Thursday, March 17, 2005

Chains of credit

You might well have noticed the TV commercials and metrolite posters for the National Bank's new Visa Mini. The thing about this new, smaller-sized credit card is that it can be attached to things - they suggest your keyring or your mobile phone. Laura was wondering whether this might tie into the 'chain' aesthetic that's popular at the moment (and which I've written about previously).

I'm interested in the 'fashion' angle they've taken. In theory, it's quite brilliant. By positioning it as a fashion accessory, they're piggybacking on fashion's voracious consumer ethic and the cycle of obsolescence that demands further purchases. With a credit card. Wearing a credit card around your neck also calls to mind the omnipresent laminated backstage passes on lanyards sported by fashion journos, PR types and other honchos at fashion events, like this week's Melbourne Fashion Festival.

In addition, by highlighting miniaturisation as the 'latest thing', they're also tapping a certain tech-nerd early-adopter desire - the sort of people who read Gizmodo and get excited by the latest iPod accessory or mobile phone. I can see the creative brief now.

AB, 18-39, M/F. Tech-savvy and style conscious professionals in the information and service economies, these men and women are big spenders and conspicuous consumers. They want the latest in everything - cars, mobile phones, music and video, fashion - and they're prepared to pay. They're connoisseurs of digital technology - they own an iPod, download ringtones, pay their bills on the internet and use their personal digital assistant for email and MMS. They have a wide social network and like to party.
Ugh. What a nice reminder why I never got into account service.

The good people at The Pen have done a marvellously succinct and biting summary of the actual (as opposed to aspirational) logic of this card. I particularly liked the observation that:
Your new card also comes packaged with a fabulous accesory kit (safety clip, long strap, phone attachment and a card cover) so you can keep your card around your neck whilst the noose of debt slowly strangles you. [my emphasis] Our gorgeous model Bianca wonderfully demonstrates this.
Yes: the chain rhetoric, much like the notorious "Unchain My Heart" refrain from the GST introduction ad campaign, is darkly ironic. And of course, the creative brief may or may not have added that this same target audience is often deeply cynical of advertisers' attempts to co-opt them. Of course, the real cynicism is among that demographic that's involved in cultural and intellectual production and has more political involvement and less money.

This target audience, by contrast, is the cynics' consumerist peers: the sons and daughters whose achievements parents boast to their friends about. Then the friends start nagging their own useless artsy children about when they're going to enter the corporate world and start buying houses and whitegoods on nice shiny credit cards. So, perhaps this campaign will work where other attempts to link products with cutting-edge fashion have failed dismally.

Still, I do wonder. Gadget Lounge puts it best:
"When is it that something moves from extremely fashionable, to completely unfashionable? When a bank uses it to get you to use their credit card."


Rooster said...

Hi Mel,

Thanks for looking us up! It's certainly clear that I have issues with this Visa Mini.

Being a citizen of Adland, I found myself to be pretty sensitive on the National's and Visa's pathetic attempts to ride on Apple's shirttails. Needless to say, the Visa Mini would probably still become a success in light of possible interest rate rises and the Reserve Bank's relaxing of Eftpos regulations.

All the best,

Mel said...

I wonder if they have "mini repayments"!

jean said...

um, I know i'm way out of my area of expertise here, but how do you use it to, you know, buy stuff? Do you have to wave your tits in the cashier's face while mounting the counter to swipe it in the machine, or what?? Or is it because the target market only uses it on the Internet, to pay bills and to buy new covers for their iPods?

Mel said...

These things I don't know (surely you can detach it for swiping) but I suspect you're onto something with this internet-only caper.

I wonder whether people are actually taking this up, or whether it's like a concept car at a car expo that is high-concept, low practicality.

Greg said...

Hi Mel

Pr people know more about credit than most! It's a tough business isn't it.
Best Reagrds
Greg Tingle

Anonymous said...

hi Jean - very funny! but actually the even more brilliant thing about this card NOT is that you get 2 CARDS - the mini one and a standard size for ATM's and other places that the mini doesn't fit! Kind of makes the 'mini' card obsolete if you also need to carry around a large one - so the whole thing is purely about the 'fashion' of hanging your money around your neck. It brings a new meaning to the term 'bling' - maybe they could start printing your credit limit on the card so you can show how big your bling is! I can't wait til I see someone with a card around their neck - I'm in need of a goood laugh.