Mastercard CMO: „Forget ads, use experiences.“

7 min. reading

What would you do with your money to make your life richer? Would you have a sleepover at a zoo and be woken up by a fur seal? Would you book a weekend break in a European metropolis with experiences that are hidden to the average tourist? Would you go out for dinner right on the field of your favorite sports club’s stadium?

This is exactly what Mastercard is doing with its “Start Something Priceless” campaign, which inspires people to follow their dreams. It challenges them to use money to pursue their passions and contribute to something meaningful in their own lives, in their wider community, and in the world.

Portrait of a pretty lovely girl wearing dress standing isolated over pink background, eating chocolate chip cookie

The campaign wonderfully illustrates the transition from traditional to experiential marketing. Mastercard started to focus on experiential communications in 2018. Since then, the Priceless platform has fully evolved from a simple creative message into a brand experience program that aims to create a “priceless experience” for cardholders across all countries. The brand admits that paying by card is only a fraction of the overall experience, but the reach the campaign generates in terms of awareness and engagement with people is priceless.

Raja Rajamannar, Global Head of Marketing at Mastercard and President of the World Federation of Advertisers, promotes live and sound marketing extensively. He came up with the idea of taking Priceless experiences to a commendably experiential new level.

In an interview for Campaign Asia, he said that Mastercard will no longer focus on advertising alone, and instead wants to connect more with its customers. He has gradually shifted the money that was supposed to go into traditional marketing to an experiential approach, and he predicts that in the coming years, experiential marketing will constitute a predominant part of their communications mix.

Decades with a single slogan.

Mastercard first came out with the idea of priceless experiences back in 1997. As it turns out, it is a timeless idea that still works years later.

Over the years, sportsmen, celebrities, lost dogs, and wild bulls have participated in the Priceless campaign. Even Homer Simpson has starred in a Mastercard commercial. 

In 2013, the brand assessed its ROI and discovered that traditional advertising approaches were no longer effective. It therefore refused to continue to rely on “advertising” as its primary method of connecting with consumers.

“We have redirected money – a lot of money – from traditional advertising to experiences,” says Rajamannar. 

To make it more provocative for the marketing team, he told them that advertising was dead. „“Advertising is mainly about stories – but the telling of them is losing its power. The future is in creating them. Looking 10 years ahead, the marketing and advertising mix will change. Experience will prevail. Hence, we cannot merely sell a product in advertising, we need to offer people experiences in which the product is an ingredient,” elaborated visionary Rajamannar. His controversial idea was embraced by the management as well, and an opportunity appeared for the brand to shine.

The challenge to experience something priceless at a time when people expect action from brands, not just advertising, worked. One of the first experiences was the Priceless Table concept, which emerged in 2014. The brand joined the fight against cancer and anyone who used a MasterCard at any restaurant helped. Instead of a traditional commercial, marketers decided to open a slightly different restaurant in Times Square right on the billboard. Over the course of three weeks, they and celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson served more than 350 diners a five-course menu and special celebrity appearances. Seats were reserved through Open Table and sold out in two hours.

The Priceless Table idea grew in the years that followed, and people could encounter it in many other places – at their favorite football stadium, in a museum, in various venues, and across cities.

The Priceless campaign was then split into 4 separate parts: Priceless Cities, Priceless Surprises, Priceless Causes, and Priceless Specials. With Priceless Cities, Mastercard holders can enjoy benefits that are unique to each city. Priceless Surprises offers cardholders surprises like free music downloads, seat upgrades at select events, or even the opportunity to win a valuable gift. Through Priceless Causes, customers can make contributions to charitable causes, and Priceless Specials offers a rewards program that provides cardholders with deals and discounts at select retailers.

In January 2018, the brand connected people with the Grammy Awards in New York, offering an audiophile experience in support of the Masterpass e-wallet: It invited people into a converted pop-up recording studio, where it offered them rare vinyl for just $10 per disc, and unlocked award-winning songs in the Grammy ongoing live broadcast to be downloaded for a nominal fee.

07 mastercard studio 
It is worth digressing a bit to look at a case study from Frukt on how to get an impressive 250 million media impressions.

