American Express Co. has changed ad agencies, but its advertising message decrying the use of bank credit cards will continue.

Future Amex ads will keep positioning the charge card, which requires that balances be paid in full each month, as a smart alternative to interest-bearing bank cards, a company spokeswoman said.

"We take that theme very seriously," she said. "We are very committed to what we call the financial responsibility campaign."

Ads Criticized as Aloof

Amex last month fired Chiat/Day/Mojo, which created the campaign assailing the "outrageous interest" consumers pay on their unpaid credit card balances. Although Chiat's spots were widely criticized as aloof and cold, Amex still believes attacking bank credit cards is an effective marketing strategy.

In fact, Amex has even incorporated that theme in print ads for its Optima card, which imposes interest charges on unpaid balances.

The national campaign portrays Optima cardholders as "financially responsible individuals" who benefit from the product's pricing, which rewards consumers with good spending and payment habits. Created by Wunderman Cato Johnson, the ads, which are making their debuts this month, sport the tag line "You know what you're doing."

Frank Skillern, president of American Express Centurion Bank, the unit that runs the Optima card, said the campaign is consistent with the company's financial-responsibility theme.

Optima was the first major card issuer to reward creditworthy customers with lower interest rates. Its best customers now pay a 12% finance charge to revolve balances, compared with a weighted average of 17.98% on bank credit cards.

"If you decide to incur debt, you should do it intelligently," Mr. Skillern said.

American Express also takes aim at its bank-issued competition in a print ad campaign for its corporate card, launched earlier this month.

With the headline "No Hidden Agendas," one ad in the series attacks the "unforeseen late fees, delinquency assessments and over-limit charges" that "bank cards spring on companies like yours."

Another says that American Express corporate card "manages to do what bank cards never will" - cut cash-advance costs by up to 60%.

The corporate card campaign was created by Tassani Communications, Chicago.

Back to Ogilvy

Amex returned its $60 million account to Ogilvy & Mather, which created the company's famous "Do you know me?" and "Membership has its privileges" campaigns.

The Amex spokeswoman said Ogilvy & Mather will incorporate the company's financial responsibility theme into ads the agency is now developing.

"We're not losing that message." she said.

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