With an unusually big marketing splash, Capital One Financial Corp. is ushering in what it calls "a new generation" of credit card cobranding.
Introducing his company's alliance last week with World Championship Wrestling Inc., Capital One president and chief operating officer Nigel W. Morris said it is meant to set a new standard for customization.
"In the early days, affinity and cobrand (cards) were very homogeneous," Mr. Morris said. "What makes our relationship with World Championship Wrestling special is that we worked backward from their organization's needs, rather than having a package" deal to offer.
The new breed of cobranding deals will capitalize on the information- based strategy that is Capital One's stock in trade, Mr. Morris said.
For instance, Capital One can adjust the terms of its World Championship Wrestling MasterCard to accommodate the wide range of credit risks among fans, whom Mr. Morris described as "a slice of America."
"They're not just dentists and doctors, they're not just construction workers," Mr. Morris said.
Twelve card designs are available, most with pictures of the sport's celebrities. The wrestlers-including Hollywood Hogan, Lex Luger, Bret Hart, Bill Goldberg, and Diamond Dallas Page-engage in weekly theatrics on cable television that draw audiences of 25 million.
World Championship Wrestling, a division of Turner Sports and Time Warner, has never before offered a cobranded credit card.
Capital One, which Mr. Morris and chief executive officer Richard Fairbank founded within Signet Banking Corp. 10 years ago and spun off in 1995, has introduced only one other cobranded product-a Mercedes-Benz Visa card late last year.
Mr. Morris-a Briton who said his taste leans more toward public television-said the athletes' pictures make the cards more appealing than those that bear only team or league logos.
McLean, Va.-based Capital One inaugurated the card at the New York Stock Exchange last week, with the wrestlers on hand to sign autographs. The card offers a 10% discount on World Championship Wrestling merchandise, a quarterly newsletter, and a sweepstakes that will award expenses-paid trips to a pay-per-view wrestling event.
"We wanted a card issuer that could offer a card to every one of our fans-no matter what their credit history," said Michael Weber, director of marketing at World Championship Wrestling.
Mr. Morris said Capital One will be "classically opportunistic" in pursuing other such opportunities. "We are not going to pay more than anyone else to get" cobranding deals, he said.
He contrasted Capital One's approach with those of monoline rivals MBNA Corp. and First USA, a Bank One Corp. subsidiary.
"We do not come to the table and say, 'Here's the way we do it, take it or leave it,'" Mr. Morris said. "We can offer a card for every man and woman in the nation, and that's very special. The information-based strategy allows us that."
Capital One, which claims to add 10,000 card customers a day, has set up shop in the United Kingdom and branched into other business lines, including telecommunications and auto finance. Last week it announced the naming of a senior vice president for brand management to "position Capital One's brands and value-added products among current and potential customers," said Mr. Fairbank.
The brand manager, William J. McDonald, worked previously at Boston Market, KFC, Pizza Hut, Pepsico, and Frito Lay.
Mr. Morris said the company had been seeking such an executive for a while. "As a credit card issuer, we are able to piggyback on the brand images of Visa and MasterCard," he said. "As we go into other markets, issues of brand become very important."
Across all business lines, Mr. Morris said, Capital One's objective is "to be able to customize with more alacrity and fluidity than anyone else."