NESCAFÉ's Music Identity

Today's extract of HIT BRANDS takes us back to 2009, when NESCAFÉ and CORD teamed up to explore the brand's musical heartland and build a sonic framework for the future.

ALLOW ME TO WAX LYRICAL about a plant that has become so globally and unbelievably important that it warrants a case study all to itself. I'm talking of course about coffee, a substance that a con­siderable percentage of the globe would consider themselves unable to function without. Every day, approximately 2.25 billion cups of coffee are consumed around the world1 and yet most of us would be seriously challenged to even identify a coffee tree residing in its natural habitat.

Coffee came to life, so urban legend goes, when an Ethiopian goatherd named Kaldi discovered some new and deceptively abun­dant trees. These trees, often as tall 30 ft (9 m), bear berries on their branches and it is these precious coffee berries2 that are the true treasure. Having picked and tasted the berries on offer, Kaldi pro­ claimed that he was too spirited and unable to sleep and, on informing the local monastery of his findings, a drink was concocted from the berries that subsequently kept the monks alert long into the night. It did not take long for the news of these berries and the effect of their consumption to disperse to neighbouring regions. And so began the journey that would in just a few hundred years dramatically impact on the drinking, eating, working and purchasing habits of citizens from all across the world and all demographics.

Now grown and sold across the globe, it was the people of the Arabian Peninsula during the 17th century who became the first to both cultivate and trade the product. For religious reasons the popu­lation of this region was, and remains today, largely prohibited from the consumption of alcohol. So as locals began purchasing coffee and experiencing many of the effects of its consumption, its popularity in this region grew rapidly, not least as a substitute for the banned substance of alcohol.

For those early adopters and the modern-day population who enjoy it now, coffee represents something far greater than a warm, dark drink. For those who love it (and we know how many people do) coffee is often the ultimate comfort beverage, one that deliv­ers beyond taste and refreshment and that plays an integral role in the shaping of emotions - from stimulation all the way down the scale to relaxation. The surge in energy originally experienced by Kaldi the goatherd and described as spiritualistic, was in fact (unknown to him) a result of consuming the stimulant of caffeine. A stimulant can be described as a psychoactive drug that induces temporary improvements in either mental or physical function or both. Caffeine is the world's most widely used psychoactive drug and it causes increased neuronal activity that triggers the release of the hormone adrenaline. It is this adrenaline that leads to great, if a little false, improvements in mind and body, most commonly seen as enhanced alertness, awareness, endurance, productivity and motivation. Such is the psychoactive power of coffee that one does not even need to ingest it in order to reap its full benefits. According to the 25 June 2008 issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, solely a sniff of its aroma is enough to activate several genes in the brain. Following the smelling of this aroma, it is the effect of a sud­den increase in awareness that has led to the modern-day idiom of 'wake up and smell the coffee'.

How many times have you tried to set up a meeting or rendezvous, offering to catch up over coffee? This again is not a modern phe­nomenon. The first coffee houses in the Arabian Peninsula quickly became popular haunts that the locals came to in order to conduct their business as well as social affairs. They also acted as a draw to the area for visitors who often referred to the coffee itself as the 'wine of Araby', another comparison with alcohol. Culturally, of course, since then coffee has become a stimulant, a comfort, a ritual and also, sometimes, a necessary response to a night of over-indulgence.

Coffee's reputation was spreading far and wide after its initial cultivation, and everyone wanted to be in control of both the end product and the supply chain. Outside the Arabian Peninsula, the Dutch were the first to begin growing coffee in what is now known as Indonesia. This initial movement of the product sparked the ori­gins of coffee trees all around the world, particularly in the South American region. Such was the extent and success of this glut, that new countries were established on the back of the industry and it did not take long for the worldwide demand for coffee to lead to it becoming one of the most profitable export crops available to market.

Today, the United States is home to approximately 20,000 coffee shops with combined annual revenue of $10 billion. Coffee bar chains sell an ambience and a social positioning more than just 'good' coffee. In short, the global coffee chain has gone through a 'latte revolution ', where consumers can choose from (and pay dearly for) hundreds of combinations of coffee variety, origin, brewing and grinding methods, flavouring, packaging, social 'con­ tent' and ambience.

