MasterCard Rolls Out ‘Roots of Rock’

NEW YORK Free downloads and the chance to meet a rock star are the main draws of MasterCard’s “Roots of Rock” sweepstakes, which also marks the first major entertainment sponsorship that lets consumers access the entire Universal Music Group catalog.

The effort will attempt to target MasterCard’s massive base of consumers with an appeal to one of their common denominators: music.

It also constitutes a break from the company’s usual approach to promotions. MasterCard’s sponsorship support has historically revolved around sports. For example, the credit-card company has been an official sponsor of Major League Baseball since 1997.

“In the marketplace, you see more of a convergence between the two. Entertainment is becoming sports and sports is becoming entertainment,” said Debby Hughes, MasterCard svp and head of global sponsorships.

The impact of that shift on a brand as large as MasterCard is significant, Hughes said, because, “when you look at the world of sponsorships, traditionally there are two things that consumers concern themselves with in their free time: entertainment-music, theater or movies and/or some sort of sports affinity.”

“Roots of Rock,” targeted to consumers in the U.S., U.K. and Australia, is offering 100,000 free music downloads. Once it has reached that number, MasterCard will charge 80 cents per download for the duration of the campaign (it runs though the end of August).

With each purchase, consumers also win a chance to meet Jon Bon Jovi, Kenny Chesney or Eric Clapton in the place where each artist got his start.

Consumers can enter the contest at MasterCard’s microsite, www.priceless.com. The site offers an interactive experience and provides details about the histories and careers of the music artists.

MasterCard chose music for its first large-scale entertainment sponsorship because “music is as close to people as their three square meals a day,” and it is also readily accessible and customizable 24/7, Hughes said.

An integrated advertising flight was created to promote the sponsorship. The work includes print, radio, out of home, online and a new “Priceless” television spot called “Living It.”

MasterCard employed several agencies: Omnicom Group’s TracyLocke conceived the promotional component; Interpublic Group’s MRM Worldwide handled the interactive element; IPG’s McCann Erickson was responsible for advertising; and Omnicom’s GSD&M Idea City handled media buying.

Suresh Vittal, principal analyst at Forrester Research, emphasized the “very powerful targeting machine” MasterCard has put in place via this campaign. “Based on all of the transactional information the company captures on its consumer base, it should be able to apply a lot of that insight to design the sweepstakes in a way that gets the most registrations,” he said.

More important, according to Damon Bethel, group digital director at MediaVest, is the “mutually beneficial relationship” that has been created. Universal makes accessible its library of music to a huge consumer base, “which is the direction it and other music companies are looking to perpetuate,” said Bethel. “This decentralization of its offerings is what they need to do to get some of that share back.”

From MasterCard’s point of view, the company positions itself as helping to digitize Universal’s music while keeping its consumer base front and center, he said. “It’s great for MasterCard to be the arbiter of music, which allows them to develop a new platform from which to message with. … It’s beneficial to consumers who are out there in the digital space looking for music,” said Bethel.

Added MasterCard’s Hughes: “I think now to be successful and break through the clutter, companies like ourselves need to be creative in how we engage the consumer.”

Hughes also said that if the sponsorship generates strong results, MasterCard would consider a global extension in 2009.