It’s been 20 years since McCann-Erickson created the very first commercial for MasterCard’s long-running “Priceless” campaign. In it, we watched a dad being a dad—taking his son to his first baseball game, paying for the tickets, a hot dog and a drink with his MasterCard. But, the real story was the father-son bonding we witnessed; their relationship was what made the experience “priceless”. The ad managed to tug at our heart strings with every line, closing with a tagline that still echoes in our collective consciousness two decades later: “There are some things money can’t buy. For everything else, there’s MasterCard.”
“The strategy team came up with an insight that no one else had noticed … ‘there are some things money can’t buy. …’ And, a creative team (my partner and I) came up with something we called ‘the grocery list’, a list of purchases that led to something priceless.” Recalled Joyce King Thomas, Chairman and Chief Creative Officer at McCann XBC. In an interview celebrating its the agency’s 17th anniversary, Thomas, who worked on the campaign in 1997, remembered how instantly popular it became:
Almost immediately after the first spot ran … people started creating their own priceless posters and emails and films. It was a meme before there were memes!
– Joyce King Thomas
The campaign expanded to more than 200 countries and became part of a bigger, social conversation in which consumers made their own “grocery” lists that ended in something personally priceless to them. It went viral years before there was even such a thing as social media. Over the years, in seemingly endless iterations, the poignant tagline has consistently delivered on the emotional brand promise of always being there to take care of “everything else”. Sometimes with wit, sometimes with sentiment but always “priceless”.
The key insight came from the planning department because they did a lot of research. We thought that they would all say, “Ugh, credit cards–the devil’s tool. But people said,”Nah, credit cards are fine. It’s other people who abuse credit cards.” When they bought things they couldn’t afford it was usually for the good of the family. They bought a TV so everyone in the family could watch TV together. They had noble reasons for buying things they couldn’t afford. And that was a really interesting insight and they came up with a line after they did this thorough, thorough investigation that MasterCard was a good way to pay for the things that really mattered.
– 4A’s Interview 2017 – Nina diSesa, Managing Director at Greenwich Marketing Group and Former Chairman and Chief Creative Officer at McCann Erickson