At the turn of the 20th century, a Japanese-American chemist by the name of Satori Kato, based in Chicago, invented instant coffee. The advances he made enabled people, for the first time, to pre­ pare coffee by just adding hot water. It was George Washington, however, an English chemist living in Guatemala who invented the first mass-produced instant coffee. It came about during his time in South America, when he truly began to understand the product and began a process of experimentation. Under his guidance the first instant coffee was introduced to market in 1909 under the brand name 'Red E Coffee'.

In 1930, Brazil, the world's largest coffee producer, experienced a significant surplus of the commodity and required assistance in preserving their product. Subsequently, the Brazilian government reached out to Switzerland-based NESTLÉ, the world's largest nutrition company.

NESTLÉ was the brainchild of Swiss pharmacist Henri Nestlé. Extremely concerned by the amount of infant mortality as a result of malnutrition, he attempted to create an alternative source of nutri­tion for children whose mothers were unable to breastfeed. In 1905, NESTLÉ merged with their biggest rivals and not only added sev­eral new ranges to their food products (including chocolate) but also spread the company's operating platform globally. Upon engagement with the Brazilian government's request, under the watchful eye of their coffee specialist Max Morgenthaler, NESTLÉ attempted to create a form of instant coffee that kept the original taste and aroma. On 1 April 1938, NESCAFÉ (a blend of the words  'NESTLÉ' and 'café') was introduced in Switzerland. NESTLÉ's overall profit plummeted during the Second World War. The conflict, however, reaped a positive effect on the introduction of their newest product, as NESCAFÈ became the staple drink in the rations available to the US military. In fact, American forces played a key role in the brand's development due to their acting in the role of brand ambassadors across Europe. Popularity soared and NESCAFÉ continued in its attempts to push new technological boundaries. In 1965, with the launch of Gold Blend, NESCAFÉ introduced a form of freeze-drying technology that allowed them to create a high-qual­ity soluble coffee that truly incorporated the full aroma and flavour of each coffee bean. You see, it all comes back to the bean.

As a result of the multiple advances made in both production and technology, NESCAFÉ is now used as an umbrella brand for a range of instant coffee products that has hosted close to 40 different vari­ants of the brand to date. And what a brand it is. Every second of every day approximately 5500 cups of NESCAFÉ are consumed around the world. Today, NESCAFÉ is present in over 180 countries and produces up to 200 television commercials annually with marketing and com­munications across a variety of other touchpoints. NESCAFÉ has been part of some historic moments in advertising and has produced some of the most famous television commercials and marketing communications of all time.

The home of NESCAFE has remained in Vevey, Switzerland, where all key brand decisions are determined. Despite the overall authority residing with this central NESCAFÉ team, it is the indi­vidual international markets and the incumbent agencies that play a key role in the day-to-day representation of the brand in marketing and communications.

Music is a hugely powerful tool that can plug emotion into brand communications. The desire of NESCAFÉ, like any other brand, is to increase customer loyalty and become recognized, appreciated and loved. Music and sound can be extremely effective in making connections (particularly on an emotional level) with an audience and help them grow and develop an affinity to the brand. NESCAFÉ has created a number of sound assets over time - none, however, regarded strong enough to stick. Since it first began advertising the product, NESCAFÉ has not been able to exhibit ONE consistent brand sound during its success­ful run of delivering communications to its audience.

CORD encouraged NESCAFÉ to create a sound that its audience would love and over time immediately associate with the brand. CORD's challenge on behalf of the central brand team was for the brand to exhibit a harmony in their audio selections where all the music and sound would pull together in the same direc­tion. The end result: 'La Figura NESCAFÉ; as shown in Figure I.


Figure 1

'La Figura NESCAFÉ; akin to most other successful sonic logos, contains a melody. Melody is the component of music that is most readily processed by our brains and it merely requires a low level of involvement from the listener to become recognizable and memo­rable. As a result, this part of the identity is usually at the heart of a successful sonic logo.

