Creative Roundtable: Not So 'Priceless'
The "Priceless" site offers editorial oddments divided by broad stroke categories including "Eat," "Live," "Hear," "Play," and "Wear," surrounded by stock photography, an innocuous color palette, and promotional deals with MasterCard partners. Visitors can also think up their own ad copy for two "Priceless" commercials, which MasterCard debuted during the Academy Awards broadcast in March.
To assess this odd meeting of detached corporate mien with new media ideals, I brought in three crack creatives, including Organic's Troy Young, Lars Bastholm from AKQA, and Renny Gleeson of Carat Fusion. We met in the elysian bar of the Modern inside the Museum of Modern Art, an ideal location for critical thinking. Restaurateur Danny Meyer's Modern seemed, in the right light, like the true masterpiece of the night. Indeed, I was sure its distinct elements -- from the tactilely assuasive 46-foot marble bar to German artist Thomas Demand's wall-size photo of a lush forest -- helped keep this month's Roundtable stimulated.
Of course, I'm not comparing our task to the work of Calder, Miró, and Picasso, which lay just outside among the other masterpieces in the museum's sculpture garden. Even so, a walk through the shining, portal-like white entrance and into the clean, Scandinavian-inspired interior of the Modern is enough to ignite anyone's muse. The group first tackled the "Priceless" site's promotions, which include hotel getaways, and the street value of ad copy.
Bastholm: I started out as a copywriter, and that kind of stuff is known as copywriter hell, because there are only two people who are going to read it: the writer writing it and the client approving it.
Young: I think the other people reading the copy are the hotel owner and MasterCard's other corporate partners, who are being promised this potentially great reach. If they manage that properly, there's benefit in that for everybody. And if someone offered me an upgraded room somewhere for the price of a regular room, it would be of value to me.
Bastholm: I'm oversimplifying, but I think of this stuff like the brochures and things a company will put out. Does anyone read that stuff?
Gleeson: I have an AmEx card, and I certainly don't go to the AmEx Web site to see if they have any special deals or discounts that day. If I'm at a hotel and using a card, that's a different story. I understand a company needs an online brand presence to support the overall promise that's being made, but...
Young: Maybe if there's real value.
Bastholm: There are obviously bigger bargain hunters out there than you or I might be, so the discounts and partnerships might work, but here's the problem: A company like this is thinking, "We need a site that complements the TV ads, but we don't know who's going to come there, so we need something for everybody." So they just put a gazillion things there and confuse the crap out of everybody.
Young: Interesting that you bring up AmEx, because to me they have a much clearer brand image than MasterCard. Anybody can get a MasterCard, so it's not a point of pride to have one. I don't know what MasterCard's brand means, and this site doesn't help me understand. I see here a generic credit card company that hopes it can use generic content to give it an identity.
Bastholm: They completely missed the mark with the "create your own ad" thing. That was clear when I saw that you couldn't send it to a friend once you made it. That's the whole point of this user-created stuff. When you don't even open yourself up to the potential for viral, you're just not on top of it.
[MasterCard asks consumers to submit their ads for a contest.]
Gleeson: It's such a controlled version of user-generated media, which seems to take out all the potential for something really interesting to happen.
Bastholm: They were afraid of profanity. They didn't want to lose control of the message and have those things out there on the Web.
Gleeson: If you don't give people the freedom to be creative... If the creative ideas are only coming from one side, you're guaranteeing that the exchange is going to be nothing special.
Young: Are we talking about wimping out? That's basically what you have to expect when a company approaches something untested like the Web five years ago, and now Web 2.0. When the choice has to be made whether to go all the way or just splash your toes in the water, they're going to wimp out every time.
[The guys are put to the test: What exactly would they have done differently?]
Bastholm: Definitely let people send their ads to a friend and give them more freedom with the creative. The ads look like a finished product before someone even adds their captions -- that's so bad.
Young: They look better without the user input!
Bastholm: The editorial and the way it's labeled are so dry.
Gleeson: I couldn't believe how dry it was. And does anyone really sort ideas like that -- "Live," "Hear," "Play"? Who does that?
Bastholm: How about taking the emphasis off the editorial and onto the deals that you can get using MasterCard?
Young: If you highlighted those savings and made it very clear that this is the site where I can go regularly for that sort of thing... They probably thought that hiding the deals in with the editorial would be less offensive or something, but a clearer explanation of the deals could really add value to the site.
Gleeson: A credit card company should do what it does best and leave the editorial to people in the editorial business.
Young: I think I'll stick with my AmEx.