Upfront 2003: Credit Cards

Whether hooking in with theme parks, film festivals or sports leagues, credit card companies’ knack for developing high-profile marketing campaigns—replete with big budgets—will be evident this year. The major players in the category will tap the assets of their glamorous partners to introduce fresh promotions and messaging.

MasterCard’s advertising plans, for example, include a comprehensive fourth-quarter program via an alliance with Universal. Universal also is involved, along with Major League Baseball, in MasterCard’s “Priceless Edge” internship initiative; designed to reach younger audiences, winners of an essay contest get the chance to earn a summer job helping produce a Universal CD or working at an MLB team. “Priceless Edge” is supported with winter and spring advertising.

For summer, MasterCard will launch an integrated weekend-themed usage campaign built around the “priceless” ways people use their Saturdays and Sundays.

In addition, MasterCard, a sponsor of the 150th anniversary of New York’s Central Park, will place regional advertising related to the park and, nationally, will continue its base program of “priceless” spots. Debra Coughlin, senior vp global over North American brandbuilding for MasterCard, said the company will spend “a little more” on marketing in 2003 versus last year (which was, per CMR, $238.9 million). “We continue to invest strongly; it’s what drives incremental volume,” she says.

Visa executives also note the importance of prominent advertising, albeit balanced against economic and international uncertainties. “We need marketing now more than ever,” says Becky Saeger, executive vp of brand marketing for Visa. “Our job is to keep the volume going and keep the Visa brand top of mind and be sure we drive business for our members.” She estimates Visa will spend about the same this year as 2002’s $277.5 million, per CMR, with a greater focus on usage messages. To that end, in the third quarter Visa will introduce a major rewards program for its successful check card, which boasts 127 million users.

Visa’s two summer programs will feature the May kickoff of a family-oriented promotion with new co-branded card partner Disney, plus a Nascar initiative giving cardholders the chance to win a trip to a race. Also on tap: an ad-supported holiday promotion aimed at driving retail volume, and National Football League-themed spots to air during football season.

American Express, which laid out $169.4 million last year, will use its own impressive roster of sports and entertainment partners to build programs this year. AmEx will continue to spend around its “Official Card of…” campaign during sponsored events like the U.S Open tennis tournament and September’s World Golf Championship. AmEx will again sponsor the springtime Tribeca Film Festival in New York and run ads in the New York area and Los Angeles.

In addition, the company will promote its Blue card with a music-themed campaign launched during the Grammy Awards, tying in with the “Save the Music” campaign, which encourages music programs in schools, and artists like Sheryl Crow.

AmEx’s OPEN small-business network also will get attention this year, with new spots focusing on specific products and services. Other ads will support AmEx’s upgraded rewards initiative for its charge card, which bowed last fall. Targeted regional programs based around co-branded cards such as Delta SkyMiles—one of which will award double miles at selected restaurants—are planned as well. “We put a lot of advertising behind [co-branded cards] in local markets, including TV opportunities, to highlight the benefits of the cards, and we will look to spend more behind that,” says AmEx spokeswoman Desiree Fish.

Discover will focus on rewards positioning with ads touting its cash-back bonus program; three will air during back-to-school and holiday periods, carrying the “It pays to Discover” tag.

Discover, which spent $96.1 million last year, also will debut a new spot for its 2GO card this summer. On the regional front, Discover will support mall-based retail promotions, including its “Little Orange Gift Box” program, which gives shoppers boxes of mints and coupons.—

Prime-time Network Spending in 2002: $352.3 million*
Hot Buttons: Co-branding and rewards promotions will raise spending for marketing campaigns.

Category: Credit Cards
PERIOD: Jan 1, 2002 – Dec 31, 2002

Advertiser: Prime-time Network TV $$$
Visa International: $206 million
Mastercard Inc.: $127.6 million
Captial One Financial Corp.: $126.4 million
American Express: $59 million
Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co.: $41.5 million

Top Programs for Financial Advertising: Expenditures
CSI: $9.9 million
Survivor Thailand: $9.82 million
ER: $9.81 million
Source: Nielsen Monitor-Plus