Destined to be classic but too early to be considered for the best of all time, the next chapter of sonic strategy and logos has to be Mastercard. The press release sounded the charge….
Setting a new tempo for brand expression, Mastercard debuts its sonic brand identity, a comprehensive sound architecture that signifies the latest advancement for the brand. Wherever consumers engage with Mastercard across the globe—be it physical, digital or voice environments—the distinct and memorable Mastercard melody will provide simple, seamless familiarity. The news comes on the heels of the company’s recent transition to a symbol brand and is part of its continued brand transformation. “Sound adds a powerful new dimension to our brand identity and a critical component to how people recognize Mastercard today and in the future,” said Raja Rajamannar, chief marketing and communications officer, Mastercard. “We set out an ambitious goal to produce the Mastercard melody in a way that’s distinct and authentic, yet adaptable globally and across genres. It is important that our sonic brand not only reinforces our presence, but also resonates seamlessly around the world.” To ensure the Mastercard melody would resonate with people the world over, Mastercard tapped musicians, artists and agencies from across the globe, including musical innovator Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park. The result, a distinct and memorable melody with adaptations across genres and cultures, making it locally relevant while maintaining a consistent global brand voice. In addition, the use of varying instruments and tempos help to deliver the Mastercard melody in several unique styles such as operatic, cinematic, and playful as well as a number of regional interpretations. The Mastercard melody is the foundation of the company’s sound architecture and will extend to many assets, from musical scores, sound logos and ringtones, to hold music and point-of-sale acceptance sounds. “What I love most about the Mastercard melody, is just how flexible and adaptable it is across genres and cultures,” said Mike Shinoda. “It’s great to see a big brand expressing themselves through music to strengthen their connection with people.” With voice shopping set to hit $40 billion by 2022, audio identities not only connect brands with consumers on a new dimension, they are tools enabling consumers to shop, live, and pay in an increasingly digital and mobile world. “Audio makes people feel things, and that’s what makes it such a powerful medium for brands, said Matt Lieber”, Cofounder and President, Gimlet. “With the explosion of podcasts, music streaming, and smart speakers, an audio strategy is no longer a “nice-to-have” for brands—it’s a necessity. A sonic identity—the audio calling card for a brand—is now just as important as a brand’s visual identity.”1
Meet Raja Rajamannar. He is an accomplished global marketing executive with more than 25 years of experience, the last six of which have been in the role of Chief Marketing & Communications Officer for Mastercard and President of the company’s healthcare business. Raja is consistently recognized globally as a highly innovative and transformational leader in his field. Some of his recent accolades include: Global Marketer of the Year award by the World Federation of Advertisers, top 5 “World’s Most Influential CMOs” by Forbes, top 10 “World’s Most Innovative CMOs” by Business Insider, and inductee to The CMO Club Hall of Fame. He has also been recognized as one of AdWeek’s most tech-savvy CMOs.
He recently assumed the honorary role of President of the World Federation of Advertisers. Raja has also been recognized by ANA Educational Foundation as the Marketer of the Year in 2019. At Mastercard, Raja is responsible for successfully leading the company’s marketing transformation, including the integration of the marketing and communication functions, the development of its Priceless experiential platforms, and the creation and deployment of cutting edge marketing-led business models into the core of the company. Raja has overseen the successful evolution of Mastercard’s identity for the digital age, pioneering Mastercard’s move to become a symbol brand and launching its breakthrough sonic brand platform. Interbrand has ranked Mastercard as the fastest growing brand across all industries and categories, worldwide in 2019. In his role as President of Healthcare, Raja has overseen the creation, development, and successful scaling of Mastercard’s healthcare business across multiple regions. Raja has been recognized for driving business transformation across a variety of geographies and industries, including consumer products, financial services and healthcare. Prior to Mastercard, he served as Chief Transformation Officer of the health insurance firm Anthem (formerly WellPoint), and served as Chief Innovation & Marketing Officer at Humana. Earlier in his career, Raja held senior management roles with Asian Paints, Unilever and Citibank. Raja is a member of the Board of Directors of PPL Corporation and Bon Secours Mercy Health and serves on the boards of the New York City Ballet, Cintrifuse, and ANA.
What’s his background?
I’m originally from India. I was born and brought up there. I studied chemical engineering and I thought I’d take up a career in environmental engineering, but somewhere I strayed into marketing in my MBA. And since then I have been in the field of marketing, now for more than 35 years. I worked across multiple geographies in the world—India, Middle-East and Africa, Europe, United States, and global. So, I moved all over the place and I also worked in different industries. I started my career in the paints industry. After 3 years, I moved to consumer packaged goods, with Unilever. Then I moved to financial services and worked for 15 years with Citibank. Then I moved into healthcare where I spent about four years and then I moved into payments for the last seven years. I also serve on the board of directors of a couple of companies. One is PPL Corporation, which is a Fortune 500 power generation and distribution company, and the second one is Bon Secours Mercy Health, which is one of the largest not-for-profit hospital systems in the United States and Ireland.2
How did he end up as the CMO at Mastercard?
