The Sound of Contactless Payment

oday in HIT BRANDS we journey back to 2011 when CORD and Barclaycard embarked on a journey to develop the very first sound of contactless payment.

The year 1966 was not only an important year for football in the UK; it also represented a change and development in the method in which people approached the 'payment moment'. It was in this year that Barclaycard, part of Barclays Retail and Barclays Banking, became the first credit card to be introduced in the UK.

Barclaycard was ahead of the curve and did not face competition in the UK for another six years, when the Access card was intro­duced. Even today with Europe's utterly saturated credit card market, Barclaycard remains the continent's leading issuer of cards, with 10.4 million customers in the UK alone.

The brand's innovative nature has always been reflected in the way that it has communicated with its audience. As the first credit card to hit UK shores, the first challenge for Barclaycard was to help the public understand the potential benefits and offers that came with using a Barclaycard, in place of the more traditional payment methods. In the early years following its conception, paying for items using a credit card instead of by cash or cheque felt extremely for­eign to most consumers, so the brand had a very practical challenge ahead of them. Barclaycard knew that they had to be sure to explain the process in the simplest possible terms. If not there would be a threat of customers not following the necessary instructions and, in turn, not adopting the card as a new means of payment. The need to explain how to use the card, as well as its function­alities, led to Barclaycard communications relying heavily on text to educate consumers and resulted in the brand often being identified as a 'talking' brand.

During the late 1980s and early 1990s Rowan Atkinson, star of the comedy series Blackadder and Mr Bean, appeared in a series of Barclaycard commercials playing the role of error-prone spy Richard Latham. This series of brand communications was predominantly centered around Atkinson's comedic displays, with the first commer­cial showing Latham receiving both a Barclaycard and information on his upcoming mission. In the commercials that followed, the ill­ fated spy was accompanied by a protege called Bough, whose role it was to entertainingly endorse the use of the Barclaycard while flaunt­ing its benefits.

Through these communications, Barclaycard quickly became associated with comedy while still maintaining its presence as a 'talking' brand. While this was successful, it did not leave much room for music to play a significant role. Music of course would be the brand's best shortcut to brand awareness, far more than the entertaining but lengthy use of comedy and wordplay. Barclaycard's use of music was considered on a case-by-case basis: some of the commercials contained music to fit the scene and others didn't. The reason for this was a concern that music would detract from important brand messages and guidance for usage contained within the script.

The brand continued to evolve, providing contactless credit and debit cards to customers. This method enabled customers to both pay for items and withdraw money from terminals without the need to input a pin number or sign a receipt. These innovations, how­ ever, did not stop there and in May 2011 Barclaycard partnered with Orange to launch 'Quick Tap: the UK's first contactless mobile phone payments service. This now allowed customers to hover their mobile phone over the contactless readers positioned at tills and make purchases of £15 or under. With approximately 52,000 Barclaycard contactless payment terminals already installed in spaces such Starbucks, Subway and Wembley Arena, this is fast becoming the pre­ferred method of payment for goods priced below that £15 threshold. The introduction of the contactless payment devices coincided with a change in positioning for the brand. This positional shift acted as the catalyst for Barclaycard to move from its traditional 'copy-led' advertising and become a much more emotion-led brand.

This revelation encouraged brand leaders to make key decisions that would have a great impact on the way in which consumers would view Barclaycard. It was important for the brand to register that any positioning work should not only be relevant to the current climate but also take the future of payments into account. It was the emerging technologies such as digital, mobile and contactless payment that persuaded the brand to adopt a new role in the eyes of consumers. They wanted to be seen as a 'payments organization' rather than a traditional credit card provider. This was a subtle but vital change. Another important decision was taken with regard to the brand's target demographic. The positioning work aided the brand to identify that they should go beyond targeting a specific demographic and instead work at identifying and attracting a spe­cific type of consumer. This helped Barclaycard to focus their efforts and produce products, services and communications that are rooted in customer insight.

With a change in positioning and target consumer base, came a change in the brand's identity. This focused on moving the brand from a very rational space to one that forged an emotional connec­tion with customers. This was all centred on the idea of 'Liberation from Complexity: The implementation of this new identity was a real statement of intent, and showcased how the brand intended to change and adapt to the demands of modern society. 'Liberation from Complexity' as a concept carries with it a great deal of emotional connotations. It emerged with marked and considerable differences to the brand's prior communications, which were prose-heavy and whose purpose was to blatantly promote the features, benefits and offers associated with possessing a Barclaycard.

