Ten months into the new role, Raja Rajamannar, chief marketing officer of MasterCard, has already launched one of its most iconic brand campaigns – Priceless Surprises – and shaken up the agency roster by consolidating the company’s media planning and buying business with Carat globally, except in Latin America.
MasterCard’s Priceless brand proposition is a legacy of sorts. First launched in 1997, it has evolved over the years to become more than just a communications platform. Some experts even say it’s one of the strongest pillars of MasterCard as a brand.
What MasterCard has been doing with Priceless is a result of a complete collaboration internally, Rajamannar says as we sit down for a chat. Launched 17 years ago, (think “There are some things money can’t buy. For everything else, there’s MasterCard”) as a marketing campaign, Priceless is now a brand platform. The company aims to keep the proposition fresh and infuse it in everything it does.
In 2011, it launched Priceless Cities, which allowed consumers to experience moments that were unique and peculiar to each city. The bigger idea behind this was to connect people to their passions, be it shopping, dining, music or sport. For example, for the Broadway show Rock of Ages, over and above just offering tickets at a cheaper rate, it invited the audience to rehearse with the cast and have a walk-on role. The focus is now on creating such experiences.
Early this year, MasterCard marked the next step of the evolution of Priceless with Priceless Surprises. The platform has evolved from celebrating Priceless moments to enabling Priceless experiences and inspiring people to share all that is priceless through surprises.
It kicked off the campaign with Justin Timberlake who is known for surprising fans. It launched the Priceless Surprises during the Grammy’s. Any MasterCard customer was eligible to get a variety of small surprises such as cupcakes from Magnolia Bakery, free Uber rides, free and song downloads by only using their card, or tweeting or posting to Instagram using #PricelessSurprises. Winners of surprises were chosen randomly.
The surprise element was when Timberlake came in. A lucky fan, who thought she was being interviewed for a music documentary, received the surprise of a lifetime – the opportunity to play an original song for Timberlake and have him jam with her.
“It (Priceless Surprises) wasn’t about slapping the new name on all marketing collateral. We had to make it a part of the experience,” Rajamannar says. Talking about what went on behind launching such a campaign, he explains why it is absolutely imperative for the internal buy-in for a campaign of this scale.
What happens in the back-end?
MasterCard started the Priceless Surprises initiative company wide in about eight weeks. The global rollout took four weeks. “We did it all in 12 weeks from concept to global rollout. It’s a recreation of the concept each time. What we did with Justin Timberlake was completely different from our execution at the Brit Awards or Fashion Week for that matter.
“Singapore is doing it differently with golf too. And in Brazil we are doing the same with soccer,” adds Rajamannar, saying that such an initiative in this short span of time cannot happen without complete collaboration internally.
One of the first things he did was to see how aligned marketing at MasterCard was with the business. Secondly, how its brand positioning compared with the competitors and lastly what were the areas that needed strengthening and improving. The underlying objective was to understand consumer behaviour and assess assets that already existed so it could leverage them.
“This requires the participation from agencies, the product team, IT and others. Marketers are realising that a marketing event alone might not necessarily be embraced by the whole company. But if you co-create with a whole bunch of teams, you have collaboration from day one.”
And that’s one change marketing has seen over the years – its evolution to being far more accountable than it ever was and the need to collaborate to successfully engage audiences, Rajamannar says. In his career, he has held diverse roles – from marketing to innovation to managing P&Ls.
As CMO, he takes on global responsibility for MasterCard’s advertising, sponsorships, promotions, research, insights, and digital and consumer marketing initiatives.
Before this, he served as executive vice-president and chief transformation officer at WellPoint where he led the company’s new strategic direction and transformational agenda, and was responsible for managing its US$10 billion Medicare Advantage business. He also managed various functions for the enterprise, including marketing, innovation, corporate development and ventures, consumer data analytics, digital and international operations.
Before WellPoint, he served as chief innovation and marketing officer for Humana. He was also at Citigroup for 15 years holding a number of roles, including global chief marketing officer for cards and payments, where he was responsible for transforming the credit card business model and strategies.
Rajamannar also served as chairman and CEO of Diners Club North America from 2004-2006. He also served as head of credit cards for Citi’s Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region. Before Citigroup, he held a number of senior marketing positions at Unilever, India.
And all of this has shaped him as a marketer.
“The days when marketing could do stuff on its own are gone,” he says. It is critical marketing people have a solid business perspective.
“If you are not moving the needle for the business, you will lose the job.”