Thursday, February 22, 2007

American Express : Membership Changes Everything

Brand : American Express Platinum
Company: American Express
Agency : O&M

Brand Count : 202

American Express is one of the world leaders in travel, financial and network provider business. The brand is synonymous with traveller's cheque and is a world leader in travel related financial services.

American Express was created in 1850 as a express delivery service provider (courier/moneyorder service). It metamorphosed to a financial service giant through a series of innovations. In 1891, American Express invented the first traveller's cheque. In 1958, world's first charge card was created by the company.American Express is currently the world's largest issuer of traveller's cheques.

American Express started its Indian operation way back in 1921.In India too , the brand is known for its travel related services. The brand extended to credit card business in 1986 for International travellers and in 1996 consumer card for domestic use was introduced. American Express was the first brand to introduce balance transfer facility for credit cards which later became a standard for all credit card issuers. ( Source :

Although American Express and Diners Club was the first companies to introduce credit cards in India, over the time, these brands failed to capitalise on the credit card boom. Visa and MasterCard through their aggressive promotions have cornered major market share in India. The aggressive schemes from the issuing banks like ICICI has virtually tripled the market for credit cards in India. But all through this hungama, American Express chose to take the backseat. The Indian creditcard market is estimated to be around $4 billion and there are around 17mn cards in circulation in India.

American Express only occasionally invested in brand building in the credit card market. I believe that the company was concentrating more on its travel related business rather than into credit cards. I remember only one TVC of American Express which shows an Indian traveller in a foreign location who get caught in a holi celebration. The ad was a memorable one but again the target was the travelling segment. The ad projected American Express as the card which is globally accepted.

November 2006 saw a major initiative from the brand to tap the domestic Indian credit card market. American Express launched the Platinum club in India which targeted the young Rich and Famous Indian. Platinum club is an exclusive club which offered the member wide range of privileges. Platinum Club is a premium service that gives exclusive service and pamperin a year , travels abroad three times a year and dines out three times more than the average Indian ( source :g to the privileged owners. The members of the club receives the new American Express Platinum credit card which provides the key to a host of premium services. Amex has tied up with premium service providers like Taj, Kingfisher etc which offers special benefits to the member. The club is targeted at Indians who is at the age group of 30-45 who earns 20-25

To become a member one has to pay a lifetime fee of Rs 50,000.The member gets a welcome gift worth more than Rs 70,000 which includes a Longines watch and Two Kingfisher airline round trip tickets. Other benefits include dining privileges with Taj hotels, special treatment with Kingfisher etc..
The brand is clearly on an overdrive to woo the affluent Indian. The logic is simple, an affluent Indian spend around Rs 3.67 lakh on his credit card a year which is ten times more than an average credit card user.
Platinum Club is the special way through which American Express plans to build its credit card business in India. Worldwide the brand is known to pamper its customer. There are some unique stories about this pampering like one given in the super brand site which talks about how the company arranged to courier a sample of Dead Sea sand for a child's (of Amex cardholder ) school project.
Platinum club is endorsed by Abhishek Bachchan who is also the first member of the club. Already TVC is running in all media followed by an aggressive print campaign. The brand is using the tagline " Membership Changes Everything". The brand is directly taking the route of creating an aspirational value for the product. This campaign is going to create a positive effect on all American Express cards . The campaign also will increase the brand awareness which is one of the problem that American Express faces. Still there are lot of merchants that do not accept this card because of ignorance. Although the brand is aimed at premium segment, the entry cost is kept low at Rs 50,000 that will definitely drive volume for this card.
Platinum club is a smart marketing move by American Express which will also force other card companies to start pampering their customers.

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