Wonder-Twin Powers, Activate!
Visa and MasterCard are the two brands that have not been so easy to separate. Their omnipresence is one reason they’ve become so closely aligned over the years: They’re both accepted in a staggering number of countries worldwide (MC claims 210 countries, Visa at least 170). They also both use financial institutions as third-party intermediaries, in contrast to Amex and Discover, which directly lend money to consumers rather than using banks as the middleman.
MasterCard was the first to break free from the ennui of financial lending with “Priceless,” a mid-‘90s campaign that has become one of the most successful repositioning initiatives in brand history. Buying things with your credit card was no longer a priority—that little piece of plastic in your wallet was now your golden ticket to enjoying every experience life had to offer.
When MasterCard revisited its branding initiatives two years ago, it stuck with its Priceless campaign (if it ain’t broke…), instead changing its corporate tagline to “The Heart of Commerce” to more closely align with the emotional side of its campaign. It also changed its corporate name from Mastercard International to MasterCard Worldwide, once more placing an emphasis on its global reach. A new three-circle logo was created to indicate the company’s role as franchisor, processor, and now financial advisor (the brand itself has retained the familiar double interlocking red and yellow circles).
It appears that MasterCard’s attempt to diversify its business and increase its worldwide transaction presence has helped, at least in the short term. MasterCard’s first-quarter postings were better than anticipated, bounding ahead of Visa’s.
Visa also has placed renewed emphasis on life as experience, a fact that the brand incorporated into its ad campaign, “Life Takes Visa.” This campaign, launched two years ago, supplanted the 20-year-old “It’s Everywhere You Want to Be”—once again stressing that while some of life’s experiences may take you across the globe, your credit card has just as much power to enhance your life in your day-to-day activities.
The Visa logo has also received a makeover, its first in more than 25 years, breaking the “Visa” out from behind its gold-and-blue-bar prison and replacing it with a brand mark that uses gold to emphasize the “V” and make the symbol more easily visible in storefront windows. It will also allow for more room for each bank issuer’s own brand. The gold, blue, and white colors remain, as does the signature italicized Visa mark.
In a cobranding coup that has outraged child advocates, the company has also proven that life really does take Visa—the iconic board game, Game of Life, that is. Toy and game goliath Hasbro took some heat last summer for incorporating the Visa card into its Twists and Turns edition, replacing cash with plastic. Players simply insert their fake Visa card into the LIFEpod, which then informs you how much money and points you have, as well as dictates your game status and how many spaces you should move.
In short, trust the Visa pod (and the Visa brand) to get you through Life (and life). While Visa and Hasbro naturally hawk the partnership as a good way to teach children about financial responsibility, parents lament the good old-fashioned skill of counting out the bucks and chastise the game-maker for encouraging credit-card debt.
While there is definitely demographic overlap—just because you have a Visa doesn’t preclude you from also making room for one of the other three options—each brand has managed to put a unique spin on its products and services. Yet despite the best efforts of all the brands to transform you into either a practical or an emotional spender, only one thing is guaranteed in today’s economic climate: You’ll shudder when the bill arrives.