American Express Taps Taraji P. Henson to Spread Message of Employee Appreciation in New B2B Campaign

Brand goes low-tech to promote corporate card with #ExpressThanks

taraji p henson
Taraji P. Henson played barista for a day, offering passersby coffee with personalized thank you messages. American Express
Headshot of Ian Zelaya

Key insights:

American Express is encouraging colleagues to show their appreciation for each other with a new B2B marketing campaign backed by actress Taraji P. Henson.

The financial services company has debuted #ExpressThanks, a campaign inviting employers and their employees to share messages of appreciation on social media and in person. The brand timed the campaign launch to National Employee Appreciation Day on March 6 with a social push and pop-ups in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Boston.

Clayton Ruebensaal, evp of global B2B marketing at American Express, said the campaign was inspired by the brand’s revamped corporate card program that launched last fall, designed to help employees improve their “everyday experience” with partnership benefits meant to ease business travel and offer personal perks. For example, corporate cardmembers who use Uber Eats will earn three times the standard rate of Uber reward points, and those who use their cards to buy airport lounge access through LoungeBuddy can earn up to $100 in statement credits.

“A lot of what’s happening in our B2B marketing is driven by us seeing the relationship between employee and employer. The power dynamic between employer and employee is changing, and employers are more interested in whether employees are engaged and feel fulfilled,” Ruebensaal said. “Companies increasingly are talking to us about how the corporate card can be something that employees not only have to use, but want to use.”

Attendees could peel postcards from a branded hashtag wall and leave their own messages.
American Express

The campaign is also inspired by insights into workplace culture, including O.C. Tanner’s 2020 Global Culture Report, which found that team leaders who recognize their employees’ smaller wins and efforts see an 83% increase in engagement and a 136% increase in feeling like a subject matter expert at their organization.

Ruebensaal said AmEx saw an opportunity to align the new marketing messaging with National Employee Appreciation Day, an unofficial holiday acknowledged on the first Friday in March since 1995. The brand worked with ad agency mcgarrybowen and experiential agency We’re Magnetic to create and execute the daylong pop-ups in four public spaces, including New York’s Grand Central Terminal.

While American Express usually opts for tech-heavy activations for its consumer-facing experiences, the brand chose to go simple with a surprise-and-delight theme for the pop-ups. The activations included a branded wall where guests could peel off postcards to write thank you notes to their co-workers. They also included branded cafes that offered guests to-go coffee holders for two cups, to be shared with a colleague, which they could also personalize.

The brand's pop-up cafe offered guests two-cup holders, meant for them and a colleague.
American Express

Henson was a surprise barista at the New York pop-up, serving guests coffee cups with her own notes. She also crafted personalized messages on Instagram for the campaign, paying tribute to her sister and personal assistant. The Empire and What Men Want star said the campaign was a fit for her as she always tries to make an effort to show appreciation to fellow cast members, crew and extras on set.

“I take from my own life and my own experience. Whenever Taraji is on set, you have a good time,” Henson said. “Sometimes extras aren’t treated the best on a set. But on my set, I get them their own food truck or gifts to take away and remember me by. You should be happy going to work, and I try to take it upon myself to make the atmosphere as fun as possible.”

Along with the pop-ups, the campaign also includes an Instagram contest. People who post a photo of a note appreciating their colleagues (and tag American Express Business with the campaign hashtag) will be entered to win prizes related to card perks and the brand’s sponsorships, including stays at Hilton properties and tickets to the 2020 U.S. Open and Austin City Limits.

Guests were encouraged to write thank you notes to their coworkers on the postcards.
American Express

#ExpressThanks is American Express’s first campaign tied to National Employee Appreciation Day. Ruebensaal said the brand will measure its success based on corporate cardmember use and enthusiasm overall, but more specifically by monitoring the card’s Net Promoter Score.

Ruebensaal noted that the brand plans to make the campaign annual, with the goal of having companies they serve directly associate the brand with the unofficial holiday—similar to Small Business Saturday, which American Express launched 10 years ago.

“If we can make the job for a company like Facebook or Amazon even easier to show appreciation for their employees, I think they’re going to build on that success the way small businesses have built on the success of Small Business Saturday,” he said. “If we do this right, we’ll see the same snowball effect. We have a lot of cool ideas for year two.” Ian Zelaya is an Adweek reporter covering how brands engage with consumers in the modern world, ranging from experiential marketing and social media to email marketing and customer experience.