Just when the world seemed safe from more automated teller machine logos, MasterCard is ordering up a new one.
The association announced Wednesday that it is extending the meaning of Maestro, its debit card mark, to include ATM access. And that means Maestro must be added to the panoply of logos posted on cash machines.
The decision stems from an agreement with Europay International, MasterCard's European affiliate and marketing agent, to make branding policies more consistent. From an international perspective, the Maestro move will simplify the acceptance message that the two organizations are trying to project.
But the upshot in the United States is that Maestro, heretofore seen mainly at retailing locations, will begin appearing in an often crowded array of local, regional, national, and international signifiers, including MasterCard's own Cirrus.
And there is no intention to get rid of Cirrus, which MasterCard claims has proven its superiority to Visa's counterpart, Plus, in consumer awareness studies.
For its part, Visa International over the last year began to reinforce its main brand by incorporating it in all product logos, as in Visa Cash stored-value cards. It is also deemphasizing Plus in favor of Interlink, the name historically attached to the on-line debit service that competes with Maestro.
"Both the Cirrus and Maestro brands are very successful," said Steven VanFleet, senior vice president in MasterCard International Inc.'s deposit access unit. "But there has been some call for a combined brand, especially in some of the newer markets where people say there is no need to invest in two."
The strategy "will strengthen the Maestro brand and enable our members to capitalize on an immense opportunity," said MasterCard president and chief executive officer Robert W. Selander.
He said the brand extension "will help our members capture an even greater share of the global debit card business because we can now offer them a single, multifunctional brand mark that delivers both global cash access and worldwide purchasing power."
Meanwhile, "Cirrus remains central to MasterCard's overall strategy," Mr. Selander said. That mark appears on 180 million ATM cards and 450 million MasterCard and Visa cards worldwide, as well as on 325,000 ATMs. Most of those machines are to have Maestro added in the next 18 months.
"We expect Cirrus to remain for the long term, particularly in the U.S. where its brand equity is established," said Mr. VanFleet.
The international Maestro program-not to be confused with Master Money, the off-line debit card accepted by any merchant that takes MasterCard credit cards-has grown to 100 million cards since its start in 1991.
The deal with Europay, a crucial contributor to MasterCard's claim of global on-line debit leadership, will spur Maestro almost overnight. The Belgium-based association agreed to phase out "edc," a coexisting point of sale debit brand. The German banks, a significant force within Europay, had issued 60 million edc cards, 25 million of which will be converted to Maestro by yearend, and the rest within three years.
The German banks' "key endorsement of the joint debit strategy" will have global implications, MasterCard said.
Mr. VanFleet said Maestro cards will number 150 million worldwide by the end of 1997 and at least 200 million by the end of 1999.
Europay CEO Louis-Noel Joly hailed the debit accord as a "huge milestone" in the "renewed partnership" that MasterCard and Europay forged a year ago. Another result of that was to give more prominence to the MasterCard credit brand while perpetuating Europay's Eurocard.
"Europay and MasterCard have struggled to find common ground," said Alan Bergstrom, president of the Brand Consultancy in Atlanta. "Only in the last 12 to 18 months have they made some real breakthroughs."
Mr. Bergstrom said he saw the logic in Maestro acceptance at ATMs but added that it would have little meaning to U.S. consumers. "All our research suggests people don't even look" at ATM logos, he said. "They just stick in their cards, and if they work, they work."
David Robertson, president of The Nilson Report, Oxnard, Calif., said cross-border travelers are likely to see more significance in Maestro availability here. He said that, aside from Europe, Maestro is particularly strong in Argentina. Its U.S. volume trails Interlink's by a wide margin.
Mr. Bergstrom said ATM brand proliferation "has gone in the wrong direction. All these products walk, talk, smell, and look the same. That defeats the purpose of branding, which means uniqueness and differentiation."
Joseph E. Wallace, a consultant on and critic of card branding strategies, said the Maestro move is akin to what Visa is doing with Plus and Interlink. And he considers Maestro potentially stronger than those.
Mr. Wallace, who heads a Chicago-based venture called System B Division, said Maestro could get a needed point of sale boost by becoming more identified with ATMs. He speculated: "Cirrus might eventually go because Maestro is a catchier brand name."
Unlike Cirrus, Maestro is alliterative with MasterCard and its Mondex smart card brand.