Do you hear the ice cream coming?

Do you like a big, sumptuous scoop of ice cream? Does the sight of ice-cream excite you? If you love ice cream, Mobile Softee (雪糕車) knows how to thrill you not only visually, but auditorily as well through pairing ice cream with cute music-box style melody. The 47-year-old brand has become part of the collective memory of many Hong Kongers. In fact, its symbolic and cultural significance is so great it can be said to have been a soundmark of Hong Kong.

Mobile Softee is an ice cream vendor in Hong Kong. It all started when Ho Ging-yuen (何敬源) and two of his friends imported the idea of an ice-cream truck from England by gaining a franchise in 1970 from Mister Softee, a United States-based ice cream truck franchisor. Ho selected the Blue Danube composed by Johann Strauss II as the theme song for their 14 ice-cream trucks out of all song choices provided by Mister Softee for no other reason than that the sweet tune rang most familiar to Ho.

Mobile Softee’s distinct ice cream trucks painted in red, white, and blue ran all over Hong Kong while playing the Blue Danube tune loud on their speakers. They lingered near schools and train stations on weekdays and at tourist spots such as the Star Ferry Pier in Tsim Sha Tsui on weekends. People always hear a Mobile Softee before seeing it. Once your ears catch the classic and well-known tune of the waltz music, it grows on you and stimulates your brain with enticing images of ice-cream, making you want to buy it even before seeing it. The Blue Danube tune is like a tantalizing beckoning, guiding and drawing people to its source and the product, a siren song for every ice-cream lover.

Not only is Mobile Softee one of the earliest precursors of food trucks in Hong Kong, it is also one of the few sellers that tap into people’s hunger through hearing. Its attempt to evoke the deliciousness of ice cream through music is a clever marketing strategy. It succeeded to be ear-catching in a memorable way and has made a name for itself. However, is Mobile Softee’s sweet music welcomed by everyone? When vehicle sound is coupled with music, do they go well together or on the contrary, make the surrounding soundscape noisier or chaotic? For people who would just like to enjoy the ice-cream in quiet, Mobile Softee’s music may ring less than peaceful to their ears. Whether the Blue Danube evokes whatever Mobile Softee aims to evoke, be it happiness or a craving for ice-cream, depends after all on the hearer, his or her mood or other personal factors, pointing to the subjectiveness of soundscape.