Credit cards

If gold medals were awarded for marketing consistency, the credit card industry would be the Sarah Hughes of the business world. Major players Visa and MasterCard, who have maintained their steady rates of spending and commitment to their positioning platforms for years, will stick to their established routines this year. Freshening their programs will be updated creative and the occasional push behind new products and promotions.

Discover and American Express will mix it up by introducing new taglines, but they will keep to their traditional big ad spends to bring their messages to consumers.

MasterCard, which last year spent $197 million, per CMR, will continue its successful "Priceless" campaign through 2002. In addition to general brand-building spots, MasterCard will use advertising to support several key promotions. One summer spot, for example, will tout its Major League Baseball sponsorship and a program called "Memorable Moments." The promotion asks fans to vote for their top baseball moments, with the winners slated for recognition in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Another ad highlights the "Priceless Edge" internship program, a youth-focused initiative offering participants the chance to take entertainment business classes and work on MTV's Music in High Places.

MasterCard also will feature its sponsorship of the FIFA World Cup, particularly in reaching out to Hispanic audiences.

Holiday will be an important period for the brand. Debra Coughlin, svp-global North American brandbuilding for MasterCard, said last year's promotional-driven advertising, which focused on "priceless" gifts that could be won through using the card, worked particularly well.

Visa, not surprisingly, also plans to spend in the fourth quarter. "That's when there is an inordinate amount of retail spending, so it's an important time frame for a usage message," said Liz Silver, Visa svp-advertising and brand management. Back-to-school is another key period. Visa will keep the longtime "It's everywhere you want to be" positioning this year. With lots of dollars allocated to its 2002 Olympics sponsorship, much of Visa's other advertising will focus on its key partnerships with the National Football League, NASCAR, the Triple Crown and Broadway.

Besides general branding and usage ads, Visa will support the check card (a "six degrees of Kevin Bacon" spot currently is running) and its "Verified by Visa" product, an online authentication service for card users making Internet purchases. Visa's ad spend last year was $251 million, per CMR. American Express, which spent $154 million in 2001, recently launched an extensive brand campaign with the new tag, "Make life rewarding." The initial phase includes nine TV spots, some of which highlight the overall brand while others feature specific AmEx services, such as financial planning or travel assistance. AmEx also bowed ads for its new small business network, OPEN, earlier this year.

Discover Card, meanwhile, is bringing back the "It pays to discover" tag, replacing "For the slightly smarter consumer." This summer, Discover will communicate the convenience of its just-introduced 2G0 card, an oblong-shaped card housed in a plastic case that can be attached to a key chain. Discover also will continue its sponsorship of ESPN's College GameDay program, with promotions and advertising related to college football. New this spring is the "Discover Card Shops with Lucky" platform, a 12-city tour done in conjunction with Lucky magazine. The program, which will receive local ad support, includes fashion shows, makeovers and hair consultations at retail locations including Guess?, Sephora and Nine West. Discover spent $82 million in 2001, per CMR.

Finally, the buzz around chip cards, a talked-about trend last year as Visa and American Express touted their entries in the category, has quieted. Chips cards carry technology that can store consumer data and allow particular market segments to be targeted, giving a means to retain and reward customers. But merchants must use still-rare readers in order for the cards' benefits to activate, making their actual level of functionality in the real world low.

Marc Sylvester is expect based in Edison, NJ. He holds expertise in the banking and finance sector and is a conultant to leading business houses.