United’s sonic brand: Rhapsody in Blue falls into the Public Domain


No matter where they’re traveling, they’re all listening to “Rhapsody in Blue.”

Written by Colleen Fahey, USA Managing Director

As of this week, any chewing gum or hair dye brand can join United Airlines in the use of George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. The composition, along with other music from 1924, has just entered the public domain where it will be freely available to new musicians to recompose or new advertisers to exploit. United’s sonic brand will become saturated and no longer have the unique sonic brand attribute.

What will United do with their sonic brand?

I tip my hat to @United Airlines for its long commitment to this mighty brand asset and to its creativity in using it to enrich their brand experience in everything from safety videos to brand environments.

A good example of the flexibility which has kept the music fresh is the “Safety is Global” video that takes place around the world, with music that changes to fit the place. According to author, @Ryan Paul Bañagale, “…a tenor saxophone improvises lightly around this most famous melody of the Rhapsody while [the flight attendant] provides instructions on how to use the seatbelt from the bumpy backseat. Finally, a gong signals a move to Asia where we encounter the ritornello theme of the Rhapsody, but it is being played on a plucked zither and bamboo flute.” (Oxford University Press, 2014)

The music was tactfully withdrawn in 2001 after the destruction of the World Trade Center and, again, after UAL’s bankruptcy filing.

Find out more…

The association with the brand is powerful, but if I were advising an airline today, I’d recommend they go with a tailor-made, proprietary sonic brand.For more information about songs, movies and books that entered the public domain on Public Domain Day 2020.

Finally, there’s more scoop on United’s use of Rhapsody in Blue on pages 158 -160 of Laurence Minky’s and my audio branding book.

Read this article on linkedin here