marketing payment cards

The 21stcentury and its technological and social developments have changed the world in a myriad of ways, including causing tectonic shifts in finance. People still alive today can probably clearly remember not only the times when payment cards were a thing hard to believe for real but also the times when opening a bank account was a thing that required time, preparation and travel. Not so today: you can open a bank account with just a few taps on a smartphone screen and a payment card can drop in your mailbox a day later.


Of course, this ease and availability have resulted from fierce competition between card companies, each aiming to show you they are the best choice. With an average person being only casually aware of what payment cards are and how they work, marketing has always been a paramount concern for card companies: presenting a card's benefits clearly and making certain that the potential card holder feels the card company is right for them.


When it comes to marketing, a card's story is becoming increasingly important. The story in question, of course, is not the literal story of how a card came to be - or how the card company came to be - but rather what the card company wants the card to represent, and the impression it wants to give its potential and current card holders about what having and using this card can mean for them. This story allows people to connect to the card and see it as more than just a piece of plastic. It is, in short, emotional marketing: emotions will cause a reaction in everybody and deciding on a payment can certainly be one such reaction.

But while emotional marketing is nothing new in general, it is still a new way of presenting a financial product or service, because in the financial world, emotions were considered unimportant or even detrimental.

Painting payment cards in this new light required not just innovation but also a fundamental change in card companies' approach to both marketing and advertising.

So how does this "story" work? Well, experiential storytelling in marketing relies on expanding a very old human habit: asking for recommendations. People still do it all the time, asking friends and family and even strangers on the Internet, about their experiences with everything from books to cars to travel destinations to GPs.

The payments industry's marketing departments have simply added themselves to this ever widening circle and each has begun telling the tale of their company's card, portraying it not as what it physically is - a piece of plastic or metal - but presenting what it means: support, safety and impending fulfillment of wishes and dreams.


Since a picture is worth a thousand words, some of the most successful stories have been and are still being told via photos and videos. The social platform Instagram, with its ability to not only share photographs and videos but also allowing for interaction between people and businesses, has quickly become the platform for marketing-savvy brands that thrive on the engagement they receive.

The card giant Mastercard has recognized the benefits of Instagram and adapted its marketing strategy to include a diverse selection of videos: some appealing to emotions, others featuring famous celebrities relating their personal experiences with MasterCard, and videos aimed towards explaining the features and benefits of a specific card.

A great example of the emotional storytelling marketing approach is the case of Citibank. When asked in an interview by brandchannel about their marketing strategy, Citi Global Consumer CMO Jennifer Breithaupt said that their experiential storytelling occurs "[...]across a ton of different verticals including music, sports, culinary and theater. It also includes lifestyle marketing and tapping into places where our consumers want to have a special experience.”