AMEX CHASES NEW CARDMEMBERS

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Perhaps the most ambitious financial services Internet effort so far is American Express Co.'s launch of Blue, a card created especially to facilitate shopping online. The card launched last month with a campaign estimated at about $75 million in spending.

American Express purposefully chose to launch the card with a campaign that departed from the look of other American Express advertising, says John Hayes, exec VP-global advertising and branding.

Mr. Hayes has been leading AmEx's brand-building efforts since he joined the financial services marketer in 1995. He came to the credit card industry with an abundance of marketing savvy derived from his years in the agency business. Prior to joining AmEx he was president of Lowe & Partners/SMS, New York.

DIFFERENT ATTITUDE

"Blue represents a different attitude," for American Express, says Mr. Hayes. The target audience is not so much a demographic group as a group of people who are entrepreneurial and optimistic about the future and who are Internet-savvy, Mr. Hayes says.

The Blue launch includs a hip, futuristic ad campaign that included sponsorship of a free rock concert in New York's Central Park and ads that touted the card as "a little piece of the future that got here early."

The new card features a "smart chip" card members can use to make online shopping secure. The chip works with a special card reader -- available free to members through Jan. 31 -- that connects to the user's PC. American Express also will offer all cardmembers an "Online Wallet" service through its site beginning in November.

American Express had been focused on building up spending among its existing cardmembers and now wants to concentrate on increasing cardmembers, says Alfred F. Kelly, president of AmEx's consumer card services group.

BRAND IDENTITY

AmEx also traded on its brand identity for the August launch of Membership B@nking -- an online bank. The service -- available to cardmembers and non-cardmembers -- offers money market and checking accounts, certificates of deposit and lines of credit.

Convergence among various online services is not out of the question, says Mr. Kelly. He wouldn't give away any plans, but says "It's safe to say there is a grand plan behind our initiatives."

For its part, Visa USA consolidated its online initiatives with the launch of a new unit, called eVisa, focused on building its e-commerce activities.

Rebecca Saeger, exec VP-brand marketing for Visa USA, recently replaced Michael Beindorff as the overseer of marketing. He was named to president-CEO of eVisa, but recently left that post to become exec VP-chief operating officer at PlanetRx.com.

The online initiative is "the first really big opportunity for incremental volume for both retailers and credit cards," says Ms. Saeger.

The Internet is a "brave new world" where only a fraction of users shop, so the potential to drive sales is largely untapped, says Ms. Saeger. Visa has been aggressive in Internet promotions, as well as translating its "physical world" promotions for online use, she says.

DIGITAL WALLETS

The new unit will consolidate Visa's efforts to market digital wallets to online consumers, as well as help merchants and member banks establish secure e-commerce links. It will launch a payment "gateway" that will process Web-based transactions and reward merchants that make Visa their default payment choice.

Visa already has partnerships with online merchants such as eToys and Travelocity, which designate Visa as their preferred payment choice. But Visa's research has found only 30% of cardholders currently shop online. The company expects eVisa will help its online transaction volume to grow to $104 billion in 2003 from $13 billion in 1999.

To support the new unit, Visa plans to increase its Web-related TV and print advertising and will feature several of its online merchant partners in TV spots.

All Visa campaigns will have some Internet execution or component in the future, says Ms. Saeger. For example, the holiday campaign breaking in November or December will feature an e-merchant -- such as last year's ad built around eToys -- and ads around Visa's Olympic sponsorship will feature the Olympic Games Website among its executions.

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