We live in a visual world. From the moment we wake up until we go to bed, we’re bombarded with pictures, videos, words, and flashing lights.

Sight is efficient: we can absorb a ton of information in the shortest amount of time. “A picture is worth a thousand words,” the saying goes. And so, we pile on pictures. An endless pile of pictures. On movies, TV, and social media. On paper and screens. So many screens.

The visual firehose we’re exposed to is reprogramming our brains. It’s conditioning us into a ‘headline culture,’ where we’d rather read twenty headlines than one story; watch seven video clips than one show.

This phenomenon has implications for advertising: if share of voice still matters, brands feel they need to maintain their sliver of that firehose with an increased number of messages. Before, TV alone could get you there. But now, how could you reach young consumers without using YouTube? And Facebook? Oh, by the way, we need to add a line for Instagram. And Snapchat. And research and production, since vertical videos are different from horizontal ones which are different from TV.

Since budgets are finite, brands have been shifting TV dollars to TV substitutes – ad units that are supposed to deliver the full “sight, sound, and motion” power of TV, and reach consumers on their smartphones or other devices.

Two things have happened in that shift.

First, ads have become shorter – from thirty to fifteen to now six seconds. Even on TV!

Second, an outstanding share of those ads are seen with the phone on mute.

So, if you are one of those advertisers, you have to wonder: is your brand on mute? Can you talk to your consumers when they’re not listening?

Sound is where emotion comes from – sound stimuli are the first to be perceived by the brain, at 0.146 seconds. Then touch at 0.149, then sight at 0.189.

If you want to test the emotional power of sound at home, try watching a horror movie with the sound off. It’s not scary at all.

However, TV and its substitutes provide great reach and value, and few large brands can get their message across without them.

Some hacks help – adding subtitles on smartphone ads – while others annoy the consumer – auto-play with the sound on. Yet neither comes close to what brands need:

A sound strategy

It starts with a closer understanding of the effect and the art of sound, even for audiovisual media. Ask yourself how many graphic designers work on your brand for every sound designer who does.

It may include a sonic identity. Many brands have developed memorable sonic identities over the years, from Intel to AT&T to Apple. Ask yourself if you need one.

And from the media perspective, ask yourself if you’re using the whole palette of sound media: passive listening (streaming music, music radio) and active listening (podcasts).

Podcasts listeners chose to engage with the content they select for twenty, thirty, even sixty minutes at a time. They’re leaning in. And that’s why they’re much more likely to listen to our thirty, forty-five, sixty second ads in their entirety, and act on them. Some brands have gone further and told their story in their own branded podcasts.

According to Nielsen, 50% of homes consider themselves podcast fans. And a survey of podcast listeners conducted by comScore says 68% of podcast listeners took some action as a result of a podcast ad.

At a recent DMexco conference, P&G’s Marc Pritchard said “two seconds is not enough”, speaking of the length of time people spend with the average digital media ad.

I agree. But if you need to be noticed and your budget is limited, what are you supposed to do? Use only audiovisual media that will let you run longer ads, thus limiting reach?

One solution may be to put sound to work: both in audio-only media, as well as a way to supercharge your audiovisual media. And to ensure your brand is never on mute.   

As you try to cut through that visual firehose, consider that the best way to get consumers to notice you may be to talk to them while they’re listening.

About the Author: Hernan Lopez is the founder & CEO of Wondery, A Network Of Storytellers.