Industry reaction to MasterCard's new advertising campaign, which was unveiled last week, was largely positive, with observers hopeful that the card association will put a new shine on its image.
The campaign is the product of a new relationship with McCann-Erickson Worldwide, which recently succeeded Ammirati Puris Lintas as MasterCard's lead advertising agency.
Breaking from the industry tradition of portraying cards as tickets to conspicuous consumption, the Purchase, N.Y.-based association is emphasizing how MasterCard enables consumers to spend more time on priceless things like quality time with families.
"I believe they have really done their research and they understand where consumers are going," said Michael Auriemma, president of Westbury, N.Y.-based Auriemma Consulting Group Inc.
"The tag lines and the themes are flexible enough to change with the times, which makes it sustainable," he added.
Besides using a different tone and style, MasterCard hopes to set itself apart from Visa and American Express, which often take potshots at each other.
"Our objective was to produce a campaign that fostered an emotional bond with the consumer and would beat the competition-but not in a disparaging way," said Nicholas Utton, senior vice president of U.S. marketing for MasterCard.
MasterCard's new theme is: "There are some things money can't buy ... for everything else, there is MasterCard." The television commercials run a gamut of emotions from humorous to whimsical to sentimental.
A voice-over lists the prices of things MasterCard can be used for-from baseball tickets to veterinarian bills-followed by "priceless" images of five generations of a family in one photograph, the right dog for a child, or a conversation between a father and son.
MasterCard is saying consumers' values have changed since the 1980s when the likes of Donald Trump and Leona Helmsley were icons of wealth and aspiration.
"Consumers now want a good family and a good life," said Mr. Utton. He added that while American Express and Visa still market themselves primarily for consumers with rich lifestyles, MasterCard wants to appeal to good spenders who lead rich lives.
MasterCard is still a distant second to Visa in market share, and observers pointed out that Visa benefits greatly from having an established and consistent advertising message. "Everywhere you want to be" has been Visa's theme for more than a decade. It has had the same agency, BBDO, since 1984; MasterCard has used at least five creative themes since then.
"In branding, consistency is critical and important," said Mr. Auriemma. "The challenge for MasterCard with this theme and program is longevity."
The ads are also meant to highlight all areas of MasterCard's business, including corporate and debit cards and secure Internet purchases.
"The bottom line is that we want people to like us and we want MasterCard to be the first card they pull out of their wallet," said Lawrence Flanagan, the company's vice president of advertising.
MasterCard did not disclose its planned spending, but ads will be placed in all media, including the Internet.