Interview: How Mastercard Is Investing In A Sonic Identity To Immerse Customers In Its Brand
Mastercard chief marketing and communications officer speaks to PSFK about the company's evolution in accordance with consumer behavior, transforming its logo into a sonic-visual experience and dropping its written name to better suit today's retail environments
What does it mean to be create a successful brand image in 2019? As screens shrink in size and consumers become increasingly intolerant of advertising that interrupts their daily lives, companies must adjust traditional strategies in favor of more organic and sophisticated marketing techniques.
Mastercard, which recently made headlines for its dropping the actual name from its logo in favor of its recognizable yellow and red interlocking circles, has also been an early adopter of “sonic branding.” Taking the advertising jingle to the next level, Mastercard's sonic brand will reach its customers at every touchpoint, from television commercials to point-of-sale transaction sounds. PSFK spoke to Raja Rajamannar, chief marketing and communications officer, for a behind the scenes look as Mastercard continues its transition into a symbol brand.
PSFK: How is Mastercard responding to changing consumer behavior when it comes to financial needs?
Raja: The behavior of consumers is changing at quite an unprecedented rate with the evolution of technology. As an example, today consumers have started using their voice for searching on and engaging with their devices. In that situation, there is absolutely no visual real estate, because customers are not using their hands to type in anything nor are they looking at any screen.
Another important change is ad blocking by consumers. Historically, consumers have never been big fans of advertising—it is seen more as an interruption to their otherwise seamless experience. Consumers are annoyed by ads in general.
So, they start using ad blocks on their mobile devices where they're watching videos, so it prevents ads from being shown to them. They are also willing to pay money to be in an ad‑free environment like a Netflix or a YouTube Red or a Hulu. That has profound implications for marketers: If consumers are blocking them off at scale, they have to find different ways to get in front of consumers in a non‑annoying and a highly engaging fashion.
We actually have come up with a solution for this at Mastercard: It's what we call experiential marketing. Instead of telling our stories, we move into story‑making, which is giving experiences to our consumers. They then will tell their stories to their network of friends and family. We started that journey about five years back. Today, we are probably one of the most significant experiential marketing brands across all categories.
Consumers are also looking for brands to take a stand on issues that matter. They want brands with a purpose. There, again, Mastercard has made significant strides over the last 15-20 years. We have really embedded purpose into everything that we do.
How does Mastercard add value into the more transactional side of the experience?
First and foremost, safety and security are critical for any consumer when it comes to payments or transactions. We believe that our safety and security solutions and the protocols that we have gives a lot of peace of mind. It engenders trust in people's minds about Mastercard as a brand.
One of the key things that we have realized is that there are many ways we can provide that sense of reassurance and peace of mind to consumers during the transactions. One is showing our brand visually. Particularly in the context where there is no visual real estate, brands still need to give that sense of reassurance and trusted environment to consumers.
That's where our sonic branding comes into picture. Just like we have these red and yellow circles that visually depict Mastercard, we have also created a sonic identity or a sonic branding. When you hear that particular sound or those series of sounds, you know that this is Mastercard, that you're in a safe environment.
We have been researching and working on it for more than two years. We worked with musicologists, singers, artists, music agencies, the works, trying to figure out what should be the audio representation of Mastercard. It is not just one sound like some other brands have done. We have a complete sonic brand architecture. It all starts with the DNA, a melody that's about 30 seconds long.
This melody is very sophisticated, yet neutral. Typically, you don't want a brand to be obtrusive or intrusive, but rather supportive. This whole melody is neutral and supportive as opposed to dominating. The melody has to be likable, obviously, and it has to be hummable. Why hummable? That which is hummable is more memorable. We want our brand and our sonic identity to be that.
It also has to be versatile, as Mastercard is present in more than 200 countries around the world. Whichever part of the world you are in, you should be able to identify that melody as belonging to your culture or to the genre of your liking as opposed to it being alien. For example, we have it adapted to different geographies around the world, so one for Dubai, one for South Africa, one for Colombia.
Likewise, we created these melody versions for different genres of music, whether it is operatic, which is on one extreme end of the spectrum, or it is electronic dance music on the other, or anything in‑between. This way, our melody can be appropriate to the situation the consumer happens to be in.
This melody will also play in all our ads. At the end of every advertisement of ours, there will be a sonic signature, which we call Mogo, as in musical logo, which is a three‑second subset of the 30‑second melody.
It'll also play at our events. For example, here at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, this is our first event where we have integrated our sonic identity across every single touchpoint. Consumers are met with and surrounded by the Mastercard sonic melody everywhere. When they go, for example, to a merchandise shop or a concession shop, and they pay with their Mastercard, they hear the Mastercard melody played. They are immersed.
Why is this immersive quality of the brand so important in today's market?
There is a huge trust deficit in the environment today. Brands have to really convey that sense of trust, peace of mind and reassurance to consumers. For us at Mastercard, the most relevant physical interactions are related to sight and sound.
From a visual point of view, we have accommodated for the fact that consumers are using small devices of varying sizes. They have wearables like watches, where the visual real estate is so small that the word Mastercard is so small, hardly anyone is even able to read it. We are optimizing our colors so that they stand out in a digital environment on any screen. Also, we're taking away the word Mastercard to only have two circles in red and yellow, so that they stand out much more prominently.
There are just a handful of brands around the world that are so iconic as to be recognized without the written name. We feel very fortunate that 80% of people around the world are able to recognize the brand even without the name Mastercard written there.
We also created a series of animations. For example, when consumers are at the point of sale and when they're making a transaction, what happens is the logo plays around, and it transforms itself into a check mark in yellow color. Simultaneously, our brand is registered through sound. The sound and the sight will work together, forging our visual brand with our sonic brand to be highly compelling.
Where can consumers expect to hear some of the sonic branding?
It will start with merchants and events. The Arnold Palmer Invitational is our first major event where we have done a full integration end‑to‑end of our sound and our symbol across every touchpoint for the consumer, from the time they walk into the space to the time they check out, and they are surrounded by the Mastercard brand in a very elegant way as opposed to an annoying way.
We have already started using our musical logo and our symbol in the previous ad that we did with Camila Cabello at the Grammy Awards in February. All our ads going forward will have our sonic melody and our sonic signature, or the Mogo.
As far as at point of sale, we began our first integration with Fred Segal in Los Angeles. Today, if shoppers go to Fred Segal and use their card there, they will hear our acceptance sound. We are gradually now trying to roll it out around the world.
Advertisements, the music on hold, ringtones—these are the ones that are much easier and faster for deployment. The acceptance sound at the point of sale is more of a long haul. We estimate that within three to five years, it will become ubiquitous around the world.
Mastercard is taking stock of today's digital-first environment, revamping its branding and user experience in accordance with dynamic consumer retail behavior. For more from leading brands like Mastercard, see PSFK's reports and newsletters.