MasterCard Lets Golfers Talk to Legends

NEW YORK For the golf fanatic, the ultimate would be a face-to-face conversation with Arnold Palmer. While that’s unlikely to happen in real life, MasterCard is creating a virtual alternative in a new Web site.

Here’s how it works: Visitors later this week to www.priceless.com/golf are greeted with Web video of a telethon in progress, hosted by CBS golf analyst David Feherty. Running across the bottom of the screen is a prompt to call 1-888-ONE-IRON and enter a code.

After a visitor calls, he is routed to one of the “operators”—Palmer, golf pros Ben Crenshaw, Laura Diaz and actor John Barmon (who played Spaulding Smails in the golf movie Caddyshack)—who appears onscreen to ask yes-or-no and true-false questions to assess whether the caller is “golf obsessed.” The experience is meant to give the feeling of actually talking to the on-screen video.

“You know you’re not on the phone with Arnold Palmer, but it’s the suspension of disbelief,” said Matt O’Rourke, cd at McCann Worldgroup’s MRM Worldwide, MasterCard’s interactive agency.

The site, which is promoted in a pair of MasterCard TV spots, is part of an effort by MasterCard to develop priceless.com into a full-fledged consumer content portal to complement the transaction-oriented mastercard.com.

It launched the site a year ago by staging a “create your own ad” campaign that aired consumer-created “Priceless” copy in a MasterCard commercial.

That contest drew over 100,000 entries, according to the company. MRM has also developed content on the site, with a particular eye to consumer-generated content. Since it developed a feature called “Priceless Picks” that lets users submit their own photos and descriptions of “priceless” life experiences, the site has received over 65,000 submissions. MRM chooses five to highlight every week, plotting them out on a map.

MRM created the golf site in partnership with New York tech firm Oddcast, combining a voice recognition and response application with Web video. Each visitor to the site’s code is unique, allowing the system to match up callers and the video. If the visitor calls back, the system tailors questions and comments by the golfers based on his previous activity. Other site features include “cheat of the day” tips from Barmon and text-messaged “excuses” from Diaz for skipping work to play golf.

“There’s a value exchange that has to happen on this Web site,” O’Rourke said. “People need to be entertained before we throw an offer at them.”