It is around the time that Shaun Springer reveals his burgeoning acquaintance with UK rap star Tinie Tempah that one realises MasterCard has made an unconventional appointment in its choice of head of brand, sponsorship and digital for UK and Ireland.
Having orchestrated MasterCard's big-gest campaign around its sponsorship of the Brit Awards in years, Springer leapt at an opportunity that many marketers would find intimidating: to rub shoulders with the great and the good of the music industry.
During the ceremony at The O2 in February, Springer was seen bounding from one table to the next, hobnobbing with performers such as rapper Chipmunk and soul singer Cee Lo Green. An unwit-tingly loud phone conversation, revealing an otherwise subtle Barbadian accent, apparently even prompted a chat with Barbados-born star Rihanna.
Springer's celebrity exploits are symptomatic of an undaunted character.
At 35 years old, and already boasting roles at Sainsbury's, Homebase and Sky, he speaks with a self-confidence that could so easily sound disagreeable, were it not for the Caribbean lilt in his voice, which has won over pop stars and executives alike.
Not that he has avoided failure in his career. During Springer's time with Sky, he worked on the broadcaster's doomed Sky Interactive initiative, attempting to drive interactive advertising through its 'red-button' service. 'The internal conversations were about the internet versus the red button, and which of the two would dominate advertising. Turns out the internet won,' he says with a chuckle.
Springer's understanding of younger customers is clearly what attracted the attention of MasterCard bosses, and he has been briefed to reinvent the brand's tired 'Priceless' marketing strategy for the social-media age. 'All campaigns need to be evolved. "Priceless" started 15 years ago and everyone has used it in conversation with friends, but over the past few years, social marketing has taken over,' he says.
One of the reasons for it fading from popular culture, claims Springer, is MasterCard's continuing dependence on above-the-line media. He says it is vital that the brand's strapline starts gaining traction on social networking sites. '"Priceless" was heavily integrated in TV and outdoor, so we have identified how consumers want to engage. The Brits showcased that new integrated approach. We've got a great opportunity to get "Priceless" back on everyone's lips.'
At the heart of the reappraisal of 'Price-less' is a desire for MasterCard to become a fully fledged consumer brand, rather than simply a card passively residing in consu-mers' wallets, having been issued by a bank.
According to Springer, this is going to require a fundamental shift in mindset from the company. 'We've been more business-to-business-led, and we need to take more of a business-to-consumer focus. We've got more than 14m cardholders and any brand that is going to survive in this world needs to know the consumer and to be able to participate in the customer journey,' he explains.
To increase the brand's relevance to consumers, Springer has set about re-shaping its sponsorship portfolio and range of commercial partners. As well as the aforementioned Brit Awards, which MasterCard has backed for 15 years, the financial-services brand has also relied on its 18-year association with the UEFA Champions League to target consumers.
A Liverpool FC fan, Springer insists the football sponsorship remains a vital part of MasterCard's pan-European marketing strategy. Last week, it launched an integrated campaign offering card-holders the chance to win Champions League-related prizes, including items worn by stars such as Steven Gerrard, as well as pitch-side seats at the Wembley final on 28 May.
Yet, in a calculated step in the direction of affluent consumers, Springer has begun adding arts and culture partnerships to instil greater diversity in MasterCard's marketing. It recently sponsored its first Laurence Olivier Awards, which honours theatrical talent, while MasterCard has also entered into a three-year deal with London's Southbank Centre. The latter sponsorship kicks off in earnest this week, as the venue celebrates the 60th anniversary of the Festival of Britain exhibition with appear-ances by artist Tracey Emin, chef Heston Blumenthal and musician Ray Davies.
'Our heritage is definitely in sports and music, but arts and culture allows us to arrive at a different type of segment,' adds Springer. 'We've always had mass-market appeal, but this allows us to communicate with a more affluent consumer. Maybe in the past some of our assets haven't resonated with them in the same way.'
With a series of announcements in the pipeline about partnerships with businesses, including hotels and restaurants, Springer is in the process of devising an overarching marketing programme. This will pull together MasterCard's assets as part of a strategy to target cardholders with the promotions most relevant to their interests.
Hany Fam, president of MasterCard UK and Ireland, has a long-standing aim of driving the brand's emergence from perceptions of it as a debitand credit-card provider to a more rounded 'payment solutions provider', in particular making better use of the reams of consumer spending data at its disposal.
Springer agrees that data will play a significant role in the brand's evolving marketing strategy. 'We've been building an eco-system (partnership) that matches the key touchpoints in a consumer's journey. I've been working to identify the right partnerships, say, in dining, that would drive the advocacy to share with friends.
It's about under-standing what consumers want,' he says.
For Springer, it's about using data 'in the best way possible'. 'We want consumers to allow us to engage with them by giving them the right content and assets to facilitate their needs,' he adds. 'What we offer will be heavily preference-based, giving consumers access to amazing discounts that are relevant to them.'
Busy reshaping the UK business model of one of the biggest brands in the world, one would presume that Springer has his eyes firmly on the task in hand and nothing else. 'In five years' time, would I love to be the chief marketing officer of MasterCard? Of course I would,' he says.
Success with the latest strategy will no doubt play a part in that career ambition. So, is he apprehensive? Not a bit. In Springer's mind, it is simply a question of when, not if, his marketing plan succeeds. And the value of that kind of confidence? Priceless.
1998-2000: Marketing co-ordinator, Sainsbury's Homebase
2000-2007: Various marketing roles, rising to commercial manager, BSkyB
2007-2008: Senior proposition manager, BT
2008-present: Head of brand, sponsorship and digital marketing, UK & Ireland, MasterCard Europe
Family: Married with one son
Hobbies: Running, music, and travel
Favourite brands: Apple and Nike
Favourite Brit Awards winner: Tinie Tempah
Priceless moment: The applause at the end of this year's Brit Awards
This article was first published on marketingmagazine.co.uk