McCann-Erickson’s “Priceless” campaign for MasterCard is arguably one of the most respected credit card campaigns to come along in decades. “It’s everywhere you want it to be” was a great ubiquity campaign for Visa, but that’s long gone. The problem with advertising is that sometime the advertising becomes more important that the product. Priceless is an example of an advertising idea that overshadows the card. Emotional attachment to a brand is important in terms of tone — and that’s what the campaign does so well. But it is an advertising dimension. Products that tie their horse to an emotion (Coke are you listening?) rather than product benefit or quality are using advertising to get attention. Or remind us to pay attention.
MasterCard, has done some very cool innovative things like PayPass and smartphone apps yet is sadly still famous for its priceless advertising. No matter how much it tries to make PayPass priceless, the ads are still about a smiling kid in a baseball hat.
Today MasterCard’s tagline is “That’s MasterCard. That’s Priceless.” The “That’s Mastercard” portion takes a register mark so it looks as if they are beginning to think about evolving away from Priceless and straddle two ideas. But “That’s MasterCard” smells like an empty vessel. This is a tough category, but for far too long it has been managed by ad people not marketers. It’s time for that to change. Peace.