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Creative Review: MasterCard Bets on ‘Smart Money’ — Ammirati Gets Down to Practicalities In the New ‘More Than a Credit Card’ Campaign By Mark Dollive

NEW YORK – ‘You know those credit-card commercials where they

This isn’t one of them, okay?’ Rather, it’s a pitch for the practicality of MasterCard in the brand’s first campaign by Ammirati & Puris/N.Y. After a glimpse of beautiful people on vacation, the spot clicks off a TV set and brings you down to reality in the supermarket (‘How’s that for exotic?’), where you can use your MasterCard instead of fumbling with cash and checks. Thus we leave the realm of stupid credit, sadder but wiser, and enter the world of ‘smart money.’
‘Smart’ convenience is the crux of the new, ‘more than a credit card’ positioning: In implied contrast to its competitors, MasterCard is a handy payment tool, not a lure that will lead you inexorably toward debtors prison as you charge lavish vacations (and perhaps the occasional BMW?). The card is smart and so are you for using it.
The spots give a lively treatment to this theme as we see the wheels of a shopping cart swiveling along, the produce getting hosed down, the checkout people lip-syncing the voiceover (delivered by Rob Morrow of Northern Exposure semi-fame).
So far, so good. The downside here is that the flattery of the target audience can also sound patronizing. Sure, it’s good to know you can use the card at the supermarket (pronounced ‘sooopermarket’ in the voiceover’s mock wonderment), but you may also feel MasterCard is offering you something for your drab little life at the checkout counter while those glamorous people are off at St. Barts. And while the spots tell you you’re intelligent, which is nice, they can’t do so without suggesting all those other folks at the supermarket are intelligent, too. It’s one thing to be flattered yourself and quite another to watch others being flattered. Since the checkout line is notoriously one of those places where we’re most apt to believe our fellow human beings are idiots, the spot has a visual context in which we may well have our doubts about this whole ‘smart’ business.
On the other hand, maybe such nuances don’t much matter. The truth is that most viewers (who neither know nor care that the account was won in a marathon review) just won’t be paying such close attention. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that a sizable minority of inattentive viewers will think they were watching a commercial for some supermarket.
Copyright Adweek L.P. (1993)