Tired of Watching AmEx Hobnob With Celebs, Rivals Go Hollywood

MasterCard, Visa Broker Deals to Give Their Credit Cards Screen Time

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The deal: After American Express succeeded in using entertainment as a way to appeal to existing card members and reach potential new ones, the company's rivals are beginning to turn to Hollywood as a way to give their brands some cachet.

The result: Nearly every major credit-card issuer has now teamed up with Hollywood and is either sponsoring or producing entertainment across the board.

Visa and MasterCard have headed to Tinseltown, hoping that entertainment tie-ins work as well for them as they have for American Express.

Hollywood is being bombarded by credit-card offers. And it's not complaining.

In the past year, virtually all of the major credit-card firms have turned to entertainment as a way to add some personality to their brands and have aggressively used films, TV shows, music, video games and events as tools to spread their marketing messages.

The idea is that entertainment is an emotional experience, and credit-card companies are hoping the experiences will reflect positively on the firms.

The decision to pull the trigger now can certainly be attributed mostly to American Express. The company has paved the way over the past decade and proved that aligning with celebrities such as Robert De Niro, Ellen DeGeneres, Jerry Seinfeld and even Superman could give a credit-card firm some cachet among its members.

Now other card issuers are following suit with entertainment plans of their own. Consider what the companies have recently been up to:


Shortly after launching its "Life Takes Visa" campaign, the company signed with talent agency Creative Artists Agency for representation in all areas of entertainment. The company continues to work with FirstFireworks and Omnicom Group's OMD, which brokered Visa's entertainment deals in the past, including a prominent placement in Disney's "National Treasure."

In March, it appeared prominently in the Ubisoft video game "CSI 3: Dimensions of Murder," based on the hit CBS TV series. In the game, Visa's fraud-protection service is worked into the plot. The card was also front and center in episodes of the NBC reality show "Treasure Hunters" this summer, as well as CBS' "Survivor" and NBC's "The Apprentice." And on the music front, Visa Signature sponsored a series of exclusive concerts and a national tour with the House of Blues dubbed "Signature Sounds Live on the Sunset Strip."


Last year MasterCard brokered its first tie-in with a scripted TV show, the CW's "One Tree Hill" (the show was still on the WB network when the pact was made). MasterCard has expanded its scripted efforts considerably since then. In September, the company partnered with cable channel ABC Family to integrate cards and references to its "Priceless" campaign into the family film "Relative Chaos." MasterCard also helped promote the film as part of the deal. The two companies are developing a similar deal around another original movie or TV series.

Elsewhere, MasterCard produced "Late: A MasterCard Mini Drama," a two-minute thriller that aired during commercial breaks on TNT's Saturday-night movie block, and it has a deal with Yahoo Music involving downloads. MasterCard is now integrated into the plot of "Bones: Skeleton Crew," a 26-episode series designed for mobile phones and based on the Fox series "Bones."

American Express

AmEx continues to innovate in the entertainment arena. This fall, it brokered a deal to let its members view exclusive video content of Fox's "Prison Break" and ABC's "Lost" by plugging in their account info into a microsite. Those sites have logged more than 500,000 visits apiece so far this season.

The only major holdout is Discover Card, which hasn't been active at all in the entertainment space.

All of the recent activity isn't necessarily to court new card members.

Because the companies aren't banks, they don't issue the credit cards so they're looking for entertainment properties to help do promote new services. For example, Visa used the "CSI" game to push its fraud-protection program.

And executives at American Express say the content offerings are a way to basically keep their customers happy. AmEx has long offered its customers a "Front of the Line" service, allowing cardholders the chance to buy tickets to concerts and events before anyone else.

"We looked at what our customers were interested in, what their passion points were," said Jim Hedleston, AmEx's VP-global brand media and content distribution. "They told us that special access to entertainment -- live theater, concerts, events -- was important to them. So we've been heavily involved in entertainment for over 10 years."
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