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The Man Who Created Intel's Audio 'Signature'

For composer Walter Werzowa, the challenge was to communicate the essence of the company in the space of a few notes.

October 20, 1999|LAURA KAUFMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Few people recognize his name, but most know Walter Werzowa's work: the five musical tones heard in every commercial for Intel Corp. and for computers that use its chips.

Thanks to Intel's sizable advertising budget, the distinctive theme is familiar to television viewers, who identify the company simply upon hearing the sounds, Intel says.

"I can't think of a better audio signature that exists today," said Margaret C. Campbell, a marketing professor at UCLA's Anderson School. "It is clean and it has very few notes."

It took Werzowa two weeks to create the audio mark. Intel told him it wanted tones that evoked innovation, trouble-shooting skills and the inside of a computer, while also sounding corporate and inviting.

Working in a makeshift studio in his Sherman Oaks garage, Werzowa digitally blended an odd assortment of sounds that he hoped would fit Intel's somewhat fuzzy concept. The first tone is an audio "sparkle" of more than 20 sounds, including a tambourine, an anvil, an electric spark and a hammer on pipe. The four notes that follow are a mix of xylophone, marimba, bells and other sounds.

Werzowa said the rhythm of those four notes--a D flat, G flat, D flat and A flat--are patterned after the syllables in Intel's slogan: In-tel In-side.

Besides Intel ads, the notes sound in commercials for computers that use Intel chips, thanks to a marketing deal between Intel and the computer makers. The audio mark is a vital branding tool, said Greg Welch, Intel's global brand strategy director.

"It's so familiar and recognizable people can be in the next room and know what happened on TV," he said.

Indeed, the September issue of Business Marketing magazine praised the 4-year-old Intel Inside campaign, saying the ads have "created a preference for computer chips where there was none." Intel Inside, the magazine said, has become "akin to the Good Housekeeping seal for personal computers."

Werzowa, 38, a native of Austria, immigrated to the United States in 1991 to attend a postgraduate program at USC for motion picture and television scoring. After an internship with Walt Disney Co. spent writing music for movie trailers, Werzowa started his own company, Musikvergnuegen, which he said is German for "enjoyment of music."

In addition to the Intel audio mark, Werzowa has written music for other commercials and for more than two dozen movie trailers, including "Men in Black," "The Crying Game," "Addicted to Love," "The Flintstones" and the recent remake of "Psycho." With staffer John Luker, he composed music for the surreal First Union Bank spots.

In April, Werzowa moved to Hollywood from his garage studio and expanded his one-person staff to nine, including the addition of four composers and a producer. His funky industrial space is decorated with antiques, crystal chandeliers, a grand piano and a red punching bag.

Werzowa does most of his composing sitting in stocking feet with thousands of computerized orchestral and quirky sounds at his fingertips. He composes music for commercials as he watches them frame by frame.

"I feel like a child in a great playground," Werzowa said. "I can do whatever I want. Mozart would freak out with all this."

"Walter is an anomaly in Hollywood, where everything's about commerce," said producer Avatar Kramer from San Francisco-based Publicis & Hal Riney, which created the First Union spots. "He does wonderful work and does it for the joy of it."

Werzowa expects his company's sales to reach $2.5 million this year.

Before coming to the United States, the University of Vienna graduate had a hit song in Europe as a member of the techno-pop band Edelweiss. "Bring Me Edelweiss" hit No. 1 in Europe in 1988 and was No. 5 in Britain.

Thus far in his commercial career, Werzowa's biggest hit is the Intel audio mark. He declined to say what he earned for creating it, but called the amount "not really amazing." One reward has been additional work from Intel, which spends hundreds of millions of dollars annually on ads.

Still, Werzowa said, "if I would have kept the copyright [to the audio mark], I'd be a millionaire right now."

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