A platinum credit card was once something of a status symbol. But
in the late-1990s, ’premium’ cards are offered by nearly every credit
card company, often without any extra, special benefits for
In response, American Express has launched the matt black Centurion card
- the most exclusive charge card of them all. It is available by
invitation only, and those customers lucky enough to be in possession of
one will not only be welcomed with open arms into Prada and Gucci stores
worldwide, but will also find that tables at the most exclusive
restaurants and tickets for sold-out sporting events are theirs for the
However, there is no point in being the owner of the world’s most
exclusive credit card if no one else knows how desirable it is. Hill and
Knowlton and American Express’ in-house PR team worked together to
launch the Centurion card.
To position the Centurion Card as the most exclusive charge card in the
Strategy and Plan
Research was definitely a driving force behind the Centurion launch.
The black Amex card came about partly as a result of research into
high-spending customers, many of whom already used Amex’s platinum card.
It was revealed that these customers wanted ’access to the
inaccessible’, and a card which could actually save them time.
Once the product had been developed, further research, using focus
groups and one-on-one in-depth interviews, was undertaken so a clear
picture of the target audience could be gained, and a media campaign
could be planned.
Because the card is ’by invitation only’, and to heighten the gossip
factor, the first piece on Centurion was offered exclusively to one key
personal finance journalist, from the Sunday Times Money section.
A second piece was also conceived, for the lifestyle press. This was ’a
day in the life of a Centurion cardholder’, with journalist Simon Mills
from the Sunday Times Style magazine. The piece talked up the features
of the card, with Mills able to obtain tickets to a sold-out West End
show, and a table at a London restaurant normally booked up, as well as
finding it impressed the usually less-than-helpful sales assistants at
Subsequent stories have been featured in various high-quality media, as
well as ’cascade’ coverage in widely-read publications such as the Sun
and the Express.
Measurement and Evaluation
Quality is the key to this campaign, which never sought to be mass
Consequently, coverage has been seen in all the right places, with the
campaign getting off to a good start with the Sunday Times. Pieces have
also appeared in the debut issue of the Financial Times’ Saturday
magazine and GQ, and Tatler is expected to run a piece soon.
It was also an achievement getting coverage outside the usual personal
finance pages, and into the lifestyle press. The Black card has taken on
a life of its own, with much being made in the press of the fact that
Liam Gallagher used his to purchase a pounds 2,000 guitar.
The launch of Centurion was an interesting PR challenge, and its
straightforward objective has definitely hit home. Despite the
’invitation only’ aspect of the card, Douglas Smith, public affairs
director at American Express reports that: ’Demand has been huge, far
In fact, rumour has it that following the campaign, loads of celebrities
contacted American Express wanting to know if they were on the list to
receive a Black card, and how they could get one if they weren’t.
Client: American Express
Campaign: Launch of Centurion
PR team: In-house and Hill and Knowlton
Timescale: February 1999 and ongoing
Budget: Less than pounds 50,000