11th of January 2019

By Professor Jenni Romaniuk Associate Director (International) Ehrenberg-Bass Institute

Mastercard does some…. branding…!

Not the most exciting headline I suppose, but I am a bit bemused by the furore about the decision of Mastercard to remove the brand name from the logo.  This decision has been called ‘smart’, ‘masterful’ (nice pun) ‘bold’.  I call it doing your job.  This is what any brand with a strong Distinctive Asset can do – use the Distinctive Asset to replace the brand name.  It’s not brave, bold or brilliant, it’s just good branding – assuming you have the foundations in place.

Professor Jenni Romaniuk, Author of Building Distinctive Brand Assets


1.  Is it really a strong asset with (close to) 100% Fame and 100% Uniqueness?

Marketers often over-estimate the strength of their Distinctive Assets because they have a skewed view of the impact of their own asset building activities versus competitors.  Mastercard are reported in the Forbes article as saying 80% of consumers recognised the logo without the words accompanying it (I assume they linked it to Mastercard, not just had seen it before!).  This does, of course, mean 20% or 1 in 5 consumers don’t think Mastercard when they see this logo.  Perhaps these people don’t need credit cards?

Some forms of measurement can also give misleading results.  For example our research, published in the Journal of Advertising Research, shows that prompting people with the brand name when measuring the strength of Distinctive assets can inflate Fame scores by up to 20 percentage points.  So before you take the brand name off anything –  be confident, very confident, that the assets’ presence will immediately trigger the brand. 

2.  Do you have a plan to educate new category buyers?

Even if you have a strong asset now, new buyers are constantly coming into the category. Distinctive Assets are not innate knowledge, we learn them through the (successful) activities of marketers.  New category buyers need to be taught that this Distinctive Asset is synonymous with Mastercard, or over time, even the strongest Distinctive Asset will erode in Fame.

3.  Is there a competitor monitoring system in place?

While you control about your brand’s asset building activities, you can’t control competitor activities.  It is therefore important to monitor the Uniqueness of the asset, and check no competitors are encroaching into its mental territory.  Uniqueness drops when competitor brands are also linked to your brand’s asset.  And once lost, Uniqueness, is very difficult to regain – as you can’t tell category buyers not to think something!  So picking up competitor encroachment early is important to keep a Distinctive Asset strong. 

4.  Do you have a diverse Distinctive Asset palette and not reliant on just one asset?

Any visual asset, regardless of how strong it is, will not work in all environments.  Any brand needs a set of diverse assets to draw on in different media and retail environments.  Putting all your eggs in one basket with one asset is a risky strategy. 

Mastercard’s decision to remove the brand is not what should be applauded, or celebrated.  The noteworthy part is the consistency over many decades that gives them the potential to do this.  Thousands of brands make this same decision for branding moments in an advertisement, on a social social media post, and other places where category buyers experience brands.    It’s just that it’s often, unfortunately, a decision made without the right foundations in place.  Hopefully this is not the case for Mastercard!


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