Mastercard's CMO on creating a new digital brand and keeping a successful campaign fresh

Masterpass isn't just a new way to pay for groceries with a phone; it's the face of Mastercard's digital future.

When Raja Rajamannar became Mastercard’s chief marketing and communications officer in 2013, he inherited the brand’s globally renowned Priceless campaign. The long-running series from McCann, which debuted in 1997, was in need of a refresh for the digital age.

Rajamannar refocused Priceless on a few distinct offerings, but expanded each program to give consumers literally priceless experiences, like candle-lit tours of the Louvre, or allowing cardholders to be part of an effort to feed 40,000 Rwandan children for a full year.

But the refresh didn’t end with the campaign. In July, Mastercard unveiled a new logo and brand identity, its first in 20 years. For a company with a vital presence at millions of point-of-sale locations around the world, it was a delicate undertaking. Switching to a logo that every merchant worldwide couldn’t immediately recognize as Mastercard could have led to financial chaos.

Now Rajamannar is spearheading another daunting venture for the brand: the creation of a parallel brand identity for Mastercard’s proprietary digital payment system, Masterpass.  A new campaign from McCann XBC is introducing the service to consumers with a series of TV and digital spots running on platforms and sites such as ESPN, CBS, LinkedIn, Billboard, and the New Yorker.

Campaign US spoke to Rajamannar last week about the challenges of updating a household name and introducing a new brand into a crowded marketplace.

Where does Masterpass fit into the current Mastercard marketing structure?
Masterpass is our digital brand. That's where the future is. Mastercard and Masterpass will be our two master brands. They are identical in look and feel. Masterpass and Mastercard - even the lengths of the words are same. The fonts are the same. The logo of red and yellow circles is exactly the same. When you look at it, it's hard to see whether it is Mastercard or Masterpass. We are bringing that kind of convergence in the brand design.

Do you envision a time when there will only be one brand?
Hypothetically, 10 years down the line, if the world becomes completely digital, Masterpass will be made the dominant brand. So long as the physical world is dominant, Mastercard will be my dominant brand. Eventually, we will have, at some distant future, one unified identity, so much so we will probably drop both the names Mastercard and Masterpass from our logo altogether, and all you will see is the interlocking circles and red and yellow.

Who are you targeting with the Masterpass spots? How are you trying to portray the brand?
We said we’ll start with an easier target and focus on tech-friendly individuals. People are still trying to figure out what a digital wallet is. Now we are going a generation ahead and saying it's not just a wallet anymore, it's a digital payment system. What the hell is a digital payment system and how do you communicate that?

We wanted to show how people can use their Masterpass in an interesting, engaging, and a little bit of a tongue-in-cheek fashion - situations which people can empathize with and relate to. The whole idea is not to just show that it can make payments quickly, but how you can use it. We want to really use Masterpass not only as a noun or as a name, but actually as a verb.

This is a huge educational effort. Was there anything Mastercard needed to do differently?
Absolutely. In fact, educating, making people aware and making them understand what it is is the biggest task we have ahead of us. There is so much to tell, but the consumer is not interesting in taking lessons. They want something simplified, that they won't have to think about. All they need to do is to have peace of mind and, intuitively, it should operate. As a consumer, I care about my experience, so let’s talk of that experience and show you a different context.

How are your marketing partners helping you in that endeavor?
You will see a lot of co-marketing happening - between CitiBank and Masterpass, Capital One, and throughout all the main banks. We are also partnering with merchants, with the MTA [New York City's subway authority], and Cheesecake Factory. We are already tied with Major League Baseball, Fandango, and We partnered with JetBlue, and you can now use your Masterpass to make in-flight purchases. We are building an entire ecosystem, and this is very much enabled by our partners.

How have you evolved the Priceless campaign?
Priceless is a fantastic property. We don't want to lose that. It's a unique brand asset, and the equity is phenomenal. It has entered into the vernacular of countries around the world. Yet, we have to evolve.

Gone are the days where you talk to consumers. We have to be effective storytellers. But today, storytelling is not adequate. You have to have story-making, which means the consumer is integral. They are creating the stories and vicariously experiencing those stories.

We needed to transform Mastercard from a payment brand to an experiential brand to a lifestyle brand. That's what we were striving for, to bring Priceless to life. We used to have 168 different marketing platforms. We stopped all of those and said our entire focus will be put behind just these four: Priceless Cities, Priceless Surprises, Priceless Causes, and Priceless Specials.

How did you incorporate the Priceless message into the new Masterpass spots? 
We said, let's start showing the possibilities. Consumers will be having these immersive experiences using their new Masterpass. They try the product and they're learning. There's nothing like doing it yourself and figuring it out, as opposed to learning from a manual.

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