Every Rare Once In While, A 'Priceless' Idea Is Executed

How often has someone asked you, "Have you seen that TV commercial...," before they launch into a detailed description of the spot's storyline? The problem: they have no idea which advertiser created and paid for the commercial.

In other cases, you might remember a brand name or logo and you're reasonably sure you've seen one of the company's TV commercials, even though you don't recall any specific spot or ad. For the advertiser, that's a better situation than the first scenario, but it's still not ideal.

And then there are the priceless campaigns, if you'll excuse the pun. For the billions of dollars that are spent on television advertising, it's surprising how rarely memorable creative is interwoven with the sponsor's name and message. And yet if I were to say just one word to you, "priceless," for nearly everyone it would conjure up the image, the creative approach and the brand of MasterCard.

Now nine year's old, MasterCard's "Priceless" campaign is among the most memorable and effective ad campaigns in television history, the most recent incarnation being a humorous new spot featuring Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning. Perhaps the only thing more difficult than creating a TV campaign that succeeds in weaving memorable creative and the message together is living up to the standard you set. Certainly, MasterCard knows that.

"Our marketing challenge is to keep it relevant and compelling and we are always looking for ways to present it," explained Chris Jogis, VP-U.S. brand marketing for MasterCard.

There is a lesson here for CU marketers, for if there is a card underplayed by credit unions in much of their advertising it is in linking to the emotional bond human beings feel-indeed, want to connect with-the fundamental aspect of what a credit union is, the "union" part of the name.

In visual media the emotional tug of priceless moments is often best conveyed through imagery, which is why the MasterCard spots, especially early on, use simple scenes (i.e., a baseball game) overlaid with simple text ("Price of two tickets: $32"), followed by additional touching, simple video (a father and son catching a game together) and new superimposed text, "Priceless."

A good idea transcends borders, and MasterCard's Priceless campaign is running in various forms in more than 100 countries. Prior to launch, MasterCard ran different campaigns in different countries with different messages. "It definitely translates well," said Jogis. "It focuses on an emotion that is very human. The emotion is for everything that matters, those priceless moments."

The Priceless campaign succeeds on another level, as well. Apparently, there are NCUA and state regulations requiring "branding" to be discussed at every credit union meeting. The MasterCard ads manage to imprint the brand not by pounding a logo into viewers' eyeballs but by effectively conveying an experience, which is really what a brand is all about.

Jogis said MasterCard is pleased but not surprised by the success of the campaign, which also runs in other media, and that it will continue to run as long as the message remains "relevant." Given that the campaign, which is the brainchild of agency McCann Erickson, has reversed the negative growth MasterCard had been experiencing and has driven growth in every quarter since launch, it's likely to stay relevant for some time.

Perhaps the greatest tribute to the Priceless campaign has been how often and readily it is also parodied (just visit Youtube if you need some examples) in everything from homemade videos to signs held up by fans at sporting events to slick satirical knock-offs.

"We look at it as an affirmation of how we have connected with consumers," said Jogis. Indeed, MasterCard earlier staged a contest allowing consumers to write and create their own "Priceless" ad, and received more than 100,000 entries from budding copywriters. Steven Gaghen, the writer/director on the movie "Syriana," then directed an ad based on the winning entry.

It would be an intriguing exercise sometime for credit union marketers to design their own spot using the MasterCard creative to see how simply they could convey their own message, what emotions they would tap and perhaps most interesting, what they would select to reinforce the "priceless" message.

Overall, Jogis said the campaign has succeeded in doing what so few do: it has connected a functional benefit with an emotional tie, expressed in the tagline, "There are some things money can't buy. For everything else..."

Well, you know how it goes.

Frank J Diekmann is Publisher of The Credit Union Journal. He can be reached at fdiekmann<at>cujournal.com.