MasterCard may be getting ready to give its brand image a makeover.

The No. 2 credit card association has hired L'Oreal executive Lawrence Flanagan, 41, as vice president of U.S. advertising.

He replaces Joan Bogin, who stepped down last October to pursue other interests, the company said. He will report to Nicholas A. Utton, MasterCard's senior vice president of marketing for the U.S. region.

Industry observers say MasterCard International has been struggling for a consistent advertising image since the beginning of the decade, and it may be aiming to reposition itself again.

"The appointment of someone from a package goods company means a focus on image," said K. Shelly Porges, chief executive, Porges/Hudson Marketing Inc. in San Francisco. She added this "is not contrary to what MasterCard has done in the past, but it means a change in emphasis."

Visa's brand identity has been consistent, she said, with its well-known slogan: "Everywhere you want to be."

MasterCard, on the other hand, has not had a consistent look.

"They have been searching for one, but it is not clear if they have settled on something," Ms. Porges said. "They have had many campaigns, and choosing a new head of advertising suggests they may yet again revisit how they present themselves in the marketplace."

The 1994 "Smart Money" campaign, designed by the New York agency Ammirati & Puris, tried to position MasterCard in the middle market as a product of homespun values and domestic use.

"Smart Money is the right direction," said Michael Auriemma, of Auriemma Consulting Group Inc., Westbury, N.Y. "'The Future of Money' is a little confusing," referring to MasterCard's most recent campaign that focuses on credit cards as replacements for cash.

"I'm not sure it talks to the consumer they're after," he said.

James L. Accomando, president, Accomando Consulting Inc., Fairfield, Conn., said MasterCard is trying to "break out of the box of traditional financial services."

He said the company wants "a new look, a new feel of the product in the marketplace as you would get from something as competitive as a line of cosmetics."

Mr. Flanagan joined L'Oreal as assistant vice president of marketing in 1994, and he worked in product management for Proctor and Gamble for eight years.

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