CORD's initial engagement with NESCAFÉ was to answer the question 'What should the sound of NESCAFÉ be for the next ten years?' The development and introduction of a successful sonic logo to be used consistently across time, territory and touchpoint was key, but it was not the sole concern. NESCAFÉ is a brand that is steeped in rich tradition. Consequently, it was crucial that the new sound of the brand was representative of an evolution and a bringing together of recognizable elements from NESCAFÉ's music heritage.

In order to define and dictate the musical DNA of NESCAFE for the future, it was fundamental to the process that CORD examined and understood the historical sound of the brand. Over time there have been three pieces of music that have been used somewhat consistently across NESCAFÉ communications. The first of these, 'La Colegiala', was used for the first time in 1985 when it appeared in arguably NESCAFÉ's most famous television commer­cial named 'Le Train'. During the 1980s this track was used frequently across the brand's television advertising and became a founda­tional element of the sound of NESCAFÉ. Constructed of a typical Colombian Cumbia that utilizes the offbeat Latin rhythm, this track rapidly became part of the national repertoire in Colombia.

The second piece of music used intermittently by the brand was named 'Embarcadero'. This was first employed on NESCAFÉ's famous 'Father and Son' commercial from 1993. This piece of music builds on the foundations of 'La Colegiala' by combining traditional Latin American rhythms with Western contemporary music styles.

In 1998 NESCAFÉ took the decision to create a global sound. A bespoke composition evolved that incorporated an element of the NESCAFÉ heritage: the Embarcadero figure. The song 'Open Up' was born and the phrase 'Open up, Open up; combined with the Embarcadero figure, quickly became a household track during the 1990s.

Until recently, these three pieces of music were still used across the world in NESCAFÉ communications. Although retaining distinc­tive hooks and conveying the true values of the brand through music, the full power of these musical assets was never truly harnessed. The analysis of these tracks, however, a part of a brand audit and analy­sis, allowed CORD to discover key musical elements which would be important to maintain as part of the brand's future sonic identity. For this reason, the audit and analysis section of the CORD process was essential before any creative phase. Irrespective of the brand in question, historic explorations can include anything from advertising, telephone hold systems, mobile applications, office music, events and corporate videos. Wherever it may be, we always uncover some heritage within this body of work, even if it is best forgotten. The audit and analysis can often deliver some interesting, remarkable and even breakthrough information. This dive into his­torical material will uncover a brand's own instinctive approach to sonic branding and the results are used as a reference for the future to ensure a truly consistent approach. While often highlighting inconsistencies, the predominant purpose of this stage is to uncover consistency in a brand's music themes and trends.

Of the 100 television commercials across a range of markets that were analyzed, it was found that 4 percent used 'Embarcadero: 6 per­ cent used 'La Colegiala' and 6 percent also used 'Open Up'. Each asset was individually loved in their own right by the brand and conveyed the correct feelings and emotions. Had these tracks appeared more frequently, it is possible that one or more would have become an anthem for the brand and have been a real hit. One clear consistency across markets was their use of acoustic guitars, ritual sounds (sounds associated with coffee preparation and drinking) and, most intriguingly, Latin rhythm and percussion.

NESCAFÉ's musical heritage originated from the coffee-rich regions of Colombia and Venezuela (northern South America) and so the most distinctive feature of this music is Cumbia beat as fea­tured in 'La Colegiala'.

Having explored NESCAFÉ's historical use of sound, it was clear there was a strong presence of Latin heritage. The warmth and 'Latin spirit' of the music combined this energetic dotted Cumbia rhythm with live instrumentation of the Colombian region - panpipes, acoustic guitars and Latin percussion. The resulting sound musically, geographically and historically shared its origins with the product, the NESCAFÉ coffee itself.

This deep investigation of historic NESCAFÉ material allowed us to formulate a clear idea as to which musical elements were key to the brand and should be carried forward to the creative phase of the process. The simplest way to exhibit our thinking was in the form of a DNA word cloud. The wordclouds showcased instruments used, as well as adjectives best placed to describe the impact of the music in the NESCAFÉ TV commercials analyzed. Displaying the separate elements that combine to create marketing communications allows key decision makers to re-immerse themselves in the world of the brand. It also allows them to begin questioning what factors are truly important to the brand and how they should be communicated to relevant markets. For example: is NESCAFÉ conveying the correct emotions to its audience with its current musical selections? Are marketing communications fully expressing the Latin heritage of the brand in sound? Are the instruments used in marketing communications in line with the historical sound of the brand?

