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Marketing leaders at the top three credit-card marketers are struggling to continue to build share in a competitive arena where consumers are awash in solicitations.

American Express Co., MasterCard International and Visa USA are boosting ad spending, focusing on new niches, touting products and services and encouraging higher usage.


The heaviest competition is taking place in the affluent niche. Visa and MasterCard are targeting these consumers with ads touting platinum and premium cards such as World MasterCard and Visa's Signature Card. AmEx traditionally has dominated this segment.

"We see it as an opportunity," says Michael Beindorff, exec VP-marketing for Visa, the category leader.

Visa continues to support its brand with the "It's everywhere you want to be" campaign from BBDO Worldwide, New York. Visa boosted ad spending 10.2% to $238.7 million in 1997, according to Competitive Media Reporting.

But competition is tough. Despite the added spending and boosting its charge volume 10% to $431.8 billion, Visa's share in 1997 slipped to 48.8% from 49.2%, according to industry newsletter Credit Card News.

Trying to boost its share, Visa is looking to support products beyond its traditional card. In the past year it has run ads touting debit cards and, for the first time, small-business cards.

For Mr. Beindorff, a former marketing executive for Coca-Cola Co., the goal is to make Visa's brand equity cross into different kinds of payment.

"Our long-term strategy is to move from being the world's best credit card to the world's best way to pay," Mr. Beindorff says.


Archrival MasterCard this year broke its "Priceless" campaign from new agency McCann-Erickson Worldwide, New York. Long hampered by uninspired advertising; MasterCard has linked the new emotionally based effort to such sponsorships as Major League Baseball and the World Cup.

MasterCard also is in the midst of consolidating its global advertising with McCann, after years of fragmented agency relationships.

"Our marketing toolkit has never been stronger," says Joseph Tripodi, exec VP-global marketing services for MasterCard.

Mr. Tripodi was responsible for the agency review and is selling McCann and the campaign to MasterCard's international partners.

According to CMR, MasterCard boosted ad spending 8% to $106.2 million in 1997. The effort appears to be paying off: After years of slippage, MasterCard's share of charge volume grew to 27.8% from 27.6%, per Credit Card News.

Also experiencing growth after years of decline is AmEx, which saw its share rise to 17% from 16.4%, according to CCN.

AmEx posted this growth behind its 2-year-old "Do more" campaign from Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, New York, engineered by John Hayes, exec VP-global marketing for AmEx. AmEx boosted spending 19.4% to $188 million, according to CMR.

Trying to increase usage of its traditional Green card, the marketer has continued its popular Jerry Seinfeld campaign.

In 1998, the marketer aimed to give the brand a younger spin with ads that featured testimonials from snowboard pioneer

Jake Barton and dress designer Vera Wang.

"We're building the relevancy of the American Express brand," Mr. Hayes says.


MasterCard International

Title: Exec VP-global

marketing services

Budget: $106.2 million

Agency: McCann-Erickson Worldwide

Power play: Trying to get the card association's advertising back on track with the new "priceless moments" campaign from McCann. Years on list: Two


American Express Co.

Title: Exec VP-global advertising and

brand management

Budget: $188 million

Agency: Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide

Power Play: Oversees the marketer's ad efforts to make its distinctive brand appear more accessible and relevant in ads featuring comedian Jerry Seinfeld and snowboarder Jake Barton.

Years on the list: Four


Visa USA

Title: Exec VP-marketing

Budget: $238.7 million

Agency: BBDO Worldwide

Power play: At the marketing helm of Visa's U.S. operations, Mr. Beindorff oversees efforts to boost the brand through associations with the National Football League and other properties as well as advertising for its array of card products. Years on list: Two

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