expensive consumer headphone has the same DNA as our well-respected pro audio gear.”

But they’ll have to do a much better job communicating this clearly if they want to pull off this kind of marketing shift and grab the gold mine of mainstream users.

Sennheiser does have a sterling reputation inside the audio industry, and I’ve generally liked almost all of their audio hardware…though I also think they sometimes make some real clunkers.

Every company does, from time to time.

The funny thing about this campaign is that it’s made me realize I’m not sure the two marketing approaches are actually mutually exclusive.

I’d be totally fine with a famous actor or athlete telling me about all the cool design features of a headphone, and its audio performance, instead of just standing there looking cool.

If that HyperX had hired Pokimane to talk about the features of their headset instead of just walking down the street wearing them, I’d have been all for that.

I think you can have both together without the mild air of elitism that comes from the Sennheiser videos.

I do totally agree with them that audio consumers shouldn’t be talked down to, but I also think it’s okay for people to like coolness and famous people.

I’d love to see a marketing approach that played to both tastes, and not just one exclusively.

Just because I like headphones and I’m an audio geek doesn’t mean I can’t also be enticed by a famous person enjoying the same product.

I thought it was pretty cool when I learned that Elijah Wood once designed a pair of Grado headphones, and that he’s genuinely interested in audio. And yet Grado, in their ever-understated way, just calmly buried it on their web site.

I think audiences have much more than just one particular set of interests, and I don’t think the sometimes-insular spec-obsessed audiophile community is enough of an audience for Sennheiser to thrive in a mainstream marketplace with a mainstream $400 fashion headphone.

The more interests you can cross over with your advertising, the better.

So taking a shot like this is risky. It probably doesn’t expand the audience. Instead, it plays to the already-faithful Sennheiser fans.

I’m still all for features-based marketing in audio, backed up by real improvements and not flashy buzzwords. And I’m still hopeful that this is a step in that direction, and not just a brief lashing out at what will ultimately still prove to be a more effective marketing strategy.

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I do radio voice work by day, and write by day and night. I studied film and production. I love audio, design, and music. Also video games.

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