Barclaycard was the UK’s first credit card when it launched in 1966. It was followed by Access in 1972.
Throughout the Seventies and Eighties Barclaycard and Access enjoyed strong growth. Barclaycard was buoyed by increased use and ad campaigns featuring Dudley Moore and Alan Whicker.
But by 1990 market growth had plateaued: there was increased competition, the recession was affecting people’s spending and more people were paying their card bills in full.
As a result, Barclaycard introduced an annul fee and new benefits including purchase insurance and international rescue.
Advertising was required to support this “relaunch”, particularly to encourage existing Barclaycard holders to continue to use their cards. But a new campaign idea was required as the Whicker series was running out of steam, and losing appeal among younger cardholders.
Qualitative research in 1990 showed that consumers believed all credit cards were similar. Although the improved services were important potential differentiators, negative attitudes to credit cards led many people to be suspicious.
The ads had to make these benefits believable and relevant, resulting in a new positioning for the brand as a premium card.
The resulting campaign featured Rowan Atkinson as secret agent Richard Latham. It was a flexible idea designed to communicate a range of messages, while winning people over in a way that a rational, dead-pan approach never would, given suspicions about credit cards.
Sixteen films – including “Cairo”, “Dinghy” and “Teapot” – have been made to date featuring ten separate benefits. The campaign is well-known and well-liked – it rapidly exceeded even Whicker’s high standards. Advertising awareness grew from 28 per cent at the beginning of the campaign to over 50 per cent.
Before the Latham campaign, Access and Barclaycard were identical on all the quantitative measures taken. Barclaycard has now increased its share of cards by three per cent despite the introduction of a fee, according to FRS figures and has maintained this share in the face of increased competition. In contrast, Access has fallen by 12 per cent and was withdrawn as a brand last year.
But the most conclusive evidence of the campaign’s effect on card use comes from an econometric model, which attributes to advertising an annual increase of three per cent in Barclaycard’s turnover.
It would be misleading to apportion all of Barclaycard’s business success since 1991 to its advertising. Like other financial brands, Barclaycard invests in direct marketing and relationship marketing initiatives, such as the Profiles points scheme. It has also secured links with Ford and Cellnet.
Nevertheless, the ads have provided a continuous presence, dramatised product claims, positioned Barclaycard as market leader and built a distinctive brand personality.
The market is becoming more competitive, with new contenders from the US and aggressive pricing. But Barclaycard is confident in the power of its advertising to continue to strengthen its brand.
Commercial director: Shaun Powell
Advertising manager: John Laidlaw
AGENCY: BMP DDB
Board Account director: Daryl Fielding
Board Account Planner: Olivia Johnson
Media Planner: Sarah Bussey