Although an official review is being denied, agency insiders said the No. 2 credit card franchise is seeking fresh creative approaches as it embarks on a repositioning, led by recently arrived ad and marketing executives.
At stake is leadership in the future of high-tech global payment systems, where MasterCard lags behind rival Visa USA and its rapidly growing Visa Check Card debit product, currently being advertised in a humorous network TV campaign from BBDO Worldwide, New York.
For its own high-tech payment products, MasterCard intends to replace its long-running "Smart money" theme with "The future of money," a theme developed in conjunction with Ammirati.
However, Ammirati has had trouble getting "future" executions approved, said executives close to the agency.
A MasterCard spokesman said, "We're moving forward in two very strong campaign directions with Ammirati, and we're very positive about the work."
MasterCard also announced last week a new upscale World MasterCard, but did not clearly disclose the agency creating a TV and print campaign starting in March.
Asked if Ammirati would handle that launch, another spokesman at MasterCard said only, "They're our agency." He declined to elaborate.
MasterCard also is rumored to be planning a new global ad campaign integrating the brand's multiple card payment features for worldwide use.
Agency insiders said MasterCard has held talks with various agencies about existing and future projects.
MasterCard veteran Joan Bogin, 43, was ousted as VP-advertising for the U.S. region in late October and replaced by Lawrence Flanagan, previously VP-marketing at L'Oreal. Earlier this year, Nicholas Utton joined MasterCard as senior VP-marketing, from Revlon International.
There also have been recent losses of key personnel at Ammirati. Helayne Spivak, vice chairman-chief creative officer, moved to J. Walter Thompson Co., New York; the two top creatives on MasterCard, Brent Bouchez and David Page, both exec VP-managing directors, joined M&C Saatchi, New York.
GSD&M LIKELY CONTENDER
GSD&M, Austin, Texas, agency of record for MasterCard's $80 million media buying account, would be a likely contender in a review. It is said to have earned MasterCard's confidence since winning media in mid-1995. The agency declined to comment.
The mature U.S. credit card market isn't expected to grow significantly in the next two years, with saturation and consumer delinquencies at an all-time high. Growth is expected to come from new payment systems and total financial solutions.
"The future is in new payment technology, not credit cards, and whoever comes up with the slickest program soonest is going to own this category," said Bruce Brittain, president of consultancy Brittain & Associates.
STEADY MARKET SHARE
MasterCard's market share held steady through the first half of 1996, helped by continuing growth in affinity cards, where MasterCard has a significant lead over Visa.
Based on numbers through second-quarter 1996, Visa holds 50.5% share of the $205.4 billion credit card market, followed by MasterCard, at 26.4%; American Express, 15.9%; and Discover Card, 7.3%, according to RAM Research.