How Does a Brand 'Sound'?

Thanks to the rise of enabled video and audio technology, it’s now possible to add another level of sensory experience to a brand interaction. Known as audio or sonic branding, this includes video, music, and sound effects that consumers can experience across all channels and interactions with companies that use the strategy.

A standout example of sonic branding is Intel’s iconic “bong” sound. Other audio branding moments include ones that can get stuck in your head -- like the McDonald’s “ba da ba ba ba, I’m lovin’ it” song.  

As thought leader Gary Vaynerchuk explains in a blog post, “Ultimately, sonic branding is the audio equivalent of a brand’s username. If a company plays their tag alongside advertisements or content that match their brand’s positioning, eventually that audio tag by itself will conjure up the intended feelings around that brand.”

Mastercard's Breakthrough Sonic Branding Effort



Mastercard has just introduced an evolution of the company’s brand identity that encompasses a comprehensive sonic brand architecture, which will become the audio cue for all consumer interactions with Mastercard.

Recognizing the growth in voice commerce and adoption of digital home assistants as well as the move to a smaller screen, Mastercard knew branding had to change to be relevant to the digital and mobile environment, said Raja Rajamannar, the company’s CMO and communications officer.

Two years ago, the credit card company began to create a sonic branding strategy.

“Adding sound brings another dimension to our brand,” Rajamannar said. “Since consumers are so bombarded already, this sonic branding and change to a more minimalist design helps keep us top of mind without overwhelming them.”  

Now, when consumers go online via their mobile device to buy something and checks out with their Mastercard, they will see a more prominent logo without the company name and enjoy the added experience of a melody.

A Sound That Changes with Genres, Applications, and Consumer Mood

Consumers will hear a contextually or regionally relevant version of the sonic brand. Rajamannar added, “The sonic brand architecture provides for this flexibility because it has been thoughtfully structured to be pleasant, simple, hummable, and, most importantly, adaptable.”

For example, it might be an electronic dance music version or it could be delivered in an operatic style. Overall, there is still a consistent, and recognizable, foundational melody. It’s this comprehensive sound architecture that the brand believes will set it apart as breaking new ground in leveraging audio to drive brand recognition.

On a cultural level, Mastercard also recognized the need to create a sonic brand that would be relatable around the world. “We’ve worked with musicians, artists and agencies from around this world," said Rajamannar. "This team included Mike Shinoda, co-founder of Linkin Park. The result was a melody that offers different instruments and tempos without making it complex and confusing to the listener.”

Sonic Branding at Every Touchpoint

Mastercard also recognizes the importance of introducing the sonic brand at every touchpoint -- but in a way that doesn’t inundate the consumer.

Rajamannar explained, “We have different places and formats where the melody will be used. First, it’s featured in the ad that we just launched for television and online channels. Second, the melody is now offered as a ringtone for consumers to download and use. Third, it is a brief sound that users hear as a payment confirmation when they do a transaction.”

In hearing the new tone from Mastercard, I’ve already caught myself humming along. Don’t you want your customers to be humming and tapping along with your brand?  

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