Mastercard Inc. on Thursday announced it spent two years composing a jaunty sound that will play when customers buy things with its credit cards. This sound — the Mastercard Melody — is to be a sort of musical logo, beeping from point-of-sale machines and smartphone wallets across the globe, announcing each successful transaction like a fife and drum corps on a march into debt.
“It has been a massive undertaking so far,” said Raja Rajamannar, Mastercard’s chief marketing officer.
The search for the Mastercard sound was guided by a set of principles: “It should not be intrusive; it should be subtle,” he said. It had to be simple and neutral, not dominating.
“We want you to feel comforted,” Rajamannar said.
In launching the sound, Mastercard is joining the increasingly crowded competition for consumer ears, rather than eyeballs.
It’s an acknowledgement, Rajamannar said, that space for visual ads is shrinking — choked by the popularity of add-free online streaming. “You really need to add your presence to other senses,” he said. And there is growing space for “audio signatures” on podcasts and smart speakers like Google Home and Amazon Echo.
The sound — ba da ba ba bo ba — will be used in transaction noises at the point of sale, as well as a “signature” sound at the end of commercials and on-hold music. The sound will be rolled out gradually around the world, and expected to play after virtually every Mastercard transaction within three to five years.
“It’s not overnight,” Rajamannar said.
Its release Thursday is the conclusion of Mastercard’s two-year modernization plan, devised in response to unsettling consumer surveys that found the Mastercard brand a tad too traditional, Rajamannar said.
We want you to feel comforted
Raja Rajamannar, Mastercard’s chief marketing officer
Earlier phases of the plan included last month’s drastic move to drop the company name from the company logo and slightly enlarge the company’s trademark intersecting circles. “It’s absolutely risky,” he said of the logo change. “No question about it. That’s the reason we researched and researched.”
For its new melody, Mastercard consulted musicologists and as many as 45 recording artists, such as Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda, and solicited hundreds of song submissions.
It was not a “cheap affair.”
“It’s a real, serious investment,” Rajamannar said. “I cannot give you a ballpark but it’s not cheap, let me assure you of that. It’s not a low number. It’s global, with a multiplicity of versions and the celebrities involved. I will leave it to your best guess.”
After months of research and shortlisting, Rajamannar’s team chose its melody — a piece of music that Mastercard could use as “sonic architecture.” Essentially, it was basically a master version that was then adapted or condensed to fit various purposes: a short one, just four or six notes, for transactions, and longer ones for TV commercial soundtracks.
Mastercard hired musicians who effectively translated the master version to fit their genre or region while keeping the melody more or less the same. There is, for instance, an opera version, an electronic dance music version, and variations for Dubai, Cape Town, and Bogota.
“You’re in India, you’re in China, you’re in Latin America,” Rajamannar said, “you should not feel the melody is alien to you.”