American Express makes big push to shop small

Why the brand quintupled its small biz support and is emphasizing how rewarding buying local can be.
Amex Shop Small - Yonge Dundas Billboard

American Express’ latest effort to support small businesses comes with a massive push that is bringing its “Shop Small” program national for the first time.

The follow up to the first phase of a campaign that launched in June consists of a new spot, social media content and digital OOH with high-impact billboard placements across urban centres like Toronto. Though part of the payment company’s global “Shop Small” efforts, which is being led by Mcgarrybowen, Notch Video developed the local versions of the creative, featuring more than 40 small businesses. UM handled the media buy.

Amex’s goal is to support small businesses impacted by COVID-19 by incentivizing cardmembers that they could earn $50 in statement credits when they spend up to $10 at up to ten different small businesses. Trying to spark spending at local establishments remains the same as it did in June.

However, the biggest change, according to Amex Canada’s VP of advertising and communications David Barnes, is rotating the messaging from encouraging card members to enroll for the “Shop Small” program to now getting them to go out and support the “places you love” by taking Amex up on its incentivizing offer. And it’s put the investment behind it to match – Barnes says this is the biggest small business-focused campaign it has ever run, roughly five times larger than its typical efforts.

Barnes says no one has been hit harder than Canadian small businesses and are the “mainstay” of the economy, as well as the communities they operate in. A CIBC study published in May found that of the 1,020 Canadian small business owners surveyed, 81% said they’ve been negatively impacted by the pandemic, and 32% worry about the viability of their business over the next year. According to the last key small business statistics published by the Government of Canada, in 2015, small businesses contributed 41.7% to GDP generated by the private sector.

Barnes says this campaign needed to be bigger because the programs Amex have run before have been much more localized, whereas this one is national in scope, open to all of its card members and not zeroing-in on a specific segment of the customer base.

In a time when Canadians are being told by multiple sources to support small businesses, Barnes notes that a key message in Amex’s campaign is that shopping from these retailers has something in it for them, too.

“We see a much greater response when we put that offer in there than if we just go with that kind of altruistic message,” he adds. Barnes could not provide information on how many Amex customers have enrolled in the “Shop Small” program thus far, or what the engagement numbers have been like for the campaign.

Barnes notes that the small business sector is “probably one of the fastest growing pieces” of Amex’s business, as he estimates that 90,000 new merchants last year signed up to accept American Express at their business establishments.

But Barnes says there are bigger, broader societal implications to incentivizing people to support small businesses. Although many other brands have launched campaigns supporting small businesses, Barnes doesn’t view this as an opportunity to one-up or stand out against others.

“Everybody benefits if the economy is thriving. Everybody benefits if we have a thriving small business sector,” he says. “You keep hearing this phrase – this is where the rubber meets the road on that. We’re not looking at this from the point of view of ‘We’ve got to stand out from this as a brand.’”