Q. MasterCard’s Priceless campaign has been, in a word, priceless for your company in terms of branding. Why has this messaging resonated so strongly with consumers?
For a couple reasons. First of all, it is based on a fundamental human truth, which is the fact that some things in life are simply priceless. From the start, the campaign has really respected—and reflected—peoples’ prioritizations in life. It has always had that human truth embedded in it.
The other thing that has made the campaign so successful is that the concept translates incredibly well globally. It is the most translated campaign in corporate history, having appeared in over 130 markets. It’s been running for more than 16 years now, and regardless of the language, the notion that the things that really matter are priceless evokes emotion in people. The third reason for the campaign’s success is that there is just so much creative territory to work with, which has allowed us to leverage creative content from around the world: we’ve picked up creative for North America from Asian markets, and from Australia. You can do that when you’re working with a global human truth.
Q. The first Priceless commercial aired in 1997. Describe the campaign’s evolution, and where you see it going next.
With the advancement of digital and social marketing, our stance as a company has shifted from observing priceless moments to enabling priceless moments. Our current Priceless Cities program is a tangible demonstration of this. We’re celebrating some of the world’s greatest cities and what they have to offer – not just for our cardholders, but for consumers in general. It’s about curating experiences for people via exclusive partnerships with companies like Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, the PGA Tour and Mario Batali’s Eataly in New York City. In addition to special events, there are also everyday offers that allow you to take full advantage of what a city like New York has to offer.
It’s all really about the kind of ‘interpretive dance’ that is understanding human need. There’s a lot more art to it now than ever before, because we’re living in an environment where feedback comes in real time. There’s a lot to ‘live up to’ with respect to the notion of ‘priceless’. We receive feedback all the time and we’re constantly learning from it to make sure that we continue to appeal to that core human truth.
Q. Shifting from observing to enabling priceless moments was a big bet; why did you make it?
One of the really fascinating things about Priceless is that because there is this sort of an endless interpretation to it, it lends itself very well to periodic refreshing. We made the shift in part because the landscape had shifted so much. Marketing has become much more dynamic and ‘real-time’ communication than ever before. It’s no longer just about print ads and limited forums for feedback. As a result, a lot of brands are moving into the ‘experiential’ space. Of course, there are a number of brands that have done this well for a very long time—I think of Nike, Adidas and some of the other athletic brands. For us, it was necessary to move in that direction. Otherwise, we would be missing an opportunity.
Enabling priceless moments allows us to get even closer to the consumer and have a dialogue with them. Our social media team and our public relations group have done a great job of helping build those channels of communications with our cardholders, and it’s starting to reach more deeply into our overall marketing strategy. You’ve just got to be ready for it, because there will always be feedback from people who didn’t have a perfect experience. We take it all to heart. It’s a great opportunity for us to learn and try to raise expectations the next time around.
Q. Personal debt is at an all-time high, with people commonly living beyond their means. What is your message to your customers on this front?
We don’t actually view ourselves as a credit brand. Our reason for being is that we’re a payment brand. Around the world, we are seeing the use of cash declining rapidly. With respect to debt, it’s our issuing partners that really own the products and set the rates; we don’t get into that aspect of the business. But we do provide educational tools on our website, and through our public relations work we endeavour to help educate consumers around financial literacy and being more responsible.
Q. Pranksters on the Internet have had a field day with the Priceless campaign. What is your reaction to this tomfoolery?
[This article has been reprinted, with permission, from Rotman Management, the magazine of the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management]