The paradigm shift was not immediate, however, and as the work was going on behind the scenes of the brand, there was a series of Barclaycard commercials on air starring comedy actors Stephen Mangan and Julian Rhind-Tutt. Once again these centered on humour and were extremely popular and well received, achieving huge Audience Appreciation Index (AI) scores. In addition to this, they were incredibly successful in driving business to the brand.

With the new identity waiting in the wings and despite the posi­tive acclaim for the current communications via those commercials, Barclaycard knew that the celebrity and comedy approach could only take them so far. So in order to satisfy its new identity, the brand knew it needed its communications to convey this higher emotional feeling of liberation in very clear terms.

While the brand planned its evolution, it also identified a disrup­tion that was occurring in the market and a change in consumer hab­its, specifically concerning people's social media activity. Advances in technology, particularly in the payment sector, were also occur­ring, with customers developing relationships with brands such as Paypal and eBay.

Barclaycard decided to meet this change head-on with its own dis­ruption in the form of a new and specific kind of branding. This was an extraordinarily brave move as it would have been far simpler for the brand to continue down their traditional comedic/celebrity route and make incremental adjustments as and when necessary. Instead, they decided to replace their successful campaign with a route that went in an entirely new direction.

Their new 'Waterslide' television commercial in 2008 still had the charm and humour of their previous commercials, but had moved them away from their reliance on the spoken word to con­vey their message. 'Waterslide' was an imaginative commercial and a bold first attempt at visually displaying their new brand identity to the rest of the world. The commercial showed an office worker wearing a suit, about to embark on his commute home. Instead of the traditional options of public transport, car or walking, the pro­tagonist boldly strips down to his boxer shorts in the office, then casually struts down the large, open-plan space to a point where he begins his commute via waterslide. With the huge tube passing through a crowded underground station, library and supermarket, the office worker inside glides through the hustle and bustle of the city, relaxed and happy, even having time to purchase a banana. The convenience of this purchase is, of course, completely optimized by the use of his contactless Barclaycard along the way.

This commercial presented a unique and completely different side to the brand and was successful in signifying change in the mind of consumers. Barclaycard was different and, crucially, clearly able to give the consumer a fun and adrenaline-filled life. The commuter's journey home was extremely easy and stress-free in comparison to the journeys of those around him.

The script for this commercial presented a stark difference to the Barclaycard commercials of old because there was very little spo­ken word, almost none from the character himself. With less focus on the usage benefits of the card itself, this allowed music to play a more prominent role in the commercial. It was vital, however, that with no prose to convey the new brand initiative of 'Liberation from Complexity', the music was able to deliver this emotion.

Music as we know is a universal component used by brands to plug emotion into their marketing communications, but even in our role as strategic music advisers to a brand, we will always remain adamant that the communication itself is paramount. If the music disrupts this (even if the music is great) then no one wins.

In the case of 'Waterslide: the focus of the communication was 'simplicity' and this was largely achieved through the visuals. This was the story of an ordinary male office worker travelling home in a manner that would make everyone stand up and think 'I wish my commute was that effortless'. The track that was chosen enabled Barclaycard to elicit an emotional communication instead of a func­tional one, which allowed them to truly utilize the power of music to convey the desired brand emotion.

The chosen track for 'Waterslide' was 'Let Your Love Flow: hail­ing back to 1976 by a band called The Bellamy Brothers, a country act from Florida, that reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100. It was felt that this track not only complemented the visuals perfectly but also translated the exact emotions that Barclaycard was attempting to exhibit. While everyone felt instinctively that they had chosen well, there was some worry that with the brand's efforts to enter the modern world of contactless payments, this track may have been too 'retro'. It was eventually decided, however, that although it was over 30 years old, it worked perfectly with the commercial. For us as music supervisors, this is the Holy Grail - undeniability.

It was not long until the team's decision was proved right, with the commercial and its soundtrack receiving extensive praise. It was not planned for the song to become a 'hit record' but the team were, of course, delighted when Chris MoyIes of BBC Radio 1 dedicated a great deal of airtime to it. The track went viral and sparked a flood of online conversations and a subsequent influx of YouTube hits. This exposure led to the track being rereleased into the singles chart - even showcasing a Barclaycard sticker on the CD casing. The track reached number 21 in the UK chart and has since become synonymous with the brand. The positive impact was immediately recog­nized through an increase in new customers and through the results of their 'front of wallet' behavior.

Following this success, it was abundantly clear that music would now play a huge role in the development of the Barclaycard brand in the modern era. Stepping away from 'wordy' communications, it was imperative that music should help viewers to connect to advertise­ments on an emotional level.

