American Express realise the potential of their brand

Hot on the tail of my post on bank Santander, here's another story about a financial services brand I admire: American Express. This is a brand that I use personally, so I've followed their "Realise the Potential" campaign with interest. The company has done well since the campaign started in 2009. After-tax profits grew +18% compounded annually with profit margin up from 11% to 17%*, according to this report.

Below I talk about what I think Amex have done well with this campaign.

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* Note: the campaign ran initially only in Australia, Mexico, UK and Canada, but I couldn't get data broken out for these markets

1. A big brand idea

"Realise the potential" feels like a powerful brand idea. It is a call to action. And it sells the benefit that comes from using your Amex card, living a full and interesting life, not just product details such as interest rates or payment terms. The idea is also highly relevant to the Amex target customers, who are "affluent and looking to live rounded, enriched lives," according to Alison Bain, vice-president and head of international advertising in this report. On average, Amex cardmembers spend about four times more than those of MasterCard and three-and-a-half times more than Visa, according to the Amex website

2. Fresh consistency 

Its impressive that Amex has stuck with this campaign for going on six years. This is especially true given that it is an international campaign running in multiple markets, meaning multiple opportunities for "brand anarchy" with countries going off and doing their own thing. Consistency has been created through the strapline, but also through the brand properties linked to execution, including typeface, illustration style and tone of voice. This consistency means the brand has a good chance of creating some distinctive memory structure.

At the same time, freshness has been added by using the campaign to promote different products and services. Some of the communication focuses at a high level on the overall attitude to life, like the one below which I think would make a good motivational poster 🙂

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Others focus on the personal service you get with Amex.

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And others talk more about tangible benefits.

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3. Sausage to stop you switching

Finally, and most importantly, Amex do deliver some real product "sausage" that brings to life the Realise the Potential idea, rather than just relying on communication. For example, "American Express Invites" provides pre-sale tickets to concerts and other events, giving you access to the best seats. What I really like about this is that you use you card to buy the tickets, so the product is really baked into the experience. You type your Amex card number in to get into a special area of the website in question, such as the National Theatre, making you feel like you are part of an exclusive members club. These tangible product benefits would make me stop switching to another card provider, even if it had an attractive short-term rate or offer.

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4. Refresh what made you famous

Realise the Potential builds on what made Amex famous, in terms of aspiration, a sense of exclusivity and getting benefits of "membership". What I think is clever is how this campaign has made these values much more concrete, and more accessible, versus the previous global campaign, which ran in 2004 with the idea "My life. My card." This celebrity campaign,  shot by celebrity snapper Annie Liebowitz, was beautiful and heavy on emotional "sizzle", but lacked much of the product sausage which Realise the Potential delivers.

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In conclusion, Amex is another example showing that financial services brands can be interesting and distinctive if they create a big brand idea and then deliver this, not just through communication, but also through products and services.