Making a rare addition to its palette, American Express Co. has introduced a credit card of a new hue.
The blue card, aimed at a youthful, MTV-generation audience, arrived in Taiwan in March and in Australia in April, and company officials say they plan to roll it out elsewhere.
The decision to deviate from the company's tradition of green, gold, and platinum was not taken lightly.
"This was quite a significant change and one that we thought long and hard about," said John Crewe, American Express' London-based president of international marketing.
"If you think about it in a marketing sense, we have changed many things about the company and the product over time, but we have not really touched the packaging."
Market research in a variety of countries indicated to American Express officials that a sizable segment of the population did not warm up to their existing products. These people "still tend to be affluent, but they are slightly younger, more female, and they tend not to travel as much as our traditional customer, the frequent business traveler, who is our core niche," Mr. Crewe said.
The younger consumers also wanted revolving credit lines, a standard feature of banks' MasterCard and Visa cards but a relatively recent addition to the American Express portfolio. So American Express set out to create a new credit product with a distinctive "look" and upbeat advertising.
Orange and brown were rejected. Finally executives hit on a shade of blue-slightly brighter than American Express' signature corporate color- that consumers responded to.
The card bears the company's name and centurion mascot.
"Blue just seemed a natural fit," Mr. Crewe said. "We took the borders off the card, and it's amazing-just by doing that, it created a more contemporary look, which kind of gives it a younger and fresher feel."
This is the first time in a while that American Express has publicly tinkered with its card colors, though internal experiments have taken place periodically. One former American Express executive, Michele Turkel, recalled that when she left the company in 1981, a blue card was under consideration.
Back then, "the blue card was something they wanted to give to blue- collar workers," said Ms. Turkel, president of Spectrum International Consulting Corp., Scarsdale, N.Y.
Even the flagship green card wasn't always green. "The card was purple when it was first launched, and it was paper," said Toby Usnik, an American Express spokesman.
That was in 1958, when cardholders showed the numbers on their cards to merchants, who wrote them down. In May 1959, seven months after the paper card was introduced, it was replaced by a purple plastic one with raised, embossed numbers for imprinting on carbon paper.
In 1966 came an "Executive Credit Card" that, two years later, became the gold card. Then, in 1969, the purple card changed to green. The platinum card was introduced in 1984. The Optima revolving credit card came out in 1987 with a bluish tinge.
"The Optima card revolves and it's blue, and this (new) card revolves and it's blue, so what's the difference?" asked Stephen D. Drees, president of Strategic Marketing Services, Westborough, Mass.
The difference, according to American Express, is that Optima is confined to the United States-revolving products in other countries are the standard green-and the blue card will probably go global.
Since it was introduced, the blue card has snagged 30% more customers in Taiwan than the company had projected. In Australia, the sign-up rate has just slightly exceeded expectations.
Mr. Crewe said Europe, Asia, and Latin America would likely be the next markets for blue but added, "There's no reason we won't consider this everywhere."
"As part of our international strategy, we're looking to have a much wider product range to appeal to a wider sector, and that would include a big push into revolving credit," Mr. Crewe said.
Ms. Turkel noted that American Express has been intent on boosting revenues through the interest earned from credit balances that cardholders roll over each month. Bills from traditional travel and entertainment spending were payable immediately. Therefore, the charge cards "are not nearly as profitable for them," Ms. Turkel said.
Ms. Turkel expressed surprise that American Express is targeting women with a revolving card. She said in opinion polls and focus groups, women often praise the green card's requirement that a bill be paid within 30 days, saying it helps them control spending.
Stephen J. Smith, president of S.J. Smith & Associates of Scarsdale, N.Y., said, "The blue card is apparently aimed at a part of the universe for which there is no Amex product today, and that makes a whole lot of sense, even if they don't get it right the first time around."
The risk, Mr. Smith said, is that American Express is moving onto uncharted turf with a new product that lacks "color cachet."
"The challenge is that in their traditional market, their name has meaning and value," he said. "When you move into a market that has been dominated by value cards, cobranded cards, and low-rate cards, unless they have some compelling reason for the consumer to take the card, it's going to be tough."
American Express is ushering in the blue card with several perks. The company promises interest rates that are the lowest in their markets and will encourage cardholders to transfer balances from other cards to the blue card.
Blue cardholders are instantly enrolled in Membership Rewards, which allows them to earn points toward gifts. They have access to multilingual customer service and expedited replacement of faulty rental cars.
But these features are similar to those of other American Express products. The blue card is intended as a "horizontal" offering, not an addition to the "vertical hierarchy" of colored cards, Mr. Crewe said.
"It creates a little bit of distance from the classic green card," Mr. Crewe said. "People we were trying to attract were saying that while they liked many things about American Express, they didn't see the classic, frequent-traveler, affluent positioning as appropriate for them."
The blue card may already be changing that perception. Mr. Crewe said, "There are more women among the people who are applying, so we seem, at this stage, to have gotten it right."