Oct 4, 2006

Credit card advertising deconstructed

Slate Magazine has an excellent section called Ad Report Card in which Seth Stevenson regularly analyzes TV ads. Since credit card companies spend lots on advertising, Stevenson is naturally drawn to writing about them. “Credit card advertising fascinates me,” he says. “There could be no less interesting product—we're talking about a small rectangle of plastic that eases financial transactions—and yet (or maybe as a result), the marketing campaigns are these expansive, abstract affairs.”

Three credit card ads have been highlighted over the past few months. The first article reports on MasterCard’s Priceless ad contest (The End of a Played-Out Ad Campaign). Stevenson concludes that turning the well known Priceless ad format into a contest “really does signal the end of the Priceless campaign's natural life span. There's nothing left to do. It was great while it lasted, but I hope they'll move on before the conceit gets horribly stale.”

The second is on the American Express “My Life. My Card” advertising campaign launched a couple years ago (Wes Anderson's brilliant new AmEx spot). “AmEx has carefully chosen its roster of high-toned celebrity endorsers,” Stevenson writes. “De Niro, Winslet, and Anderson are all top-tier objects of fascination for well-heeled consumers. And that's the real selling point of these AmEx ads. Here are these somewhat elusive stars we'd love to see more of, telling us all about My Life in their own words. Suggestion: If you get an AmEx card, perhaps the world will become fascinated by your life, too. AmEx helpfully nudges this notion along in one of its print ads: Next to a questionnaire where celebrities like Winslet fill in answers about themselves, in their own handwriting, AmEx prints a blank questionnaire where you, too, can tell us about your busy, glamorous existence.”

Stevenson is not nearly as excited about Citigroup’s advertisements announcing Citi’s new “Thank You Redemptions Network” rewards program (Thanks, But No Thanks. Citigroup's godawful new campaign). “This new Citi campaign is atrocious,” he writes. “It confirms our worst suspicions: that companies like Citigroup really don't care about us at all - they just pretend to.”

Citi’s Thank You rewards program is “pretty much the same as a zillion other programs. (You mean my credit card earns me ‘points’? Which I may then redeem for goods and services? Crazy!) What's new about this program is how it's being marketed - i.e., badly.”

“The message here seems to be: We at Citi are going to flat-out ignore you (like the squirming boyfriend), or even insult you (by calling you pregnant, when you're just fat). But we're certain that you won't mind at all. Why? Because we'll say, 'Thank you!' in the form of 'points' you can redeem for schlock.”

If anybody still needed a reason to avoid launching something that seems to be just another boring rewards program that looks like all the others, here it is.

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