Back in 1997, MasterCard was facing a tidal wave of competition from its rivals. Visa, had growing presence and a consistent advertising global advertising campaign. Amex was experimenting with Blue. In contrast MasterCard had a number of disparate campaigns in different countries, including ‘The world in your hands’ and the ‘Future of Money’.

MasterCard also faced stiff competition from Visa, American Express and local bank card brands. As an example, MasterCard unaided brand awareness in Japan in 1997 was 14% vs. 20% for American Express, and 51% for Visa.

Visa and AMEX were spending on average at 3X and 2X the rate of MasterCard respectively. Again, powerful local brands added to the intense competition.

MasterCard lacked consumer relevance

For those who had the brand, it was often viewed as “the other card” you keep in your wallet. There was little emotional reason to use it. In contrast, other brands had created a brand emotion built out of the aspirations of a high-flying (and a high spending) lifestyle.

The MasterCard brand needed a new campaign, which would not only work for consumers, but would also unify and excite banking partners and staff. Given its position, MasterCard needed a global campaign – but be sensitive to, and accommodate, local cultural issues and mores.

In late 1997, MasterCard asked McCann-Erickson to be their worldwide agency partner. McCann set about creating a flexible and relevant global 360 degree campaign.

Conceptual Target: “Good Revolvers”

This conceptual label expresses the “natural constituency” for MasterCard through a common outlook or set of values. It also reflects the critical importance of talking to credit card revolvers who contribute the lion’s share of profit for MasterCard and its member banks.

They make the same purchases and expend similar amounts of money as Visa or American Express users – but they have a different rationale. They are family oriented, and more in line with current values of personal balance and harmony, rather than the materialistic, ostentatious values which applied previously. They have a responsible attitude to the management of their money.

Creative Strategy

The advertising was crafted to bring to life “the things that really matter” in everyday situations. By associating everyday purchases with memorable “Priceless” moments that are non-materialistic and based on real human values, MasterCard becomes a part of a richer more fulfilling lifestyle.

Importantly, the brand gets kudos from consumers for recognizing what is truly important in life, and thus there is less resistance to the advertising that encourages use of the card.

The campaign theme line sums it up clearly: There are some things money can’t buy. For everything else there’s MasterCard.

This strategy and creative idea was tested in many countries including Singapore. The results were consistent, and refreshing: Finance advertising is widely disliked on the grounds that ‘it is seen to encourage spending of money that we don’t have.’

Once some MasterCard Priceless commercials were shown, the mood of the groups improved. Reactions included comments like: ‘Finally a credit card that understands that I don’t want to spend on unnecessary or frivolous items.’

Television Commercials

The TV commercials followed a consistent format – a series of purchases are shown and their prices are indicated in the appropriate currency. An emotionally based moment is described, which by inference is even more valuable than anything that money can buy.

These were built around lines such as ‘Making him a promise and keeping it. Priceless’. ‘The ability to surprise (your partner) again and again: Priceless’ ‘Twenty-five years together – more better than worse: Priceless’.

Over 120 Priceless commercials have been shot, and are running in over 80 countries around the world. The best directors have been used to ensure excellent production values, and that the emotion of the moment touches heartstrings. One of MasterCard’s key values is to be ‘genuine’ and this is reflected in realistic purchases and the priceless moment being relevant but at the same time creatively stimulating and moving.

These directors include Tarsem, Tony Kaye, Frank Budgeon and Peter Goldschmidt. Jim Sheridan, of ‘My Left Foot’ fame, directed his first commercial for MasterCard, featuring a mother and daughter who revisit Ireland and gain greater understanding.

In Asia

Since the campaign was launched in Asia, many markets have run either adaptations of the US or European material. And this cross fertlisation works both ways. Commercials made in Asia have run in such exotic places as Belgium, Brazil and Bahrain. The ‘Old Boyfriend’ commercial, written by Paul Grezoux and Scott Isaac of McCann Malaysia, and shot by Nick Reynolds, has been re-shot in the States to converse with the Black market. The film showed a young attractive woman entering a restaurant to meet a male friend, and on the table behind the old boyfriend spots her, and can’t help to be impressed or stunned! It ends with the line “The look on your old Boyfriend’s face; Priceless.”

This portfolio of TV advertising has been supported by a huge range of print, and promotional priceless materials, including the very successful Manchester United tour to Singapore earlier this year, as a forerunner to next year’s World Cup, of which MasterCard is a major sponsor.

Creative Research Results

In research conducted last year, more conservative family members rated a commercial called “Knowing who you are working for” (written by Desmond Soon and Alvin Yeo in McCann Singapore) as imparting good values in developing a successful career, but at the same time realizing the importance of your family (and evolving work patterns – as more people start to work from home). One result of this, the target considered MasterCard to be a modern and successful payment system.

Younger Singaporean women reacted particularly well to ‘Old Boyfriend’, and reacted favourably not only to the purchases, but also to the act of revenge.

Building Brand awareness

In Singapore last year in tracking, brand awareness increased by a factor of 45%, and this had a correlation to brand usage, which increased by a similar amount.

Amongst all respondents who recognise the advertising, the Priceless advertising brand involvement has built to an excellent level, indicating a very positive effect of the campaign on the brand.

Among recognisers of the advertising, MasterCard is seen as more accepted everywhere, more genuine, more trustworthy and reliable, more approachable than before.

Amongst dual cardholders, MasterCard continues to increase its share of wallet, indicating that Priceless and other communications efforts are successfully putting MasterCard top of mind. Spontaneous awareness has increased, whilst Visa has declined.

The Future

Tracking in any country has yet to record any wear out of the campaign (as opposed to an individual spot). It is a campaign that in these changing and uncertain times stands for something positive and welcoming.

In Singapore and SE Asia, you see more usage campaigns that tie into Priceless. The successful POSBank MasterCard and UOB Lady’s MasterCard launches of the past 3 months have had their own MasterCard Priceless ads.

The campaign continues to build steam and build results for the brand. And as MasterCard keeps innovating, it will be up to McCann to deliver those messages in a fresh, intriguing, and motivating manner.