Without experience, music is an extremely challenging subject to discuss. CORD believes that by allowing key decision makers to examine the sound of their brand, not in music but words, prevents confusion and subjectivity as well as successfully eliminat­ing personal preferences. The uncovering of a brand's sonic heri­tage can be incredibly powerful for helping these guardians of the brand to realize just how important sonic branding has been for their brand in the past. It also helps them to fully comprehend the power of music and the effect it can have on their future marketing.

As a result of the complexity of the subject, it is essential to formu­late clear guidelines. Whether the music is set to be a bespoke com­position or a famous piece of existing music selected by a supervisor, having a set of guidelines in place will allow those responsible to make educated decisions. The objective is that by following the cre­ative process a consolidated understanding of the music and sound strategy for the brand is shared across all markets and incumbent agencies. If adhered to correctly, any and all music and sound that accompany the future communications should contain consistent music themes that are true to the DNA of the brand.

Remembering is an intrinsic part of human nature. For a long time people involved in branding have recognized this and have placed the importance of being memorable, both as a brand and in brand com­munications, near the very top of their priorities. In the context of advertising, memorability refers to the level to which an audience, after exposure to an advert, is able to retain the information presented. The simplest way to ensure that each NESCAFÉ communication con­tained at least one consistent sound was to create a sonic logo for the brand. A sonic logo is the symbol of a brand in sound. Normally around three to five seconds in length and melodic, a brand must use this short burst of sound consistently across all marketing and adver­tising communications. The desired effect of this usage is the ingrain­ing of the sound into the mind of the listener. This is referred to as an 'earworm' (originally from the translation of the German word Ohrwurm) and represents the experience of having a tune or part of a tune stuck in your head for a sustained period of time. This is what we are looking to achieve when creating a sonic logo, as often the person experiencing the 'earworm' has no idea why the tune has emerged and also has little control over how long it remains there.

For the first time in its history, NESCAFÉ communications would contain a sonic logo. This was an extremely brave step for the brand to take, but one that could have a phenomenal impact on the way its agencies approached future creative work. By now, the importance of building associations between people, sound and brands was clear. At this point, with that importance assured, CORD worked alongside NESCAFÉ toward a model of successful sonic branding creation that would enable the brand to communicate its emotional values across time, territory and touchpoint. When designing the sonic logo these were the three filters that were taken into consideration:

1.   Accessible - The sonic logo must be easily understood by all listeners. If the sound is too complex it is unlikely to become either loved or memorable.

2.  Adaptable - The sonic logo must be written with flexibility in mind to ensure that it can be adapted over time, territory and touchpoint as well as reorchestrated across multiple genres.

3.  Timeless - The sonic logo must be able to stand the test of time. The key to longevity is in a strong melody.

It was crucial in the creation of this logo to take into account NESCAFÉ's successful historical musical assets. As a result, we scru­tinized the three previous musical assets of the brand against our sonic branding filters. On completion of a series of musicology reports, it was decided that in order to move forward in the creation of both a sonic logo and a deeper sound strategy, it would be the 'Embarcadero' figure that would be retained. The first of the historical NESCAFÉ musi­cal assets to be eliminated was 'Open Up'. Having only aired for the first time in the late 1990s, this piece of music did not have a great bearing on the brand's musical history. The melody of the chorus, despite its distinctive nature, was also not Latin in feel and thus no longer corresponded to the brand's musical DNA. Keeping close in our minds our sonic branding filters and the information learnt from the audit and analysis phase, it was decided that the Embarcadero figure would be easier to re-orchestrate across all genres and was more distinctive and memorable than its counter­ part, 'La Colegiala'.

