Mastercard Is Embracing the Internet of Things While Limiting Where It Runs Programmatic Ads

CMO Raja Rajamannar talks digital plans

Mastercard is using experimental advertising to fight ad blocking.
Mastercard News

BARCELONA—For Mastercard CMO Raja Rajamannar, everything is digital.

Over the past three years, the brand has tripled its digital ad budgets and is experimenting with newfangled technology like bots and virtual reality. At the same time, MasterCard isn’t quite as bullish in advanced advertising tactics like programmatic as its peers and is instead investing in experimental advertising.

“Unlike many companies, we look at digital both as a product that we enable for consumer experiences and payments on one side,” Rajamannar told Adweek after a presentation Monday morning at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. “On the other side, we look at digital as a medium for engaging our consumers and marketing to them. We are really investing a lot in digital compared to traditional—I can tell you not quantitatively but as an index, the percentage of digital to my marketing mix has tripled in the last three years.”

In particular, Rajamannar is bullish on the so-called Internet of Things with devices like Amazon Echo and artificial intelligence. “Every connected device is a marketing channel, and it is also a device for commerce,” he said.

Adweek sat down with Rajamannar to talk about Mastercard’s work with the Internet of Things, data and why the brand is hesitant about full-blown programmatic advertising. The interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Where are you investing your digital media?
For us, the most authentic and credible way of engaging consumers is through social—it can be digital, banners, display or it can also be communications.

Social is by far the most important. That said, we’re in search, on websites and with the coming of the Internet of Things, we’re also investigating how we can be in those environments.

How is Mastercard advertising through the Internet of Things?
We have this platform called Priceless Cities [that] gives experiences to consumers that they can buy that are exclusive to Mastercard—they’re not available to buy in the marketplace.

For these experiences, I can either expect you to come to my website or mobile app to see [them] or the other smarter thing for me to do is to go where you are. And if you look at the number of people and the amount of time they’re spending, one of the biggest is on messaging apps.

Suppose that you’re talking about Brazil to somebody. Without intruding into your privacy and in a totally anonymous fashion, can I serve you something contextually appropriate in that context?

It’s becoming very critical and also deploying artificial intelligence with the bots, can I make your interaction with me much more involved and interesting? [Amazon’s] Alexa is going to be a marketing medium tomorrow if not today.

What’s your biggest media priority for this year?
First and foremost is ROI estimates—we need to have the right attribution models, which is a constant game of refinement.

Second is optimization. We have digital media, physical media—how does sponsorship compare to a television ad versus a virtual reality ad or something else.

The third one is to make sure that we are eliminating, if not avoiding, things like ad fraud so that we’re only paying for the right things. For us, it’s very little [of a problem]. We stick to reputed sites. We don’t just go into programmatic and give a price point and buy everywhere. We have a whitelist so we said, ‘We want to [only] be on these sites,’ which really helps with mitigating if not eliminating ad fraud.

So you’re whitelisting sites specifically for programmatic?
A lot. We don’t want to be anywhere and everywhere. We want to be really targeted in the right environment so we [advertise] on a limited number of sites.

During your keynote, you mentioned a stat that there are 615 million active ad blockers, according to some estimates. What are you doing to approach consumers who have installed an ad blocker?
The rate at which ad blocks are increasing is scary—it’s dramatically significant. Consumers are telling you, “I don’t want to have my experience interrupted by your ads. Therefore, we have to figure out, “If consumers don’t want to listen to me through ads, how else will I reach them?”

That’s where our [experimental] platforms are coming into the picture. We are no longer telling them stories but we are making them a part of the stories. We are pretty big in sponsorships and we are leveraging our sponsorships to create experiences for consumers, we are reaching them through social media. If I give you one experience that you’re delighted about, you’ll broadcast about in your network and you broadcasting about it is more authentic then me telling about it myself.

Mastercard obviously has a ton of data about consumers’ purchases. What data is used to target the Priceless offers?
Firstly, we are respectful of consumers’ data—we don’t misuse the data.

We anonymize everything and we look at things at a target-segment level as opposed to an individual level. We are able to match that with social media data, which is in the public domain. I know what the characteristics of a category broadly look like and what your interests are. If you talk in your conversations about soccer, and I have a UEFA Champions League as one of my key sponsorships, I will try to see if I can connect you to UEFA Champions League with my assets.