Mastercard’s Priceless campaign is one of the most iconic branding initiatives of the 20th century.
Launched in 1997, the campaign has evolved from Mastercard observing priceless experiences to creating those experiences, to now inspiring them, said Mastercard’s EVP of marketing and communications in North America, Cheryl Guerin.
“When we launched, there was a real shift from materialism to the intangibles being a sign of success,” she said. “We hit on a territory that has continued to grow. Balancing work and life, giving to the community and spending more time with family have become so important.”
For Mastercard, living out the Priceless mantra has meant going all-in on experiential marketing over the years. The brand is a major sponsor of live events, from sporting games to concerts, and even launched its own pop-up restaurant in Manhattan last year.
When COVID-19 hit and communal experiences went out the door, Mastercard pivoted Priceless online with live streaming events from cooking classes to wine tastings to help people connect in a difficult time.
She spoke with Campaign US about how Mastercard — and Priceless — have adapted to the pandemic.
Campaign US: How has Mastercard’s marketing strategy shifted this year?
Cheryl Guerin: This has been a year of reset and rethink on everything from a marketing and communications standpoint. How do we reset for a rapid acceleration of digital life?
We had already shifted our brand focus away from just saying in traditional advertising to doing. We shifted our tagline to “Start Something Priceless” to tell consumers we were focused on inspiring action. It set us up with a brand that would resonate during this time.
We quickly created a suite of virtual summits to educate small businesses on digital and offer the tools they needed to move their businesses online. We also had some offerings that became more meaningful. While prior to COVID-19 it was all about convenience, we shifted our focus to make sure everybody knew they could use contactless payments. That required new communications to re-educate not just consumers, but also merchants.
Priceless is connected heavily to live experiences. How have you shifted that approach this year?
We quickly moved to Priceless experiences at home: virtual concerts, wine tastings, a series of experiences that millions of people participated in. It brought joy and entertainment at a challenging time.
When Major League Baseball was the first major sport to come back, we launched Priceless baseball experiences on Opening Day. Our cardholders were able to meet and greet virtually with players and coaches, and we held sessions with the winning World Series team.
How do you see virtual playing a role in Priceless going forward?
[Virtual events are] definitely effective, but we have to keep it fresh. It’s more participatory. For example, we did cooking and wine demonstrations. Now you’ve added participation. You get the box of wines at home and can participate in the tasting. That creates really meaningful shared experiences.
But I do think it has to balance out. There’s room for reimagining live experiences in different ways.
How is the rise of ad-free platforms changing your marketing strategy?
We’re looking at earned media and how to show up in new ways. Last year we announced a global partnership with Riot Games, and in North America we sponsored the League of Legends championship. During the rise of COVID, our brand was prevalent in a space that’s gaining traction, reach and resonating.
These are just different ways of reaching people. Core to that is doing something to impact people. We look at how we can do things differently that doesn’t manifest as a TV campaign.
How are you setting up your marketing organization for the future?
We had communications separate from marketing and brought the teams together three to five years ago. I don’t think there’s one project where our comms team isn’t integral to every component. They’re running our influencer strategy and media outreach, whether that’s lifestyle or payments industry magazines.
Our comms team is thinking about events as well. For example, we have a suite of influencers that are small business owners. The comms has created content and podcast series around them to talk about how to digitize small businesses.
How have your agency relationships shifted during the pandemic?
Our relationships are stronger than ever with our agencies. The main shift is to make sure we’re in constant communication and we’re still able to brainstorm and be nimble. We’ve had a number of half-day and all-day brainstorms with breakout rooms so we don’t lose that momentum on creativity.
What will next year look like for Mastercard?
It’s going to be another year of flexibility, agility and being nimble. It’s going to be another year of serving, not selling, and really listening to consumer needs.
There is pent-up demand to live our lives more, and that’s where I think Priceless can play a part in creating these special moments for people as we come back together again.
This interview has been edited for clarity.