Brand Spotlight: HSBC

Designing a brand sound across physical and digital touchpoints

By Paul Amitai, Executive Strategy Director

June 2020

HSBC advertisement

How HSBC Effectively Used Sound in its Brand Refresh

In 2018, HSBC launched a new visual identity with an updated logo and bolder, more persistent use of their recognizable red hexagon design. As a 150-year-old global financial services company, HSBC’s aim was to introduce a more contemporary look that could help to unite the brand’s messaging and visual approach. Recognizing the need to create a 360-degree brand identity in an increasingly sprawling and digitally driven environment, HSBC also began the process of developing a sound identity for the first time.

Electronic music pioneer Jean-Michel Jarre was hired to compose an anthem that articulates the brand promise, “Together we thrive.” From the initial core melody, Jarre developed seven musical versions that differ in energy and mood to suit various contexts — online and in app, at bank branch locations and sponsored events, in ad campaigns, in flight, and at airports. The resulting sound toolkit provides HSBC with consistency and flexibility across physical and digital touchpoints.

“From a business perspective, if we didn’t have a sound identity, we risked further fragmenting our brand, meaning, distinctiveness, and ultimately our appearance in the mind of a customer. We now have one unique, globally consistent source material to ease fragmentation and build a consistent, signature brand experience.” — Andrea Newman, Global Head of Brand, HSBC (1)

The sound identity was launched in 2019 with a series of social videos representing the seven musical themes, including an extended 12-minute “Mindfulness” composition that subtly weaves the brand’s sound mnemonic throughout and provides an ambient soundtrack appropriate for meditation. The bespoke composition works effectively as branded content that also stands on its own creative merits, providing greater value to consumers and, as a result, engendering greater brand affinity.

HSBC Branding Through The Sound of Home

As part of a larger mission to help students and families prepare for overseas education, HSBC conducted a survey on homesickness, and found that nearly three-quarters of international students studying abroad miss the sounds of home. (2) Considering the emotional impact of sound — hearing your own language spoken, the bustle of local markets and train stations, the distinct texture of local nature sounds — HSBC worked with a group of former students and influencers to record local soundscapes that might help students connect to home. Collected in India, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Singapore, the field recordings were edited into a four-track playlist released as the “Sounds of Home” campaign at the beginning of the 2019 school year on audio streaming and voice platforms including Spotify, iTunes, and Alexa. (3)

Since the initial launch of the sound identity, HSBC has been going through a test-and-learn process to evaluate a multitude of ways to leverage sound and music throughout channels and touchpoints, from ad campaigns to mobile and voice apps, bespoke music and beyond, in order to arrive at an approach that feels right for the brand. (4) As sound is a new territory for many brands, it’s critical to begin with a coherent yet flexible sound strategy that allows for adaptability and responsiveness to emerging opportunities while always staying on-brand.

Memorable brands begin here.


(1) “HSBC tunes up its sonic identity,” WARC (Jun 6, 2019).
(2) Narula, Raghujit, “Studying abroad: Making it work,” HSBC (Sep 4, 2019).
(3) "International students crave the sound of home in HSBC soundscape campaign," Edelman (Sep 4, 2019).
(4) Vizard, Sarah, “‘It could have gone horribly wrong’: HSBC launches ‘sound identity’ in next phase of global brand refresh," MarketingWeek (Jan 23, 2019).

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