Mastercard, Linkin Park and an earworm coming soon to a shop near you

The financial services provider has furnished itself with a new 'sonic identity' that it says will help it remain relevant in a world of frictionless payments and conversational commerce.

Feb 13, 2019 04:07:00 AM | Video | Olivia Parker

One month on from removing the name from its interlocking circles logo in a bid to become a 'symbols brand', Mastercard has released a new 'sonic identity' that it hopes will develop into a ubiquitous proxy for the company. 

The range of musical refrains includes a new acceptance sound for payments, a catchy little bite of a tune that marks a valid transaction when paying with Mastercard either online or off. Bought tickets from a website? Breep-ba-deep-ba-deep (Campaign's best description of the noise, which you can hear in the video above). Paid for your morning coffee? Breep-ba-deep-ba-deep. At two seconds, it's longer than the two-note payment "chirp" launched by Visa in 2017, and arguably a little more appealing. 

This acceptance sound is a based on a 'signature' four-bar Mastercard melody that also forms the basis for other musical branding opportunities. Apart from at points of sale, for example, you might  hear the new "mogo" (musical logo) as the closing refrain in Mastercard TV adverts — campaigns due to roll out in Asia this year are currently being re-edited to include the new sound. Longer versions such as the 'Mastercard Soundscape', below, will play at events sponsored by the brand such as the Australian Open, or in other B2B or B2B hosting spaces. 

The idea is for Mastercard to make its presence felt in a world where payments have become so seamless that the enabler brand risks becoming anonymous, explains Rustom Dastoor, Mastercard's SVP of marketing and communications for Asia Pacific. Mastercard also wants to have its own sonic footprint established and ready for the rise of 'conversational commerce'—buying through voice-activated products such as Amazon's Alexa or Google's Siri. "You don't just see our brand, you hear it as well," says Dastoor. 

No one agency worked on the mogo but the "consortium of people" who helped included McCann Worldgroup, Mastercard's agency of record since 1997. The company also worked with designers in "a dozen" different countries to produce the four bars and, in an unpredictable partnership, hired Mike Shinoda, co-founder of the American rock band Linkin Park, as a 'music innovator'. "His role was more to help us construct this in a manner that is engaging to consumers and will quickly become something that has a mass appeal or impact," explains Dastoor. 

Mike Shinoda

This seems ambitious. Do consumers want more noise in their lives, particularly an earworm that plays during every transaction they make? Dastoor says the brand considered this "extensively", including from the perspective of the merchant who might hear this sound several hundred times a day. 

"We wanted to make sure that the sound we create is not jarring to the ear and that over time it becomes organic to the experience where you don't resent it or find it an intrusion, but you almost find it like a completion of the cycle." The Mastercard mogo could become a satisfying jingle in the manner of the Intel chimes, hopes Dastoor, or the sound that played when Windows finally loaded up on old PCs.

Getting the sound right is one thing, but Mastercard's challenge now is to integrate the jingle into point-of-sale devices, both digital and traditional. Many older devices cannot currently support sound files, and the company must seek the consent of all merchants before they can embed it. Dastoor says this won't be a major hurdle.

"The device industry is forever in a state of evolution. What we find especially in Asia, with the digital form factor becoming so predominant, is that traditional point of sale devices are giving way to merchant apps that are built into smartphones, those that accept both QR or NFC [Near Field Communication payment]. So in fact the acceleration of the point of sale environment and the change in devices is already so rigorous and so fast-paced that we don't really see the old generation of devices restricting us from scaling this very quickly." 

As in the majority of global branding efforts, certain markets will get their own localised versions of the jingle (see 'Dubai', below). In China, for example, the standard four bars will be played with "instruments relevant to China."

Dastoor says the sonic identity will particularly help his work in culturally diverse Asia. "To have symbols and sounds that unify Asia is a really awesome tool to have in the marketer's toolkit. I don't need to depend on languange now in order to string Asia together, symbols and sounds make it a lot easier for me to bridge differences."