Guidelines have now been created that outline the new music sound strategy for NESCAFÉ. The brand already does a stellar job in picking great music to suit its communications. In the same way that NESCAFÉ uses its visual logo or the red coffee mug across multiple territories, this audio strategy will aid them going forward to bring all their communications together as part of the same NESCAFÉ family. This information is now used as a reference tool by all global markets producing NESCAFÉ marketing communica­tions. In conjunction with 'La Figura NESCAFÉ' the document con­tains all the strategic, technical and creative information required to create expressions of the brand that are consistent with the iden­tity and thereby relate back to the belief and values of the brand. Creatively, the guidelines describe the sonic language and sonic logo adequately and will ensure that all the music and sound exhibited by NESCAFÉ is not only consistent but also the desired emotional fit with the brand.

' La Figura NESCAFÉ' is representative of an evolution and a bringing together of recognizable elements from NESCAFÉ's musi­cal heritage. The Figura is a modern, flexible and dynamic interpre­tation of the NESCAFÉ music's DNA. A fusion of Latin rhythm and the Embarcadero notation, this five-note melody allows for flexi­bility across genre, mood, territory and touchpoint.

With 'La Figura NESCAFÉ' now fully in place and appearing on marketing communications around the world, it would be very simple to say that our task as music advisers and suppliers is com­plete. The reality is quite the opposite. Successful sonic branding is the creation and consistent management of timeless, accessible and adaptable identity and experience, meaning that now NESCAFÉ has a musical asset at its disposal, there are countless other directions in which it can be utilized.

The incorporation of this new sonic identity is no mean feat. NESCAFÉ teams across the globe have welcomed these new ele­ments of the brand with open arms. Everyday, companies like, and even thousands of individuals, are writing music for brands all over the world. Irrespective of how good or bad these new creations are, their success and the eventual impact they have on the brand truly depends on the co-operation, dedication and satisfac­tion of the local brand and agency teams. The de-centralized nature of NESCAFÉ, which may have originally posed a threat to the suc­cess of this strategy, has not proved to be a problem, with all markets responding positively. In this way, the incorporation of 'La Figura NESCAFÉ' into global campaigns could accurately be described as the largest and widest sonic identity rollout ever witnessed.

For the past year, CORD has worked alongside the incumbent agencies across multiple territories to incorporate 'La Figura NESCAFÉ' into marketing communications. During this time, we have seen 'La Figura NESCAFÉ' used in two different ways:

  1. Tag - Using 'La Figura NESCAFÉ' at the end of communi­cations. This is the traditional role adopted by sonic logos in advertising.

2. Integration - Composers have taken 'La Figura NESCAFÉ' and woven the five-note melody throughout a longer piece of music. Markets have already begun creative work on a selec­tion of longer form bespoke compositions which contain 'La Figura NESCAFÉ' woven throughout the pieces. These longer works are not only in line with the newly devised NESCAFÉ sound strategy but also offer an alternative method of incor­porating the sonic logo in a more innovative manner, into NESCAFÉ brand marketing communications. This direction represents an extremely modern approach to sonic branding of which NESCAFÉ sits at the forefront.

To date over 40 territories have incorporated 'La Figura NESCAFÉ' into their communications - a phenomenal response to a project that has only been active for the past 12 months.

Sean Murphy, head of the NESCAFÉ brand, was key to the imple­mentation of this new sonic asset and sees this as the start of some­ thing extremely exciting for the brand. He said:

"Agencies across the World have become familiar with the process of utilizing 'La Figura NESCAFE' and adopting the newly devel­oped music guidelines when composing or selecting a track for use in their communications. The creative minds that have already established NESCAFÉ as one of the World 's largest global brands instantly acknowledged the tremendous range of creative pos­sibilities available to them following the development of our own distinctive melody. Managing the sound of a brand, like its many other facets, is beautifully complex but our teams around the World, alongside CORD , have made a very good start towards establishing 'La Figura NESCAFÉ' as a global asset."

In time, the use of musical guidelines and 'La Figura NESCAFÉ' will dramatically increase overall NESCAFÉ brand consistency and become a soundtrack loved by all those who hear it. Our job now, as NESCAFÉ's strategic music partner, is to ensure a culture of musical excellence that aids the brand to maintain its past and current suc­cess. If the brand and its agencies continue as they have started, it is inevitable that NESCAFÉ will fulfil its aim to make 'La Figura NESCAFÉ' the most famous five notes in the world.

Film Case Study:

Daniel M Jackson - CEO, CORD and David Marcus - Managing Director, CORD