Marketing 50

Capital One

By Published on .

"What's in your wallet?"

Bill McDonald would like to know.

That ad tagline has turned Capital One from an unknown issuer of credit cards to a pop culture touchstone.

"When I told my friends I was coming here, it was `Capital Who?' " says Mr. McDonald, exec VP-brand management. "We have come a long way from Capital Who?"

Before the campaign launched in 2000, Capital One's efforts included mainly direct mail and some "hit and miss" direct-response TV ads. Market research studies found 61% awareness among consumers, but when asked what they knew Capital One for, the main answer was: "I get a lot of mail from them."

"Not the bedrock of a great franchise," says Mr. McDonald.

The 3-year-old campaign, created by D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, New York, helped build the company's awareness to 97% and, more importantly, brought other qualities of "The No-Hassle Card" front and center. Capital One kept the campaign after it moved the account to Interpublic Group of Cos.' McCann-Erickson Worldwide when Publicis Groupe shuttered D'Arcy as part of the integration of Bcom3 Group.

Capital One has also expanded its efforts into sports sponsorships, the latest being the sponsorship of ESPN's coverage of the college football championship series leading up to the Capital One Bowl on New Year's Day. Capital One has become an aggressive advertiser on TV sports programming.

"Advertising was certainly the linchpin, or the lightning rod," to the improvement, Mr. McDonald says. "We like to think of direct mail and direct channels as the ground troops, and the air cover is TV advertising."

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