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.