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Credit Card Stereotyping in Advertising

by , June 10, 2013. (Posted in: Credit Cards / Personal Finance News)


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Over the past couple of weeks, it seems as though we’ve been inundated with marketing and advertising campaigns from the financial sector. With so many different financial products out there, it can be difficult to identify the subtleties associated with these campaigns. After seeing a series of credit card offers in nearly every media outlet, it would seem as though there are credit card stereotyping efforts that run rampant in the country.

It’s no secret that banks are focused on attracting wealthier customers; those who can add big deposits on a regular basis. Those who deposit their paychecks once a week, pay their bills and manage to save just a small portion of their salaries are all fine and good, but it’s the consumer that can diversity portfolios, buy CDs and other investment products are considered the “big prize”. In fact, it would appear few are even trying to hide their credit card stereotyping efforts.

The Haves and Have Nots

This really began to pick up momentum a couple of years ago, just prior to the big Occupy movement. Remember when Bank of America decided it was going to put into place this ridiculous $5 debit card fee? That was bad enough (folks began withdrawing their money in droves), but then it was learned that the bank would be picking and choosing who was hit with that fee. The target? The traditional working family that might be considered blue collar, with 2.5 kids, careful about how they spend their money and not happy when a big bank targets them and not their wealthier other customers.

Hitting them with a $60 annual fee just for using the bank’s debit card to withdraw their own money was not wise for not only Bank of America, but a few more of the other big banks that fell into line with their own ideas of banking and credit card stereotyping. So what did these average working American families do? They took advantage of their local credit unions instead. Most are still with those credit unions, too. They say they’re happier with fewer fees and the fact that their bankers aren’t “snobs”.

Credit Card Stereotyping with no Apologies

Did those big banks and now, even credit card companies, learn their lessons? Of course not. They’ve been through (and currently are going through) far bigger scandals. It’s like watching the black sheep that’s part of every family and who keeps on getting into trouble. The black sheep lives by the motto,

Until I get caught, I’m playing by my own rules. I don’t think the law can catch me anyway.

Banks are the new black sheep of the American financial “family”, so to speak.

No more was that evident than in a new series of commercials specifically from American Express. But stay with me here – let me lay it out:

Celebrities Hawking Credit Cards

Think about all of the commercials that are gobbling up advertising time on TV every evening. Think about the different credit card companies that have massive campaigns being played around the clock, sometimes several times during one television episode. We have Jimmy Fallon arguing unsuccessfully with an adorable baby over her refusal to say “yes” to the many perks Capital One offers. And really, that kid is some kind of cute and manages to take an otherwise predictable celebrity hawk and turn him into mush in her sweet hands. Then, there are the Alec Baldwin commercials, again, for Capital One. They ceased being funny about five years ago and now, the only reaction they get out of me is a quick fast forward past it on my DVR.

Discover IT

The one exception to targeting the multi-account American consumer, it would appear, is the series of new Discover commercials for its latest credit card IT. The It card is simple to use, easy to understand and with perks that the average American can appreciate. The commercials are funny and in fact, have those same “average Americans” starring in them.

The woman whose husband went to the store for milk and came back with a puppy is simple and funny. There’s not a woman out there anywhere who can’t relate to those brief lapses of common sense her husband displays at times. The commercial, of course, was the wife calling Discover because her husband forgot to make the payment. She learned that it was their first missed payment, so there’s no late fee and she also learned it wouldn’t affect her APR, either – which is unheard of in our modern society.

There are a few more that follow the same formula – including the two women who end up on the phone together when one calls Discover with a question about her credit card. Those two are funny, partly because they remind me of the classic southern woman who has all the time in the world to sit and chat – even on her employer’s dime.

Vinyl Eating Prepaid Consumer

But back to the American Express commercial. Let me point out a few truths about it (and yes – I watched it several times because frankly, I was more than a little surprised at what the commercials contained, what they don’t contain and other obvious efforts of snobbery). The one specific commercial I’m referring to has the young woman eating a vinyl record. Yes, it made my teeth hurt too and yes I would have much preferred to be forced to see and listen to nails go down a chalkboard.

The young woman in the video is Carrie Brownstein, who from what I understand, is a comic. In the commercial, she’s a young woman who apparently likes tattoos on her fingers, chipped nail polish and a budget for “this stuff”, which I assume are collectible vinyl records from a thrift store. A thrift store, which by the way, accepts American Express. Seriously. Do you know how rare it is for an Amex to be accepted in a thrift store or second hand record shop?

Here’s the kicker: not once – not one single time – are the words “American Express” or “Amex” mentioned in the commercial. The actors never mention it nor does the voiceover. The only thing remotely close to it is the word “membership”. That’s it.

The viewer is left with a few impressions. First, that consumers who use prepaid cards are vinyl eating, young adults who go on shopping trips to accumulate vinyl to consume. Literally. And second, that these consumers don’t really care about their finances. And if you’re wondering just right this might be, plunder around YouTube and take a look at their other commercials for their traditional charge cards. They have Beyonce and Jerry Seinfeld starring in them.

These expensive ad campaigns are both time consumer and gobble up a lot of the card companies’ budgets each year. Sometimes, though, they fail. And they fail big time.

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