Well, I’m very grateful for my journey. Roughly half of my career I spent in marketing proper, and the other half was managing P&Ls and leveraging marketing, so marketing was reporting to me in my P&L roles. I was managing businesses or divisions or a company like Diners Club. So, it’s been a very exciting journey and marketing is definitely my first love and something which I’m very deeply passionate about. I try to stay current, and I’m also writing a book on marketing, which I’m very excited about. I just finished the manuscript. It’s called Quantum Marketing and it all about the how marketing will be transformed in the immediate future and how marketers have to navigate that future to survive and thrive. The book will be released on February 9, 2021, and is already available now for preordering on Amazon and a bunch of other eCommerce sites.3
And does he consider himself a musician?
I don’t know if I’m a musician, but I have deep appreciation of music. For a short while, I was classically trained in Carnatic music, which is South Indian classical music and I had learned it for about two and a half years. So that’s not a whole bunch of time to learn classical music, but I grew up in a family of musicians. My mom was a very good singer, classical singer. Both my sisters used to sing classical Carnatic and my father used to play one of the percussion instruments called tabla. So I grew up listening to music and so it’s a part of my DNA, but I really don’t know if I’m qualified to call myself a musician.4
And was it his love for music that facilitated Mastercard’s sonic branding strategy?
Yeah, it was definitely my brain child, I would say. Having got that sensibility around music, I always felt that music could be a very powerful component of marketing in general and branding in particular. And so, about 2013 or 2014, I can’t exactly remember when, I started this effort—why don’t we get music into our marketing mix and why don’t we create a musical identity for our brand? So that effort we had embarked on and pursued for about two years. It did not go anywhere because the kind of complexities I was dealing with, it has to be universal, it has to be neutral, it has to fit every situation, it has to be applicable across all the geographies and all the genres, getting to the universally applicable and likeable musical notes and tune, etc. So after two years we just took a pause and again, restarted in 2016. And this time around, I started working with folks from the music industry, in a sense that I was working with musicians, musicologists, studios, of course our advertising agencies and music agencies. It was a pretty complex exercise and it took me two years this time as well. But this time, the two years were productive and we came up with a tune that was on the one hand pleasant, second it was simple. If it is complex it won’t work in the marketing context. It had to be memorable. That which is not memorable, will not get associated anyway to the brand, so why even have it? We said it has to be hummable, hummable because that which you hum really sticks in your mind quite deeply. Then I said, it had to feel very native, whether you’re playing that music in Dubai or in Shanghai or in Bogota or in Germany, it had to appeal universally, but also feel native. So you’re not getting to the lowest common denominator, but you’re going to the highest common factor, so to speak. Then we also said, it had to be native in different contexts. For example, we sponsor football and we sponsor ballet. Now, these are extremes in terms of the musical nature of the sound. And our melody has to be applicable in both these contexts. Then we said, we also have to be very situationally appropriate, like in a romantic evening setting or in a very noisy electronic dance music festival. It had to feel native in both the cases. So, when I gave this brief to the agency, they looked like I had multiple heads and I don’t blame them. But eventually we kept on at it and working with so many folks and creating options, testing them out. So, for example, when a melody is created, we are going to check it in various countries and see if it is appealing or not. And then go back to the drawing board if it works in some areas, but not in some other areas. So it was a very long, very expensive journey, but something which I’m very grateful that we landed with a 30-second melody, which is basically at the core of our entire sonic branding. Now, even when we were developing this, my own thinking started evolving on it. I was looking at various companies, which have been exploring sonic branding and incorporating music into their marketing mix. So there were companies, for example, like Intel, which had a beautiful mnemonic at the end of their ads, they stuck to it consistently, and today you don’t have to look at the screen, you just listen to that sound, and you recognize it as the mnemonic of Intel. British Airways has done it in a very different way. They created a beautiful melody, it was an aria and they were using it in all the places, whether it was on the plane or it was in their ads. That was a different kind of an approach. And of course you had McDonald’s and you had NBC, you’re got a whole bunch of companies which were leveraging music in some form or fashion, but what was missing in the industry, to my mind, was that there was no comprehensive brand architecture. Like when you’re designing your visual logo, you create a whole visual architecture, and a complete visual design system. But, nothing of that sort was available in the sonic space for audio branding. So we had to create our own playbook, based on our own sonic branding architecture. Our sonic branding architecture will have 10 different layers. And the first layer is the 30 second melody that I was talking to you about. Then the second layer is a three second subset of the 30-second melody, which is our mnemonic or the sonic signature. When you listen to it, you know that this is Mastercard. And we play our melody at all our events as background music, we use it in our advertisements, in our conferences, and our videos, it’s all embedded there. We end all our ads with our sonic signature. Then the third layer is what we call as the acceptance