Diners Club to Launch Ad Blitz Directed at Business Travelers

NEW YORK - After keeping a low profile through most of the credit card wars, Diners Club is about to go on the offensive.

Next week, the Citicorp unit will launch an ad campaign designed to position Diners Club as the best choice for business travelers.

The campaign will be the first under Robert H. rosseau, a Citicorp marketing executive who became chief executive officer of Diners Club late last year.

Airline-Oriented Ads

The company is taking aim at people who take 10 or more business trips a year. The campaign will consist of 60-second commercials on airlines' inflight video programs, two-page print ads in airline magazines, and airport billboards.

Previous ad programs at Diners Club, though small, were designed for a much broader travel market.

"It has to do with understanding your resources," Mr. Rosseau said in an interview on Thursday. "It would be difficult for us to be all things for all people."

Business travel is "a niche in T&E that we are good at."

The campaign, created by Foote, Cone & Belding of Chicago, positions Citicorp Diners Club Inc. as a direct competitor of American Express Travel Related Services Co., the clear leader in the $100 million U.S. business travel and entertainment market.

Frequent-User Program

Sporting the tag line, "If you're not using Diners Club, you're missing the points," the ads tout Club Rewards, a frequency marketing program akin to frequent-flier programs.

Club Rewards, which lets cardholders earn frequent-flier points, was introduced in 1985. American Express came out with a similar program, Membership Miles, earlier this year.

According to Mr. Rosseau, who worked at American Express in the early 1980s, Club Rewards is superior to Membership Miles, mainly because more major carriers participate. They include American, TWA, United, and USAir.

A spokeswoman for American Express said its program is better because cardholders can earn more miles for each dollar they charge.

Unfazed by Promos

"Competitive promotions don't faze us," said another spokeswoman for American Express. "We have won a number of new accounts against tough competition."

American Express has relationships with 88 Fortune 100 companies, she said. Diners Club does business with 256 of the Fortune 500, Mr. Rosseau said.

American Express does not disclose how many of its 36.5 million cards are corporate cards. It is believed to dominante the business travel market, not only through cards issued for specific companies but also because many of its individual cardholders routinely charge business expenses on American Express.

Diners Club was established in 1950, making it the nation's first charge card not tied to a single merchant. Today the company has 6.9 million cardholders worldwide, and it reported $16 billion in sales last year.

Some industry executives say now is a good time to challenge American Express. That card "is becoming more of a general-purpose card," said W. Bruce Hughes, vice president of marketing for enRoute, a Toronto-based subsidiary of Air Canada that issues a business travel card. He said American Express is currently putting resources into competing against the banks' Visa brand, which could provide an opening for a business-oriented card competitor.

But American Express' competitors need to spend big. The New York-based company bought $106 million of advertising time and space last year, according to figures compiled Leading National Advertisers Inc., Publishers Information Bureau Inc., and the Arbitron Co. Diners Club, according to those companies, spent only $3.5 million.

Mr. Rosseau said their Diners Club estimate sounded low, but he would not reveal actual expenditures. The company is not likely to increase its ad budget significantly this year.

"It's a question of how we reallocated it to spend smarter rather than more," Mr. Rosseau said. Diners Club had been running "We take care of business" ads in the business press.

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