In 2010, Barclaycard aired their next contactless payments campaign. Using the blueprints from 'Waterslide', BBH created 'Roller coaster: this time the story of a male leaving an apartment on his morning commute to the office. Again the protagonist feels free and liberated, using the rollercoaster that snakes round buildings and along sidewalks as his mode of transportation. As he goes along he looks down on the bustling streets filled with commuters who are struggling and sidestepping the oncoming rush. So easy is his morning journey that he even has time to stop en route and purchase (using his contactless enabled Barclaycard) an apple and a bottle of water. Again the emotion conveyed is one of joy, simplicity and liberation - all summed up by our protagonist's nonchalant throw of his apple to a nearby co-worker upon entering the office.

The music, as with 'Waterslide', played a significant role in complementing the narrative and communicating the feelings that were inherent to the brand. The selection of this track under­ went the same meticulous routine that 'Let Your Love Flow' had previously survived. The success of that track created a platform from which BBH could begin, with the retro element now an inte­gral part of the search process. Once again many tracks were sug­gested and dismissed before 'More Than A Feeling' by 70s American rock band Boston was eventually selected. This triumphant rock track was the perfect accompaniment to the visuals, which translated beautifully the feelings of freedom and liberation you would experience if you were able to travel to work on a private rollercoaster.

Unlike 'Let Your Love Flow; 'More Than A Feeling' did not re­-enter the singles chart. This, however, did not take anything away from what had been a brilliant campaign accompanied by an impec­cable music selection.

The success of 'Waterslide' and 'Rollercoaster' as music-centric communications soon led the brand to explore more opportunities around the music industry itself.

In terms of sponsorship, the brand was most famous for its presence in sport - most prominently the Premier League in the UK. At this point in the brand's life,  however,  a conscious deci­sion was made to move away from sport and to concentrate on the music space.

Why Music?

Music (unlike sport) is not divisive. Most people at a concert come home happy. At a football match, half the people come home unhappy. It was important for Barclaycard to move away from its stance as a masculine brand and become slightly 'softer'. A stronger manifesta­tion in the music space allowed for the brand, again unlike sport, to lessen the limitations of any gender skew.

Already involved with the ticketing programme for the Mercury Prize, it was not long before Barclaycard became the main sponsor of the event. Their music activity continued to expand with sponsor­ ship of both the Wireless Festival and the NIA arena in Birmingham - relationships they still maintain today. It has been quite a jour­ney for a brand that previously had no association with music but a transition that has rapidly opened up a previously uncharted audience.

It was incredibly important for Barclaycard's brand to be seen as less macho and altogether more inclusive. This need to appeal across boundaries was extremely pertinent as the brand began making its first strides into the digital world. In its own right, music had already made that move, so it was now time for the brand itself to face the numerous challenges that came with its own entry.

With the introduction of varying contactless devices and elec­tronic payments, the payment moment for the consumer is now smoother, easier and more convenient than ever. With more and more transactions being carried out online, how does one identify with the brand during a transaction moment? To counter for this loss of physical touch and feel, it was suggested to Barclaycard that sound both could and should begin to play a more prominent role in the payment moment.

The aim of implementing a sound into the contactless payment moment was to functionally and audibly signify a successful transac­tion made using a Barclaycard. It was also crucial that this sound not only evoked feelings and emotions that were intrinsic to the brand, but that it was also timeless, easy to understand and adaptable across territory and touchpoint. Therefore in order to successfully translate the brand's beliefs, the sound would need to convey a sense of both reassurance and liberation.

In order for CORD to fully comprehend what the make-up of the final sound could be, it was important to educate ourselves in what consumers are used to hearing. Subsequently we performed a deep dive into the psychology of the 'beep,' immersing ourselves in the world of beeps, from everyday sounds including super­ market checkouts, to the financial beeps emanating from ATMs and a host of other branded beeps heard on mobile phones and games consoles.

The audit allowed us to analyze where Barclaycard's new sonic brand should 'live' in the congested and convoluted world of beeps and sounds that surround us. Having assessed what con­sumers would already be familiar with in this space, it was clear that the majority of sounds were far from distinct. Without the accompanying visuals, it was fairly challenging for the layman to separate the 'everyday' beeps. The sounds of the analyzed financial beeps were likewise not particularly distinct but in fact proved to be slightly more familiar. These sounds, such as the sound of an ATM dispensing cash, were functionally clear but they were generally conveyed without much feeling or emotion.

It was clear that, in stark contrast to the analyzed financial beeps, it was complex sounds rather than simple beeps that characterized the words of branded beeps. In order for Barclaycard to stand out, it was imperative that its sound was distinctive. The ability of these brands to convey emotions meant that a feeling of success was often associated with them. As the aim of the Barclaycard sound was to signify a successful Barclaycard trans­action, it was important for the final sound to replicate this feeling. This meant that the sound would need to be not only functional but also emotional. At this point we needed to research the brand's historical use of sound and music across all touchpoints. This would help us to acknowledge any consistent music, sound, genres and instrumenta­tion used by the brand over time and identify whether this should be carried forward and accounted for in our development of the new sonic logo.

