Are they Smoking Something at Mastercard HQ?

Are they Smoking Something at Mastercard HQ?
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In his latest B&T column, industry hornet prodder, Robert Strohefldt, casts his eye over Mastercard’s new “sonic branding” and says, as much as he loves an ad jingle, it probably wasn’t worth the considerable effort…

Mastercard’s CMO said he was asked if he was “smoking something” in response to the new “sonic branding” they have just launched. After hearing the “sonic branding”, I wondered the same.

I have been a big fan of Mastercard’s marketing and advertising for some time. Their “Priceless” campaign will go down as one of the greats. And that they can just now use the overlapping Orange and Red circles for their logo, minus the name and people know who it is, is a testament to the strength of their advertising/branding to date.

But this “sonic branding” is something else entirely. They do not use the term jingle, though it is music i.e. a jingle. And as such it is not heard in isolation, but in competition for appeal and recall against all other music and jingles.

The story in Marketing Week says it took “two years and a big investment in terms of both time and effort to develop”.

Seriously? Two bloody years to create a piece of “elevator music”. Surely most people have heard the song Layla by Eric Clapton? (The “unplugged” version was the one which received most recent airplay). Layla is the name of a song and the double album it is on, which took three weeks. Listen to the original and the piano, with Clapton’s guitar squealing underneath and compare this to the “sonic branding” that took two years (which has a shitload* of synthesiser on it – *musical term).

There is nothing unpleasant about it on first hearing, but after if it was played with the frequency suggested, most would say “turn that f…ing  noise off” and therein lies the problem. According to Marketing Week.

“A melody that will play wherever the Mastercard brand shows up whether that is in advertising, sponsorship or when customers make a transaction.”

The rationale for the initiative at first seems sound – consumers’ increasing use of voice assistants and smart speakers where there is no visual real estate. (Hang on, isn’t that what radio has, which has been with us for quite some time?).

But for a piece of music, oops “sonic branding” to hit you with such frequency, bland elevator music is just not going to cut it.

Many times, I have seen people who are great art directors/designers, writers, marketers etc. get into a music production studio and think that because they are “creative”, these skills transfer to music.

It is one thing to say, “we need a great melody”, another entirely to create one. Not many working in the industry today were around when Mo and Jo were in their prime. They had a knack of pumping out jingles, nothing complex that a classical music critic would even rate, but jingles that people not only liked, but recalled.

Many years ago, I was in a pub in Milson’s Point, long since demolished and one guy with a guitar entertained a packed Friday evening crowd, all pretty drunk, as most had come for after work drinks. He did a whole set of Mo Jo jingles, changing the words to make them risqué.  I watched in amazement (and admiration for Mo & Jo) that the crowd knew the songs/jingles and sang along loudly – Come on Aussie, You Ought to be Congratulated, A Week Without the Weekly, I Feel Like a Toohey’s etc.

“Jingoism” it was referred to in a cynical way by the toffs, but there was no denying the jingle, err sonic branding did the job it was intended. Their impact on sales was just as dramatic. (Toohey’s at one stage had around seven per cnt  of the packaged beer market in NSW. After the launch of “I Feel Like a Toohey’s”, and some own goals by Tooths, this climbed to around 47 per cent.)

Advertising is often over rated in what it can achieve and though I sound like a heretic, it is the weakest of the 4Ps. But even so, a great campaign can achieve great results.

I am not privy to how this “sonic branding” was developed and whether it was tested and if so, how.

A brand a big as Mastercard could have gone all out and commissioned some great song writers to develop melodies for them.  (And great musicians to play on them). The song doesn’t seem to have allowed for a cut down (the rational also mentioned shorter and shorter formats were now required), that would result in a “sting” – a few signature bars that can be used on their own at the end of a piece of communication as a branding sign off.

In comparison to everything else Mastercard has done with their marketing and advertising, this “sonic branding” seems so out of place.

Even the name. Come on, jingles and music stings/signoffs are as old as electronic advertising. I don’t think, what can be best described as elevator music, is in keeping with what one would expect from Mastercard. The only thing new and somewhat intriguing about it, is the name.  But before self- service petrol stations, the people who put the fuel into your car could call themselves “petroleum movement engineers”. An exciting sounding name for a job that was as boring as batshit.

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