sound. So in our case, unlike many of the brands you interact with, our brand comes into play each time you are making a payment with your credit card or debit card, either at a point of sale or online. That’s an opportunity where consumers are looking for a confirmation that their transaction has gone through successfully. So we created a subset of the three seconds mnemonic into a 1.3 seconds sound. And that’s what we released as our acceptance sound. We had to also be very careful that this acceptance sound did not create fatigue. Imagine, if you are a sales person or the checkout clerk at Walmart, hundreds of people are going by your checkout. And each time you are listening to the acceptance sound, you should not get tired of the at sound. So, we had to make sure that this was very well researched from a neurology point of view, from a fatigue point of view. I’m very happy to say that that sonic acceptance, the acceptance sound that we have is now live at more than 49 million points of interaction around the world. Well, I mean the easy thing would have been, you just sponsored a concert tour, you know that right? And a big logo in the back of the band, but it speaks to, I think, your appreciation of sonic branding, that it has to be all encompassing. And I think it also speaks to the fact that you understand that it’s not just important for the customer that is using Mastercard, but in a lot of ways for the customer, who’s not using Mastercard to get their attention and say, “Oh, are they using something I don’t have that I should have?” kind of thing, which is brilliant, I think, in so many different levels.5
How’s it going so far?
It’s been very rewarding for us because already in a short period of one year, we have been rated as the world’s best sonic brand, coming from behind. And there were other brands which were around for decades, invested in their sonic brand. So this thoughtful approach seems to be paying off. We’re getting very good feedback from our customers and from our cardholders, which has been really good. And so there are more layers that are in the pipeline, which I cannot talk about right now. But rest assured that this is going to be a very long journey with multiple, multiple elements to our sonic branding that will be coming. And one of those, which we have also done earlier this year—we created a song, incorporating the Mastercard melody, not as a corporate anthem. If you play corporate anthem, people will throw up. It’s not a corporate anthem, but leveraging the melody to create a popular song. The idea behind this is that I’ve came up with this three A’s model. So first you need to create an awareness for the melody. The second a is an association between the melody and the brand, Mastercard. And the third a is attribution. When you ask people, they able to attribute this correctly to Mastercard. So basically these three A’s, it’s almost like a funnel. So if I have to now start making people recognize this melody, how do I do it? One of the best ways I can do it is by getting into the popular culture, by creating a song. And that song has got our melody, so people, while enjoying the song, they will start getting awareness of the melody. So we created our first song called Merry Go Round. Now we are at the verge of launching a full album, with 11 songs in it. Each one of them have got elements of the Mastercard melody incorporated in it, but they one doesn’t sound repetitive. They’re extremely diverse and very different. Music is so personal. You might love a particular kind of music, but I am not. So we had to really look at the aspect of incorporating melody into a multitude of songs. And each song may appeal to a different segment, different mindset of people. And so that’s the journey that we are on right now and hoping to launch it before the end of the year, unless COVID comes back, which I hope it doesn’t.6
Can you say to Alexa, “Alexa, use my Mastercard,” and then hear the audio logo?
In fact, in some geographies you can. It’s not across the board, but that’s exactly the point. So what happens is it’s not just smart speakers alone, but if you think of Internet of Things, meaning your connected refrigerator, your connected thermostat, your connected washing machine, any connected device will be a device for marketing. And when you talk of marketing, you need to show your brand there. So, for example, we have launched, over two years back, a pilot with Samsung to launch a refrigerator, a connected refrigerator. So the refrigerator senses which items are there in the refrigerator, and which are running out of stock, it’ll automatically place a reorder. And the stocks will come to you from FreshDirect. So this is something which we had done. That was just a pilot kind of scenario, but this is going to happen and accelerate in future. Smart speakers are another brilliant example where the entire transaction happens through a voice, there has no visual real estate at all. So as a brand, how do you get into that stream of consciousness? Into that stream of sound? That’s where sonic branding comes in, and becomes so incredibly important. And, for example, just 24 months back, or maybe even, say 18 months back, the penetration of smart speakers in the United States was 10 percent. By the end of 2019, it had shot up to 26 percent. It is amazing how fast it is growing. And this is only going to accelerate. You’ll be talking to your, for example, thermostat. So you say, “Hey thermostat, reduce the temperature to 68” and it does. And it gives you a confirmation sound. That could be a Mastercard, if it is indeed relevant. So, you need to find the relevance. You need to find the occasion, you need to find the medium and showcase your brand. So particularly, if there is a purchase that is being made, Mastercard wants to always be there. There are 49 million places where you actually hear the audio brand of Mastercard, when you pay with your Mastercard and the transaction goes through successfully. So, when you go to a shop like Fred Segal’s, you’ll swipe your card or you tap your card at the sales terminal. As soon as the transaction has been approved, it plays the acceptance sound of Mastercard.7
What’s the relationship between the audio and print logos?
