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Is PayPal's audio logo pointless?

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Much like text messages and instant noodles, there was a time when audio logos seemed terribly brave and inventive. Received wisdom tells us Intel were the first to deploy such a thing, when they decreed their name could not be shown or spoken without the accompaniment of five notes; but I’d suggest Microsoft at least led the way, with their Windows start-up music, written by Brian Eno. Although, as Intel stick their kit inside the machines that play that music, this is probably a very moot point.

What we can say for sure, is that audio logos are all over the place now – from McDonalds irritating “I’m lovin’ it” ditty, to the unsettlingly riotous “Sports Direct dot com. UK’s number one.” Actually, they might be jingles – it’s so hard to tell isn’t it? I suppose some experts would argue that an audio logo must be instrumental, but they would be splitting hairs; essentially we’re talking about branding through sounds, whatever we choose to call the end result.

The latest entry to this, now crowded, advertising field is PayPal. And what an interesting brand this online payment platform has. I say ‘interesting’, what I mean is ‘uninteresting’. Your feelings may differ, but I can safely say I’m pretty indifferent to PayPal as a brand. Yes, they do offer an essential process for most online shoppers and other purchasers, but my water supplier provides an even more crucial service, and I have no real engagement with their brand either. The best I could say about PayPal is that their product seems to work pretty well, and the worst claim I’d make is that they take rather a hefty slice off the top of any payment one receives. Beyond that, as I say, big indifference.

"I cringed as I typed the words because everything about this is wrong."

In their current campaign, PayPal sets out to change all that. You’ll note they’ve gone quirky and off-beat, in a way that can only be described as ‘unconvincing’. First we encounter a somewhat forced, ‘funky’ woman who explains how safe her online payments are by deploying ‘funny’ animations and a tone one might adopt when explaining a cat-flap to a very stupid feline. All this malarkey is then followed by the audio logo bit.

Unfortunately, PayPal’s determination to come over as laid-back, young and cool extends as far as this new device, and frankly, it’s awful. In very lo-fi sound we hear a rough tune picked out on a chap acoustic guitar. This precedes a male, American, teenage, slacker type intoning “People rule!”

Argh! I cringed as I typed those words. Everything about this is wrong. Oh, I completely understand the crazy concept of using the rough-cut audio as the finished piece, very clever and all that. It’s just that I genuinely have no understanding of the two-word pay-off: “People rule!” Taken literally, it’s nonsense – in the UK we have a constitutional monarchy. People do not rule, the Queen does. Taken in the more colloquial sense – people are very important – it’s a reasonable sentiment, but has absolutely nothing to do with PayPal. There are, of course, many online services, allowing people to be social with one another, and therefore feel important. PayPal isn’t one of them, though - it just processes digital transactions, in a very efficient, non-human way. “Money rules!” would be more appropriate, and would also carry the benefit of being largely correct.  
That’s always assuming PayPal needs an audio logo, which I’m far from certain they do. Indeed, I don’t require my online payment provider to have a personality, particularly the personality of a stoned teenager at the end of a marathon ‘Call Of Duty’ session. I merely require them to be reliable, and above all, very secure. Security rules, in fact.

Magnus Shaw is a blogger, copywriter and consultant

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