Mastercard Launches First Music Single At CES, And CMO Raja Rajamannar Doubles Down On Sonic Branding

Jan 09 , 2020

Mastercard Launches First Music Single At CES, And CMO Raja Rajamannar Doubles Down On Sonic Branding

Raja Rajamannar grew up surrounded by music. His mother and two older sisters sang, while his father played the tabla, an Indian percussion instrument. Rajamannar, meanwhile, received two-and-a-half years of instruction in Carnatic, a genre of classical Indian music, using the veena, a traditional string instrument.

What he claims he lacked in musical talent he made up for with an ingrained “sensitivity” to music, that, as chief marketing and communications officer at Mastercard, he’s harnessing in his sonic-branding strategy, unveiled less than a year ago.

Today at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the global payments technology company revealed what Rajamannar calls the fourth step in a 10-step overall audio initiative: the release of the company’s first music single.

Mastercard's "Priceless" album.

Mastercard.

The track incorporates the core sonic melody that was launched 10 months ago as part of the brand initiative, driven by Rajamannar, and that moves Mastercard brand definition from a purely visual construct to an audio one, something the marketing chief emphatically believes is the future of brand building for all marketers as we move into a super-connected, multiplatform, ad-blocking world.

The company collaborated with songwriter and producer Niclas Molinder—who has worked with Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus and Mary J. Blige, to name a few—to engage with emerging new global artists and develop a song that integrates the Mastercard “sound architecture”—think unique riffs, bridges, notes.

Swedish artist Nadine Randle is the first musician to perform a single, titled “Merry Go Round,” which she is debuting live at an iHeartRadio event at CES. As many as 11 additional songs that include the Mastercard sonic melody will be released this spring, comprising an album called “Priceless.”

The Mastercard sonic melody is integrated at more than 7.6 million payment points globally, according to Rajamannar, who is convinced sound is the brand platform all marketers must invest in now and for the future—even as it is still evolving.

“If you look at visual brand representation, it is a very evolved science and art,” he said. “It’s all very clear. For sonic, there is no such precedent, and we had to create a playbook from scratch.”

Today’s announcement “is all about embedding the Mastercard sound into popular culture,” an example of Mastercard entering into a consumer’s environment, as opposed to the consumer entering into Mastercard’s environment, say, at the point of purchase. The Mastercard sound branding is meant not to be intrusive, he said, but instead inconspicuous, “such that you start remembering and recognizing the melody in your own environment for a change. We did a lot of neuro-research on this.”

Mastercard, Rajamannar said, furthers its push into having the sonic brand be as recognizable as its red-and-yellow logo is—even without the Mastercard name on it, which the company dropped earlier this year. “I want to bring the sonic brand to the same level as the logo and beyond,” he said, creating “regular, beautiful, popular songs.”

In keeping with Mastercard’s tradition of hosting live events spotlighting up-and-coming artists, this too will provide a platform for them. “This is taking it to a different level of scale,” Rajamannar said. “[With live events] you can only do so much.”

The single will be available on Spotify, Apple Music, or any other streaming music service, “truly like any other big song,” he said. “That’s how we get into the culture and create this opportunity for up-and-coming stars.”

Rajamannar’s priority is also to create a sonic-branding playbook for employees, artists, agency partners and others. “It’s the guidelines,” he said, the “manifestation of how audio guidelines work. Like Pantone colors…it’s the same thing ported into the world of sound. Sound is much more complex and fascinating than image.”

Rajamannar is so committed to the sonic-branding initiatives that the company just posted a job for a full-time musician on Mastercard’s marketing team.

It’s all in recognition, he said, of the new reality that voice activation, driven by smart speakers and connected cars, is exploding—and is here to stay.

“You have to create a method by which you are manifesting and showcasing a brand in an audio environment,” he said. “The more and more interconnected things become, and you’re talking to your wearables or your refrigerator, sound-based interaction and purchases are what are happening. And as a marketer you have no choice but have a sound-based identity or a sonic identity.”

Ad-free content environments like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime, as well as ad-blocking-enabled devices that now number two billion, further hinder marketers’ ability to reach consumers and leave them needing a new way to break through. Enter a multisensory branding strategy, Rajamannar said.

“Brands have mastered the visual, but they need to get into the other senses.”