So when we looked at our logo, we have two colors, red and yellow are the two circles, which are overlapping. Red, we call, is the color of passion. And yellow is the color of optimism. And we tried to bring those, the passion and optimism into all the depictions of our brand. So for example, in partnership with La Durée we created macarons—we call it the taste of Mastercard. So there is a taste of passion and there is a taste of optimism. And the second one is about optimism. Whether it is taste or sound, there is an upbeat or uplifting feel. So we try to sort of get these two components in, through everything that we do.8
What does he think of when he hears the sonic logo?
As a consumer, as a normal person, I find it pleasant. And it gives me a sense of completion. Like for example, when a transaction has gone through with my Mastercard and I hear that sound, it gives a sense of completion. It’s gratification, it’s satisfaction, a feeling that something has gone through safely. It’s a peace of mind. That’s one, as a consumer, as an individual. Likewise, as a consumer, or as an individual. I listened to Mastercard songs and they are very enjoyable. And now, if I put on the cap of a marketing guy and then listen to this, it’s very gratifying. It’s exactly delivering what we were hoping that it’ll deliver, the right feelings, the right message, and the right characteristics to it, it has no fatigue, no tediousness etc. On the other hand, there is a sense of optimism, a sense of passion, a sense of completion and gratification. So they really work very well.9
Does he think the Mastercard sonic logo will be around as long as the NBC chimes?
I’m not saying it with a sense of arrogance, but I’m saying based on the amount of study we have done, the research we have done, the consumer feedback we have looked and worked with the best in the world, in the field of music. So there are a lot of indications that it’s all going to be very successful. Just to give you an indication, but we were hoping that we will reach, within the first one year, probably about two to three million places through our sonic acceptance and here we are at 49 million! So it’s taking off for us quite nicely. We see the consumer behavior: How does it get impacted by the sonic? It’s been very positive. Okay, I’m not at Liberty to share the specific lifts that happen in consumer confidence and consumer’s feelings toward the brand. And consumer’s propensity to spend more in future with my card, as opposed to somebody else’s card, it’s pretty high. It’s very positive. And also we are looking at different manifestations, like if you go to China today, it’s fascinating. They created a card which makes music. So the card, when you tap it at a shop, instead of the sound coming from the point of sale terminal, the sound comes from the card itself. So we are looking at all kinds of ways in which sound can be brought in. If you go to Korea and you’re going through the subway there, there are those turnstiles. So when you tap your card, it makes the Mastercard sonic acceptance sound because, your subway ticket is on Mastercard. Or if you go to New York and get into some of these taxis, after the ride is over and you’re getting out, it gives you the sound of Mastercard.10
It’s much more than a marketing strategy. It’s a marketing musicology strategy right?
Absolutely. That’s exactly right. And a couple of things, which I would also want to say, maybe it’s a little bit of a detour, but significant research studies are showing that consumer’s feelings and moods can be much more affected by sound than the other sense. It is connected to some primal aspects because of how the human brain has developed. When the human being heard a threatening sound, the primal brain kicks into action. And then he starts taking off to save himself. I’ve just given you a negative example, but on the positive side as well, you see people, when they listen to some extraordinary music that touches deeply, they cry, they don’t cry because they’re unhappy, but it is the tears of joy that flow. It’s a very deep connection. If you can appropriately and authentically tap into those deep areas, I think brands can really embed themselves quite nicely in the consumer’s hearts and minds.11
Any fun fact or story around Mastercard’s sonic logo?
Yeah, actually, this is something which happened probably a few years back, five, six years back. I wasn’t fully aware of what EDM was, electronic dance music. So one my team members said, oh, that’s the fastest growing category of music, you must experience it. I said, yeah, sure thing. So we flew into Atlanta and outside of Atlanta there was a program that was happening called Tomorrow World, a gigantic event. And there were like tens of thousands of people gathered and apparently they listen to the music concerts the whole day, literally, and very early into the next morning. And for 5 days or so! So I went there and my experience, I would say, I could barely stand for 10 minutes. I said, this is so out of sync with my sensibilities. But, that’s the beauty of diversity. There are tens of thousands of people who are having a ball of their life. And here I, who is thinking, my God, I can barely tolerate this for 10 minutes. I told my team I am done with it. But, having looked at the people, seeing how well they’re enjoying the whole show, I said let’s go ahead and sponsor EDM. So, now we sponsor more than 80 electronic dance music festivals around the world. And the interesting thing, David, is one of our sonic melody renditions is in an electronic dance music version. And it was done for us by none other than Mike Shinoda, who is a cofounder of Linkin Park.12