We analyzed material from television advertisements, mobile games and applications, radio advertisements and on­ hold services. Our work confirmed that there was in fact no unify­ing sound acting as a glue to hold all of the brand's communications together.

The audit process is designed to highlight any consistencies which we may want to carry forward into the creative phase of projects. Likewise it can be incredibly useful for highlighting mass incon­sistency. It encouraged Barclaycard to implement the necessary changes in order to create a form of consistency across their market­ing communications.

Taking what we had learned from our audits of both the world of beeps and Barclaycard marketing communications, our creative team began the audio mood-board stage of the process.

This iterative process allows us to explore the musical representa­tion of the brand's personality. Similar to the process of tearing segments from magazines to conjure inspiration, we search the world of existing music and sound, to discover sounds that 'fit' the brand. This process allows us to identify any specific styles or genres or even a certain pace, rhythm or instrumentation that could be inherent to the brand's DNA. The first iteration could contain up to 25 short clips of music or sound that are mapped on a board to match key words associated with the brand.

This tool allowed Barclaycard to both vote and give feedback on the sound clips immediately, for analysis by CORD. Clips that did not receive good feedback were eliminated from the process, while the preferred tracks remained and were used as guidelines in the search for further examples. This process was repeated once more until there remained a small group of tracks that truly represented the sound of Barclaycard. Using these tracks as inspiration, we set about the task of fusing seemingly familiar elements that would combine to create something new, surprising and inspiring.

The New Approach - Background

Based on the brand personality and customer benefit - to liber­ate people from complexity - the sound should make the listener feel that Barclaycard has helped make their life easier and that the simplicity of things that 'just work' is freely available via them.

Technical spec

•         A piece of music lasting 1.5-2 seconds: ensure it is memorable but not annoying or self-indulgent.

•         3 or 4-note melody. After exploration, this is felt to be the right amount of notes for the sonic to feel distinct and simple.

•         Medium to fast tempo, with inventive sounds and in a major key, to create a distinct and positive sound.

From here we cast our net far and wide and began working with composers all over the world to create the new Barclaycard sonic logo. They were provided with our guidelines, the reference tracks from the moodboard phase and a brilliant animatic. The movement of the animatic was also something to take into account when composing the music that would accompany it. It is always far easier for a composer to work with a picture than without.

The composition phase (much like the moodboard process) was iterative. In total we created and listened to approximately 100 separate logos. Having played a selection of these to Barclaycard, the concepts that were not enjoyed were ignored and scrapped, while those that were liked continued to evolve. Once this process had been repeated a number of times, all that remained were three preferred routes for the sonic logo. These three options were then put forward for consumer research, which would play an important role in the final decision.

Taking the consumer research into account, key Barclaycard stake­ holders made their decision, and the new Barclaycard sonic logo was born. Now each time somebody used his or her contactless Barclaycard or mobile phone to pay for an item, this sound signified that a success­ful Barclaycard transaction had occurred. In addition, this new sonic asset would be integrated into the brand's marketing communications. Now that the development of the sonic logo was complete, it allowed for the exploration of other areas where Barclaycard could improve its use of music and sound. As previously mentioned, Barclaycard was extremely successful in choosing individual tracks to accompany specific communications. This led to a number of fantastic music-centric television commercials. Yet again, however, there appeared to be nothing in a musical sense that united them or connected them to any other Barclaycard communications.

CORD helped the brand to construct a set of musical guidelines for the selection of music in their communications. The brand and those tasked with sourcing music for new communications (existing or newly composed) were now fully equipped with the tools to make their decisions. The guidelines would not only guarantee the use of high quality sound on all future Barclaycard communications, but more importantly safeguard a clear form for all of the brand's future marketing communications.

Since the completion of this project we have worked alongside the brand to use its new sound asset and guidelines in the correct man­ner. The brand has already used its new 'Open World' sonic logo on a number of mobile phone applications - featuring a great deal on multiple mobile applications, on its on-hold account servicing system, and is in the process of integrating it in various mani­festations into digital campaigns, its website and above-the-line communications.

Barclaycard may be a card provider, but its appearance now goes beyond the visual rectangular piece of plastic with which we are all familiar. It may not be long before you forget what it was like to experience this brand in just a traditional plastic format, but as with all hit brands, you will always be able to hear it.

Go to to hear the Barclaycard 'Sound of Contactless Payment'.

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