American Express has launched the first global advertising campaign that positions the company as much more than a card issuer.

The New York-based company, which has never before conducted such a worldwide corporate campaign, could spend as much as $200 million on it over two years, Advertising Age reported Monday, when the first television spots aired.

The message is that American Express has a broad range of financial services for various life stages and lifestyles. It subtly hints at the travel and entertainment giant's increasing competitiveness against traditional depository institutions.

"The company has had a great history of reinventing itself," said John Hayes, executive vice president of global advertising at American Express Travel Related Services Co. "This is the next logical step."

In its most visible product - charge cards - American Express trails Visa and MasterCard in market share. It is currently trying to convince banks to enter into marketing partnerships that would enable the banks to gain the benefits of association with the American Express name. The strategy grew out of Amex chairman Harvey Golub's 1993 goal of making American Express the world's most respected service brand.

But Alvin Schecter, chairman of Interbrand-Schechter, New York, said "The campaign is not going to solve the basic problem of share erosion unless they can get the banks to share their distribution networks."

Mr. Golub hired Mr. Hayes in 1995 to underscore a transformation that has included shedding of subsidiaries; an expansion from charge cards into revolving credit and cobranding; global growth in financial and travel services; and new products for corporate customers.

"For much of our history, our company's brand was defined by our card and travelers checks," Mr. Hayes said. "Now we are extending it to a variety of other products and services to mirror where our company is, and where it's going."

Ogilvy & Mather, New York, created a series of commercials with the tagline "American Express helps you do more," referring to cards, travel, and financial services. The initial spots are "designed to communicate the breadth of the brand without losing the one-to-one service ethos that's been a part of American Express," Mr. Hayes said.

Similar spots will air in the United Kingdom next week and in Asia and Latin America in the fourth quarter. While the campaign is global, commercials will be modified to include local color.

Additional spots will feature a range of American Express products and services - including charge and credit cards - plus business units such as American Express Financial Advisors.

As the campaign "takes on legs," Mr. Hayes said, "you'll see more and more specific card executions."

The television commercials, which will run on network and cable, will be supplemented in print in such publications as USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Time, and Newsweek.

Prior to this campaign, American Express has used different taglines for specific products. Perhaps the best known was for travelers checks: "Don't leave home without them."

Mr. Hayes said the company wanted one voice to run across each of its businesses. After showing consumer focus groups the commercials, he said, "Time after time we heard people saying, 'I didn't know they did that,'" referring to different American Express services.

The objective is to get core customers to deepen their relationship with American Express, Mr. Hayes said, while inviting new prospects into the fold.

James Wells, managing director of Furash & Co. in Washington, said his company first heard of the new campaign last week, but he had not yet seen the commercials.

"It was very strange to us because our understanding of what financial institutions need to do is get more specific in their advertising, taking advertising down ideally to the market of one." He characterized the Amex approach as "50,000-foot generalist advertising (that) does not really have a hard-hitting value proposition for the person that sees it."

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.