Mastercard announced earlier this week that it would run its first corporate social responsibility-themed Priceless ad campaign in the UK. The ads form part of a partnership between the credit card company and The Eden Project organisation called The Big Lunch.
The Big Lunch is a social cohesion scheme aiming to get the whole of the UK to sit down with their neighbours on their street and have lunch on July 19, 2009. The Mastercard campaign for the initiative, which uses the tagline “Turning your street into a neighbourhood – priceless” launched in national print media on Tuesday. A TV campaign will follow in May, with social media elements added at a later date.
With the credit industry under scrutiny following the financial turmoil of the past few months, Master-card is hoping that advertising this partnership will help position the company as one that understands “what matters to people” in any economic environment.
Mastercard vice-president of marketing for the UK and Ireland Ben Rhodes says: “We’re a brand that is in most people’s pockets. We’re a huge enabler of commerce in the UK so we can’t pretend we don’t exist just because there is a tricky economic climate. Now’s when you have to be brave and stand up for what you believe are the right things.”
As many corporate sponsorships are coming under fire from consumers (see cover story, page 16), Mastercard claims that focusing on social change is “the right thing” for 2009. Although the brand has long been a sponsor of sporting and music events, such as the UEFA Champions League and The Brits, its competitor Visa has been more involved with community projects through its Olympics sponsorship scheme.
Rhodes claims the company had been keen to boost its involvement in community areas for a long time but felt it didn’t have “permission in the space to say: ‘let’s create social change’. We have a reputation tracker and one of the key drivers is about being seen to have a positive effect on society. But this wasn’t something we could do on our own.”
On board as a partner
Mastercard’s involvement in the project began after The Eden Project’s founder Tim Smit, and Paul Twivy, chief executive of The Big Lunch, approached the company back in the summer of 2008. While Royal Mail, EDF Energy and the Post Office signed up as “supporter” brands, Mastercard is the sole “partner” company for the initiative.
Aside from the consumer advertising campaign, Mastercard is pushing the initiative to its partner bank businesses. These banks make the decision whether consumers have the Visa or Mastercard logos on their cards, so it is vital for the brand to utilise any partnerships to push preference among the banks.
Rhodes adds: “One of the key roles and tenets of our marketing is to make sure we have assets that can be used, whether intellectual, reputation or sponsorship, that we can use to help drive our customers’ businesses.”
The scheme will also be backed by what Rhodes calls “a massive outreach programme”. Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Hazel Blears has already praised the project and Mastercard claims ministers are paving the way for councils to allow street closures for lunch parties on July 19.
Roy Stephenson, a consultant specialising in financial services marketing and a former American Express marketer, says that the campaign may give the brand a competitive edge: “The commercial value is that people have three to five cards in their wallets; it’s possible this could tip the usage in favour of Mastercard.”
Big aims, few resources
Stephenson warns that while Mastercard is used to getting involved with large-scale sponsorships such as those with UEFA and formerly the World Cup, The Big Lunch has a lot to achieve with far fewer resources.
The Big Lunch website for community sign-up went live on Monday and while Rhodes aims to get “all 61 million” Britons involved, Stephenson says that this is a big task. He suggests that if the publicity for the event doesn’t get enough people signing up to host parties, it could look bad for the brand. “The risk is if it does go wrong, it’s expensive and a little bit embarrassing,” he says.
Rhodes admits that getting involved in this area and using strategies such as social media requires bravery from a large corporate brand like Mastercard.
He says: “There’s a constant challenge in how much control you want to have and how much you want to give away. Especially when you’re an intangible brand. You have to maintain a consistent high quality of tone and messaging.”
It is consistency that Stephenson says will be the main factor in how well The Big Lunch and the credit card company’s involvement is received: “This can’t be a one-off. It has to take place in a cycle where Mastercard is seen as more responsible. It could be seen as more cynical if it isn’t carried on.”
Mastercard won’t reveal yet exactly what a long-term commitment with The Big Lunch might involve, but Rhodes says the company is willing to do more if possible: “I would like to see, over the next two or three years, other things happening around the theme of reconnection, not just exclusively one day.”