Iconic Ads: Priceless – For everything else there’s Mastercard

MasterCard’s “Priceless” theme has become one of the most admired campaigns creating an emotional connect, appealing to everyone even after 20 years.

The Brief

MasterCard put its account for review in March 1997. Mastercard had believed that Ammirati Puris Lintas’ previous campaign, “Smart Money,” was too transaction/ benefit-focused and lacked an emotional connection with consumers

McCann was also pitching. They were told that competition was not just other credit cards but cash and cheques also.

The Insight

It was felt that it was shocking that while Mastercard could be used in more places across the world compared to Visa, but Visa was perceived as the aspirational global card and Mastercard was just another ordinary one!

They decided to take the ordinariness of the card and elevate it.

The Core Idea

Jonathan Cranin, executive creative director along with Joyce King Thomas, led the creative team on this pitch.

Multiple ideas were shared and rejected through many brainstorming sessions. McCann was trying to find an unique emotional connection which went beyond the transactional nature of credit cards.

In all this, Cranin wrote, “There are some things money can’t buy. For everything else, there’s MasterCard.” Joyce and art director Jeroen Bours then came up with the “shopping list” approach over the weekend whereby the dollar costs of hot dogs and tickets at a baseball game are rattled off in captions, while the voiceover led up to the crux, “Real conversation with 11-year-old son: priceless.” It closed with the MasterCard logo and the tagline.

The idea was feel-good and tugged at the heart.

The Pitch

“Oversized storybooks” wrapped in blue velvet were given. The baseball commercial with a father and kid was presented as a rough cut with a music track. Footage from The Fan, a film starring Robert DeNiro, was used. It was a huge success! Tears welled up in the eyes of some Mastercard team members!

McCann played a tape from a focus group in which customers were visibly moved, with even large, hefty males acknowledging that it moved them.

Here, priceless includes the transaction as part of a much larger experience. The advertisement focuses on a fundamental aspect of people’s lives: the desire to have control over their lives so that they may enjoy them.

The Results

Great feedback. Mothers wished their husbands had the same level of closeness with their sons.

The campaign did not tell people to spend money to have a close relationship but moved beyond that.

From 1997 to 1998, purchase volume for MasterCard jumped 16%, on par with with Visa (Mastercard had been lagging behind), while American Express was up 10%

The Buzz

A-list directors wanted to be a part of the campaign.  Tony Kaye, Tarsem, Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot) have directed films.

The campaign has been spoofed many times in many occasions across media

The Future

The campaign went to 200+ countries and became part of a larger social conversation. Customers created their own “grocery” lists that ended up being of value to them personally. It went viral years before virality!. Over the years, the touching slogan has consistently fulfilled the brand’s emotional promise to always be there to take care of “everything else, sometimes with a joke, sometimes with feelings, but always “priceless”.

It celebrated 20 years plus years anniversary. Mccann had recommended atleast 10!


Joyce King Thomas & Cranin got celebrity treatment at family functions as because of this endearing campaign.

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