BLOCKBUSTER ADDS UP ALLIES FOR CREDIT CARD

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With assurances of customer confidentiality and the promise of credit card revenues, Blockbuster Entertainment Group last week paired with NationsBank and Visa USA to issue a co-branded credit card.

Charlotte, N.C.-based NationsBank Card Services began mailing applications to some of the 50 million Blockbuster cardholders culled from the entertainment company's database last week.

Blockbuster has been approached frequently by financial institutions hoping to create affinity programs, said Brian Woods, VP-marketing at Blockbuster.

Mr. Woods created the program with executives from agency of record D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, St. Louis, and direct marketer Clarion Direct, Stamford, Conn.

The value-added program's entertainment tie-in is being touted as unique in the credit card industry, a benefit customer surveys have shown are attractive to cardholders. Customers will receive 1% of each purchase-5% for those made at a Blockbuster location-in Blockbuster Bucks that will come attached automatically to each month's billing statement.

The vouchers are redeemable for one year from date of issue at any Blockbuster Video or music outlet, Discovery Zone center or Paramount theme park, meaning there is no "long-term liability" issue for Blockbuster similar to that facing airline co-brands that offer frequent flier perks, he said.

For NationsBank, the relationship represents a chance to increase its 3.1 million active accounts and 6.9 million cards in circulation, said Jackie Herold, VP-NationsBank public relations.

Though Blockbuster's database has long been the envy of marketers, hot on Blockbuster executives' minds was the issue of confidentiality. The depth of information on customer rental habits and tastes has made Blockbuster's list a lucrative marketing tool.

Only customers' names and addresses will be available to NationsBank and Visa, Mr. Woods said. "We're so protective of that list and our customers' confidentiality."

A 30-second spot from DMB&B breaks tonight on ABC, followed by placement on the Academy Awards broadcast. The ad, which features model Cindy Crawford, also will run on NBC, cable TV and selected spot markets for two weeks. Print support will run in April issues of People, Entertainment Weekly and Time, and in USA Today. The ads will be funded by all three companies, Mr. Woods said.

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