Truth, lies and advertising entourage

It was code-named Project X, Project Joe and more ominously, Snowstorm. We at FCB Direct were called the vault. (Hmm, pretty sure that's what my college dorm was known as - but that's another story.) While working on Snowstorm we were cornered at dinner parties; unusually popular at advertising functions; and offered copious amounts of alcohol before being quiz-show tested over drinks with friends.

It was code-named Project X, Project Joe and more ominously, Snowstorm. We at FCB Direct were called the vault. (Hmm, pretty sure that’s what my college dorm was known as – but that’s another story.) While working on Snowstorm we were cornered at dinner parties; unusually popular at advertising functions; and offered copious amounts of alcohol before being quiz-show tested over drinks with friends.

Account director, Kathy Festeryga – hired specifically for the project – was grilled from all sides:

‘So, what have you been working on?’

‘I can’t tell you that.’

‘WHEN can you tell me?’

‘I can’t tell you that.’

‘WHY can’t you tell me?’

‘I can’t tell you that [Mom].’

In order to work on the campaign, my FCB Direct creative, account services, production and finance co-workers and I signed in blood; looked each other in the eyes and pledged not, by pain of death or for fear of losing all credibility (and free drinks), to ever let the secret get out before launch.

Among the sealed-lips crowd were CIBC, American Express, Publicis (who named and designed the card, and created the TV and outdoor campaign), and NPI (the U.S. marketing research firm employed for the project) along with the hundreds of designers, printers, card producers, operations, data experts, support staff … who for months on end sat on one of Canada’s hottest marketing secrets (and a product representing multiple ‘firsts’ for the Canadian public), and managed to mums the word.

As you can guess, the news is out. [Cue: Happy dance.] Now we can all go around talking about entourage – that’s ‘e-n-t-o-u-r-a-g-e – The CIBC American Express card.’

For the first time, Canadians can get the services, support and benefits of an American Express card issued by a Canadian bank they know and trust. For the first time, the entire Canadian population is going to be asked if they want a Smart Card – a card with a microchip embedded in it.

For online shopping security, Smart Cards are the way of the future. And the cards offer endless capabilities down the road – with the potential to keep loyalty program membership details, debit card, even library card functions and countless other additions and upgrades, stored directly on the entourage card itself.

So when we ask Canadians, ‘Where will you take your entourage?’ in our direct marketing campaign, we really, truly mean it.

But how do you do it? How do you position a shiny new innovation for two established brands that are all about tradition? How do you package and sell yet another Canadian credit card? We started with this minor revelation: People don’t want just one card that does just one thing for them.

I am a middle-income, recent immigrant, early techno adopter (I hope I.T. isn’t reading this) businesswoman, but that doesn’t mean I will want the same credit card – or even appreciate the same two or three credit card features – as another woman like me. On the other hand, wealthier individuals, who are prepared to spend more on a credit card to get the ultimate in platinum card features, will likely each describe different key benefits they would like in a card.

So entourage – the CIBC American Express card not only comes in three flavours (Smart Card, Platinum and Business) but each of these comes loaded with a variety of benefits.

You might need one of the cards, or you might want all three. You might take your entourage Smart Card along for big purchases to get cash back rewards. You might use it to get front-of-the-line access to concert tickets. Or to shop online with unprecedented security. It’s all about breadth of choice and treating customers holistically.

The creative strategy was built with this goal in mind. Treat the target like a whole person with a range of needs and interests. By highlighting the card’s key benefits, we were able to demonstrate just how helpful it could be to have a credit card with the accessibility of CIBC and the global reach of American Express. And the copy platform, ‘Around the corner, around the world and on the Worldwide Web, it helps to have an entourage,’ was born.

We created a campaign to highlight the strengths of the two major brands behind the card and the multitude of experiences you could have where the card could help you out.

We broke some rules with the Smart Card by making those experiences sort of funky (as far as bank advertising goes). And we added our own unexpected icon visuals to show just how the card can help you experience some of the things you want to do: a dog ‘guards against online intruders with Smart Chip technology;’ a Travel Service Location sign in front of a beach hotel shows how entourage helps ensure ‘assistance is never far away;’ a flashlight ‘shows you the way to the best seats in the house.’

Internet advertising, while playing up the future forward secure online shopping aspect of the Smart Card, also reflects this breadth of features. Pulsing icons symbolizing card features beam in and out, intermittently replaced with copy, ‘Cash back. Smart chip. Smart Card. Be entertained. Be mobile. Be ready for the future with state-of-the-Web shopping security.’

The entourage campaign was launched in January and includes targeted direct mail to almost four million prospects, in-branch collateral, TV and outdoor, as well as 22 different Internet ads.

While it was a little tricky working on a brief with a communication strategy designed to let the target self-select which benefits he or she might find most appealing, it was in the end, a realistic, customer-focused plan. And it was refreshing to work on a campaign that’s all about giving the Canadian public new choices – almost as refreshing as finally being able to talk about it.

Just don’t ask what we are working on now for another client. If we told you ….

Dina Lompa is the associate creative director of FCB Direct – Toronto. She can be reached at dlompa@canada. fcb.com or by calling (416) 483-3641.