Mastercard's new sonic identity could open up product placement within music hits

Mastercard panel: Sarpong, Taylor, Arnold and Rajamannar
Mastercard panel: Sarpong, Taylor, Arnold and Rajamannar

Brand has created versatile suite of audio assets based on melodic theme.

Mastercard is considering product placement within tracks by music artists as a new space in which to market its brand, chief marketing and communications officer Raja Rajamannar said.

This month, the brand launched a sonic identity, a versatile melodic theme designed to be used across the brand’s touchpoints, including in advertising, on the phone and at point of sale.

Versions of the tune range from a payment acceptance sound of roughly one second to longer interpretations in different genres and in styles designed to be suited to the cultural tastes of specific markets, including China, India and the Middle East.

In-between is the brand’s "mogo", or musical logo, which is the key sequence of notes from the piece. It is used to close an ad, launched this month, featuring Camila Cabello and soundtracked by her global hit Havana.

Mastercard has also worked with musicians including Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda, who created an EDM version of the piece.

Speaking at a panel discussion in London, Rajamannar said the versatility of the identity meant it could be incorporated into music by other artists, creating the possibility of product placement being used to fund the creation of music.

"When we looked at the possibilities, that was one of the clear possibilities," he said. "You’re entering a new dimension altogether." But he added that "we are just beginning the journey and it can take us a thousand different ways".

It was important to open up new avenues for reaching consumers, Rajamannar said, because of their resistance to conventional advertising. "In the case of regular ads, it’s a horror story for marketers right now. As a consumer, who likes ads? I don’t like ads. It’s annoying – it’s an interruption of my seamless experience."

Rajamannar was taking part in a discussion with Geoff Taylor, chief executive of the British Phonographic Industry (which runs the Brit Awards, sponsored by Mastercard) and composer David Arnold, chaired by June Sarpong.

Asked whether it was legitimate for artists to obtain funding my incorporating commercial sounds into their music, Taylor commented: "It’s very much up to the artist concerned, but it does go to the point about authenticity.

"If you look at the debate right now for the need for social media influencers to distinguish clearly when they’re promoting a product and where they’re not, and for a brand’s integrity, they need to think about those issues."

Rajamannar said the brand was also working towards having an "open architecture", in which the musical ingredients of the identity would be available for individuals to adapt themselves, allowing small business to create their own payment sounds and social media users to contribute creatively to the brand.

"First and foremost, we want to make sure the melody gets recognised," he said. "That identification is very critical. But step number one to an open architecture is our own employees having fun and playing with it.

"I definitely see into the future where many people can play with it; it can be really something that doesn’t have to be within the four walls of the company and the brand."

After a period in the earlier years of the internet in which the importance of sound was "degraded" by illegal downloads, file compression and the predominance of screens, it was now on the ascendancy in a number of ways, Taylor argued.

"Those dynamics are changing – partly voice assistants and home speakers contribute to that, but even simple technological factors like Bluetooth headphones," Taylor said.

"It’s no longer a faff to get sound from your device into your brain. Combined with the quality of sound improving, that contributes to making audio something that’s going to be more important for all of us going forward.

"That’s an opportunity for music, but you also see it in the rise of audiobooks and podcasts. There’s an opportunity for Mastercard to both benefit from that changing consumer behaviour but also the emotion music inspires."

Arnold collaborated with Mastercard on "Listening room", its campaign last year from McCann London that looked at whether music could be used to heal damaged relationships. He described the campaign as "an incredibly forward-thinking and bold thing".

That project led to Arnold being approached by a neuroscientist, Arnold said, who was interesting in working together on how music affects the brain.

Describing what he learned, Arnold said: "Music is the only thing in your auditory cortex that fires off every part of your brain simultaneously.

"Short bursts of music go to the same part of your brain that speech goes to. When you hear a branded logo, an audio version, it’s like a word or an object.

"As much as the idea of the science of music is quite anathema, if you understand what it does when you’re trying to come up with something that identifies something, that’s partially instinctive, but you have to pay attention to the science."

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