Cash takes a backseat in most modern economies, while credit and debit cards move to the forefront. And two of the best credit cards are Visa and MasterCard – and both card companies capitalize on PR skills to differentiate themselves.
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Similarities in Marketing
Though Visa and MasterCard rival each other in the market, the two companies share a mostly friendly relationship. They almost seem to embrace their similarities. This reflects in the companies’ almost identical PR strategies. The two market leaders also face similar – and sometimes the same – lawsuits and attacks around the world.
In fact, Visa and Master Card received fines in many different markets for suspected antitrust practices and collusion. One instance even involved alleged parallel exclusion against American Express in 2010.
Supporting Responsible Spending
One strategy both companies used involved pushing the use of debit cards in 2009. This came in response to the fact that many consumers struggled to pay back credit cards, after the recession. So, both cards created campaigns that urged shoppers to act more responsibly by limiting themselves to spending only the amounts in their bank accounts.
At the time, the VP of U.S. Advertising for MasterCard released a statement saying, “A lot of people are feeling powerless with all the challenges they’re facing, and one way to take control is by using a debit card.”
This move ensured that while other cards got cut up and thrown away, MasterCard and Visa still provided spending options for customers, which kept them out of debt.
Sponsoring in Sports
The companies also create partnerships through sponsorships. While Visa and MasterCard both choose to sponsor in athletics, they don’t always choose the same sports. For instance, Visa primarily supports Olympics and has done so since 1986. In 2002, the company also decided to support the Paralympics. MasterCard extends sponsorships to hockey and baseball. Both companies support FIFA, racing and rugby.
Additionally, Visa and MasterCard support causes to maintain a charitable image to the public. Visa supports many charities around the world, in places like Mexico, Brazil, Canada and Nigeria. For example, Visa supports Nature Org to assist with providing clean, running water for residents in Sao Paolo, Brazil.
MasterCard’s primary charitable cause involves fighting cancer. The company launched a slogan declaring, “This is where the end of cancer begins”. Last year, the company worked hard to meet its target of $4 million through its Priceless Causes program to “stand up” against the disease. The program also supports the UN World Food Program to fight hunger in Ethiopia.
Unique Ad Campaigns
MasterCard’s ad campaign is the more memorable of the two. It enjoys nine years of airtime spread out across more than 160 commercials. The company first launched the ad in the 1990s and continues to remind people, “There are some things money can’t buy. For everything else, there’s MasterCard”. This “Priceless” campaign remains a timeless addition to MasterCard’s history.
Visa’s current ad campaign features a slight play on the company’s name as a document providing passage. The slogan encourages people to “go” with Visa. According to Direct Marketing, Visa teamed up with AKQAfor digital production, OMDfor media, and TBWA\Chiat\Day for print and TV.
The head of global consumer marketing for Visa said, “The campaign has been designed to complement the marketing efforts of financial institutions who issue Visa cards by positioning Visa as the facilitator of transactions… This approach enables financial institutions to focus on strengthening relationships with their cardholders and differentiating themselves from their competitors.”
Mix of Internal & External PR & Marketing Expertise
Visa’s use of multiple agencies for the same campaign highlights the importance of specialization to the company. The PR team prefers to outsource specific duties to different experts who do what they do best. In 2015, Visa also appointed Starcom as its global media agency of record. Prior to this, OMD held the card giant’s account.
While Visa uses outside agencies to assist with marketing, the company handles all PR activities in-house. The company has previously worked with Fleishman Hilliard, Edelman & Brunswick.
Master Card also values specialization, but to a lesser degree. In late 2014, MasterCard brought Carat on board as the agency of record for global media. However, the company kept its former agency of record, UM to handle media in Latin America.
For PR, MasterCard plays it safe by working primarily with large PR firms. In 2012, PR Week wrote that, “MasterCard has selected Ketchum AOR for its US markets and corporate PR following a competitive review.
Ketchum’s duties for the credit card company will entail reputation and issues management, as well as consumer PR. MasterCard also works with Weber Shandwick in Europe and Asia-Pacific, APCO Worldwide on public affairs, and Taylor on some consumer efforts.”
Power of Association
There does exist one method Visa uses exclusively: the power of association. Sponsorships provide great ways of improving visibility, but Visa also uses alliances to get ahead. For example, when the company first came to market, it held its position as the biggest through its association with another industry leader, Bank of America.
More recently, Visa also partnered with smartphone giant, Samsung, to allow customers to make credit card payments using NFC technology that was built into Samsung’s devices. This makes it easier for consumers to spend without the need to carry around not just cash, but a wallet – period.
While both companies use similar PR styles to maintain their joint leadership in the market, whatever both companies do, Visa goes the extra mile. Visa reinvents its taglines and slogans, sponsors more sports teams and events, supports more causes worldwide, hires more external PR and marketing help, and knows the importance of rubbing shoulders with other market leaders.
For this reason, in spite of a wealth of similarities, Visa comes out on top in the market, while MasterCard lags behind at a distant second. Even so, this mutual understanding prevents them from tearing each other down and allows them to build on each other’s strengths, while continuing to lead in the credit and debit card market.