Diners Club 'travel partner' should hit yellow brick road

By Published on .

Advertiser: Diners Club
Agency: Y&R Advertising and Impiric, both Chicago
Ad Review rating: Two stars

We're not usually in the business of quoting press releases, because there seldom is anything in a press release worth quoting. The one announcing the new Diners Club campaign from Y&R Advertising, Chicago, however, is worth excerpting, because it unintentionally speaks volumes:

In a dramatic departure from its traditional advertising, DINERS CLUB-creator of the all-purpose charge card industry in 1950-has launched a new, image-driven premise that reaches the broadest consumer audience ever targeted by the Card.

First of all, the Card? If Diners Club is the Card, then Houston is the City, the Cubs are the Team and the Consumer Product Safety Commission is the Man. (Space those crib rails together, baby, or you gonna have to deal with the Man.) Diners Club is too distant a plastic-money contender to be "the" anything, much less anything capitalized.

Hence, we suppose, the reference to creating the category 51 years ago-a pathetic grasping at straws if ever there was one. (Ask Howard Johnson's what creating the category's worth.) Then there's the mention of the "dramatic departure" from traditional Diners Club advertising. We defy you to describe traditional Diners Club advertising. Forget it; this brand is on nobody's radar.

Thus the central question about this campaign, as revealed by the silly press material: its "image-driven premise."

Is it possible to take a brand so pitifully a shadow of its former self-in a category where you require both consumer and merchant acceptance to prosper-and revive it on the strength of some manufactured image? Can Diners Club do what Marlboro did? Can it mine image like Nike, or Absolut, or Gap, or Jeep, or Virginia Slims or VW in the '60s, or Corona?

The answer is yes. But not this way.

The opening salvo here is a TV montage of familiar faces over the folk song, "Will you travel down this road with me." The spot is filled with famous traveling buddies, all licensed-at what expense there is no telling-in the name of borrowed interest. (Borrowed interest! For a charge card! Oh, our sides!) We see Batman and Robin. Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda on their "Easy Rider" choppers. The Apollo XI astronauts. Dorothy, the Scarecrow, et al., from "The Wizard of Oz."

"Travel in Good Company" is the tagline, as the press release explains, "to evoke a sense of camaraderie and trust that positions Diners Club as the ideal travel 'partner.' "

Yeah, sure it will.

What this commercial will actually do is get people to watch, with varying degrees of recognition and nostalgia, only to be greeted at the end with the Diners Club logo, whereupon they will ask themselves two questions:

Diners Club? Are they still in business? Really?

What does that have to do with Batman?

The answer to the second question, of course, is: nothing worth mentioning. Some vague claim of "traveling partner" is less than useless unless the partner adds something to the entourage. This leaves it for Phase 2 of the campaign to persuade consumers there is some genuine benefit to carrying the card. And that means the only thing Phase 1 will accomplish is to remind people that the product still exists-a reminder that, as we have seen, bathes the brand in a not-particularly-flattering light.

So, then, if we're so damn smart, how could Y&R have done this differently, using image to greater effect?

By concentrating on what "image" means, that's how. You will note that the classic image campaigns cited above concerned themselves not only with the image of the brand, but also of the consumers' images of themselves as reflected in their purchases. Some of this derived from the products' intrinsic qualities-Jeep and Gap, for example-and presumably Phase 2 will yield some of those. But the rest is about defining and projecting self.

One way to build up Diners Club's image is to credibly position its limited customer base as elite, to depict someone pulling out his Diners Card as rare, iconoclastic and cool. There are endless possibilities for dramatizing that, so long as the goal is to create the Absolut of its category.

Which is to say, the Card.

Copyright February 2001, Crain Communications Inc.

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