Marketer's Playbook

How MasterCard's CMO Inherited a Legacy and Evolved With Consumers

Marketer's Playbook: MasterCard

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MasterCard's 'Priceless Surprises' campaign attempts to build on the very long-running, well-known 'Priceless.'
MasterCard's 'Priceless Surprises' campaign attempts to build on the very long-running, well-known 'Priceless.'

When Raja Rajamannar joined MasterCard as CMO in 2013, he faced the same challenge as many marketers starting a new job: whether to change an ongoing campaign, in this case a more than decade-old success story, or stick with what was working.

MasterCard's "Priceless" campaign had already withstood three different CMOs, a significant feat in a restless marketing environment where everyone wants to make a mark. But keeping the now 18-year-old effort fresh meant embracing digital and evolving with consumers.

"Dealing with an iconic campaign is both a blessing and a challenge," said Mr. Rajamannar, who discussed navigating the dilemma to kick off Ad Age's new video series, Marketer's Playbook. "How do you take it to the next level when it's doing so well? And how do you convince the system, and convince yourself, that a change is indeed needed?"

Ultimately, the shifting consumer landscape, influenced by social and digital, swayed the company to refashion its approach.

A refresh started in 2010 with "Priceless Cities," a push aimed at affluent customers in select cities, allowing them to buy access to "Priceless" experiences.

Last year, MasterCard kicked off the next phase, called "Priceless Surprises," which goes beyond traditional advertising to include experiential efforts that take advantage of many of the brand's existing sponsorships, as well as digital and social. The push began at the Grammy's with a commercial showing Justin Timberlake surprising a MasterCard holder at her home. Now, the approach is being incorporated in other areas of the business.

"We communicate about [our products] using the 'Priceless' platform, but can products themselves have pricelessness in them as a core value?" said Mr. Rajamannar. "That's one more part of what we are actually trying to do."

Mr. Rajamannar declined to describe what that will look like, calling it a work in progress, but added that "you will see 'Priceless' embedded in everything that we do."

The company is already integrating the effort into its distribution channels. At SXSW last year, MasterCard linked up with Mashable for a "Priceless Surprises" vending machine that gave out prepaid cards and other prizes, including introductory phone calls with top tech executives.

MasterCard plans to continue expanding "Priceless" in the nine areas of interest it focuses on, including sports, entertainment and travel, as well as the four core "Priceless" campaigns now running: "Cities," "Surprises," "Causes," and "Perks." The brand also announced a new "Surprises" app at Mobile World Congress last month.

MasterCard's competitors have also begun big brand pushes, including Visa's "Everywhere You Want to Be" campaign, which debuted less than two weeks before "Priceless Surprises" last year. But Mr. Rajamannar believes MasterCard's efforts can withstand the rivals.

"We have this campaign that has been connecting and resonating with consumers for 17 years," said Mr. Rajamannar. "It's an iconic campaign with a longevity that you haven't seen too many campaigns display."

McCann, which created "Priceless," is the lead creative agency on the campaign; Octagon handles sports and entertainment sponsorships; and Carat is the global media agency, except for Latin America, which is managed by UM.

Marketer's Playbook is an eight-part video series expanding on Ad Age's popular Playbook coverage. In Playbook we explore how marketers can do their jobs better and smarter. For this new video series, we're zeroing in on effective marketing strategies through exclusive, behind-the-scenes visits with top marketers at national and international brands.

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CORRECTION: An earlier version of the story incorrectly stated that Mr. Rajamannar joined MasterCard in 2010.

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