Episode 50


What does it mean to be a brand?

One of the most critical barriers to success is understanding what a brand is and what a brand is NOT.  I get this question all the time. Let me tell you what a brand is NOT: A brand is NOT a name, logo, tag-line, package design or the product itself. I call these elements: Window-dressing your brand. A brand is simply an EMOTIONAL IDENTITY that differentiates products, services and people.

As a former marketing executive at global multi-billion dollar consumer products companies like Nabisco, Kraft Foods, Cadbury and Godiva, I successfully crafted emotional identities for some of the world’s most iconic brands. Over the course of 25 years, a frequent challenge I faced was communicating the role a brand played in consumer’s lives…in other words its Core Value. To solve this problem, I developed a process to label that brand’s Core Value using just ‘One Word’.  This helps consumers understand what they are actually buying. 

During this series, I will select a brand I worked on or studied and share it’s ‘One Word’ Core Value, as well as share valuable topics in the branding arena that will help you Stand-Out Conquer Obstacles and Reach Excellence…in other words, SCORE.

So let’s turn to today’s brand clip…I’ll give you a hint by starting with the commercial that launched this iconic “Priceless” campaign:

Two tickets: $28

Two hot dogs, two popcorns and two sodas: $18

One autographed baseball: $45

Real conversation with 11 year old son: PRICELESS

There are some things money can’t buy

For everything else there’s Mastercard

Show Notes (click to expand)

It’s been over 20 years since the launch of this very first commercial for Mastercard’s long-running “Priceless” campaign. In it, we watched a dad being a dad – taking his son to his first baseball game, paying for the tickets and some food and drink with his Mastercard. However, the real story was the father-son bonding we witnessed; their relationship was what made the experience “priceless”. 

A brand’s identity plays a big role when consumers decide which products or services to align with. After all, every brand’s #1 job is to vie for that top position in your mind. However, that becomes a huge challenge when consumers are constantly bombarded with a barrage of advertisements in the digital, TV and print arenas. I read a stat once that confirmed this:  a person is exposed to as many as 5,000 ads a day….GEEZ!

So…having a unique brand identity, one that elevates you above your competition and communicates your company’s core value is critical to Standing-out, Conquering Obstacles, and Reaching Excellence…or SCORING!

…AND by listening to my podcast, you know that I believe all it takes is ’One Word’ to achieve this breakthrough.

If a credit card company can do this, then any brand can do this too…personal brands included!

This campaign does a brilliant job of tugging at heart strings with every execution, closing with a tagline that is forever etched in my brain, even two decades later: “There are some things money can’t buy. For everything else, there’s Mastercard.”

In doing my research for this episode, I learned that Mastercard’s ‘Priceless’ campaign was created as a solution to a business that was in steep decline. In the mid-1990s, Mastercard had a perception problem…and as I often say in the branding game, perception is reality. Because the Visa brand was seen as having a stronger impression in consumer’s minds, banks were seeing fewer people using Mastercard. So Mastercard needed to create demand for the brand from banks by building a strong identity amongst their consumers. By all accounts, I would say it worked. 

For example, before there was such a thing as viral campaigns and internet memes, people were holding up signs at baseball games listing the prices of various objects and then ending with the word “Priceless” to mimic the company’s advertising campaign.

Mastercard has created hundreds of “priceless” spots and print ads over the years around the world. Some of my favorites include:

Brett Favre…Monday morning quarterbacks: Priceless.
The Simpsons…Spending more time with your family: Priceless.
The Muppets…Time with people who make you warm and fuzzy: Priceless.

Toddler…Watching her play with a cardboard box instead: Priceless
What makes the “priceless” identity for Mastercard so ownable is the idea that “MONEY CAN’T BUY EXPERIENCES” spans borders, languages, cultures, time…

AND even a global pandemic!

While we were all isolated at home, Mastercard pivoted, bringing “priceless” EXPEREINCES to the digital world by offering an online event series to cardholders!

The series included acoustic sessions with musician Camila Cabello, cooking tutorials with professional chefs and a Q&A session with rugby star Bryan Habana and tennis player Naomi Osaka. The idea was to connect cardholders to their passions and create those once-in-a-lifetime EXPERIENCES while at home.

Over two decades later, this emotionally-driven campaign has consistently delivered on the brand’s promise to create meaningful and unforgettable EXPERIENCES that are delivered with love, laughter, joy and sometimes tears. 

So the next time you’re looking to create memories that are “priceless”, remember this:

EXPERIENCES are how Mastercard SCORES 

I’m Rich Keller, The CATALYST and see you next time on The CATALYST Effect!

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