Support for blind and transgender people

As part of its Priceless program, Mastercard also draws attention to common activities that are no more than routine for most of society, but which, for some, present a huge problem. One such example is paying at a coffee shop.

In a special spot designed to be understood with or without its visual component, the brand introduces the Touch Card line of payment cards. They are distinguished by a system of special notched edges, making it possible for blind people to identify which card they are using and which way it should be oriented. The spot ends with the line “Because a world designed for all of us is priceless”.

Commenting on the cards, Raja Rajamannar said: “The Touch Card is another step towards promoting inclusion. With innovations that take accessibility into account, we strive to provide equal opportunities for everyone, in order that they can enjoy the benefits of an easy and secure digital world.”

It can be very hard to admit who we are, especially for transgender people, who often face critical views from people around them. Furthermore, they may have a name in their documents with which they do not identify. In such cases, Mastercard makes it possible to state a name on the card with which transgender or non-binary people can identify.

Custom sound identity

Mastercard has also started to focus intensively on sound marketing. In 2019, in cooperation with musicians, artists, and marketing agencies, it created a catchy and easy-to-remember signature tune which is played during checkout. Several versions have been created for different parts of the world and different situations. The result is short signature tunes that come in playful, film, and opera versions.

Connecting all the senses

And what is the future of Mastercard’s marketing? At the ISA Global CEO conference in 2022, Raja Rajamannar said that the brand would be defined by the interconnection of the different senses. And it is this multi-sensory concept that will distinguish the brand from its competition.

We have already mentioned the sound identity, and you may recall that Mastercard introduced its new logo in 2019. With that, it dropped its name and focused purely on the overlap of the red and yellow circles. Its intention is to give people an opportunity to perceive the brand not only by seeing but in a much more profound way – by hearing, touch, and smell.

Therefore, in 2021, the company cooperated with the Swiss firm Firmenich in the preparation of two unique fragrances. These were launched under the names Priceless Passion and Priceless Optimism, and the color schemes faithfully replicate the colors of the Mastercard logo.

11 vune mastercard

To complete the list of senses, we must also mention taste. In 2019, visitors to a food festival organized by The New York Times were able to taste two original flavors of macarons for the first time. They were created by the French confectionery Ladurée and bear the same names as the perfumes: Passion and Optimism. And you have probably already guessed that they come in a two-color version.

Raja Rajamannar confirmed the brand’s shift towards taste is based on a well-thought-out concept:

“People expect a lot, which is why sometimes things that they do not expect can leave a more lasting impression.”

“With this first taste of Priceless, we are taking the brand into uncharted territory and offering new adventures* with the most extraordinary and amazing culinary experiences that can be had only with Mastercard.”

Along with the macarons, the brand also presented its very first restaurant. Located in New York, it boasts the name PRICELESS, in line with the long-standing campaign. It offers experiential dining exclusively for Mastercard holders, transporting them to iconic places in Tanzania, England, and Japan. Each dining experience is an exact replica of a feast in the actual location – from the cutlery and furniture to the precise smells and sounds. The “digital windows” in the restaurant give guests an authentic view of each of the locations, and the window views change from day to evening and to night.

13 mastercard restaurant

The brand then linked all the senses in a special three-day Taste of Priceless exhibition, which encompassed culinary experiences, art, and culture.

14 the taste of priceless

Mastercard is gradually building on earlier campaign ideas and developing them further. It skillfully transforms the telling of stories into living them. Today, Mastercard can easily get its customers to take part in creating experiences, making those life moments even more special. Such experiences are key for “generating selfies” that spread the information to thousands of other people. This means that people themselves become brand ambassadors, as they are happy to share their experiences with the brand on social media, live, and digitally.

Experiential marketing is clearly shaping the future of the Mastercard brand. And emphasizing experiences that money can’t buy is a stroke of genius for this payment card intermediary. Its brand value has doubled, giving it a giant lead over its competitors. The Priceless platform has fully evolved from a simple creative message into a marketing program and brand asset. Even though Mastercard is primarily a payment method, it is noteworthy that it has built its core idea on Priceless Experiences.

Sources: Adweek, Muse by Clio, Brand Equity, Designportal, Fragrantica, Mastercard, AdNews, Mastercard, Campaign, Gotham, Eflux


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