CAMPAIGNS: Amex works some new black magic - Product Launch

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 customers.

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

expensive boutiques.

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

outstripping supply.’

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

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