Mastercard’s Rajamannar on navigating ‘confusion’ around brand purpose


Mastercard’s director of marketing and communications, Raja Rajamannar, says it’s “critical” that businesses are purpose-driven, and profits will follow when brands pursue this “with passion.”

However, he also thinks there is a lot of “confusion” among marketers between brand purpose and cause marketing.

Speaking at the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) Global Marketer Week today (April 7), Rajamannar explained: “They are not the same. Purpose is your North Star, while cause marketing – the causes you decide to support – are your roadmaps.

“The roadmaps that will lead you to your goal are what the marketing goal is.”

Since 2014, Mastercard’s brand focus has centered on providing “Peaceful Moments”. However, that approach is now evolving into something more “movement-oriented”, he said.

“We really want to create and organize priceless moments in people’s lives, and so from now on we’re actually talking about priceless movements.”

For example, one of the paths Mastercard has taken is to become a more inclusive brand through design and advertising. Last month, Mastercard launched its first audio description ad, “Spotlight,” to introduce consumers to its “touch card” design.

Mastercard says its touch cards are a “first-of-its-kind” accessible payment card system for people who are blind and visually impaired. Debit, credit and prepaid cards are distinguished to the touch by three distinctly shaped notches.

Purpose is your North Star, while cause marketing – the causes you decide to support – are your roadmaps.

Raja Rajamannar, Mastercard

“When we looked at how we could leverage the sense of touch for our campaigns, we realized there was a huge opportunity. I grew up in India and when I was little my grandmother lived with us and she was blind,” Rajamannar said.

“We literally had to help her navigate the whole house, which was very tedious for her…So we started to wonder how blind people use their cards. How do they tell the front of the card from the back card? How do they know where the chip to insert into the POS terminal slot is? How do they know which is a Mastercard versus any of our competitors? How do they know if it is a debit card or a credit card?”

Spotlight features the experience of a blind woman as she navigates her way down a street, including difficulties in distinguishing between different sounds. She walks into a cafe and is able to easily identify the card she has to pay.

Rajamannar said testing the ad with blind audiences was “the most rewarding experience” of his time at Mastercard. “It was fantastic for us,” he said.

Mastercard also partners with Cancer Research UK’s Stand Up to Cancer Foundation, applying its management methodologies and techniques to the world of cancer drug research.

“We have already enabled the creation of eight new cancer drugs,” Rajamannar said. “You don’t associate Mastercard with cancer drug research, but that’s exactly what we’re trying to do, and [without] advertise it because it will seem totally self-serving.

Mastercard has also launched a Priceless Planet Coalition, partnering with other companies in its network with the goal of restoring 100 million trees by 2025. Mastercard has so far contributed “tons of money” towards this. , asserted Rajamannar.

“But more importantly, we are leveraging the power of our network. We have 80 million merchants and 60,000 banks whose power we can put on the table… It’s a very important effort.

The goal is therefore “not just about your brand,” Rajamannar said. “The brand will eventually gain recognition and the profits will follow if you really go for the purpose with passion. You want to follow your North Star, identify good causes, and then pursue that.

He added that in his 36 years in marketing, now is “by far the most exciting and inspiring time”.

“A lot of things that I dreamed about how marketing could be… They’re all coming true today,” he said.

The goal has been a divisive issue in marketing, particularly over the past 12 months. Effectiveness expert Peter Field sparked an uproar in October with research that showed that well-executed brand objective campaigns can drive above-average business effects for brands compared to cases without an objective.

At the time, Field noted that there had been “an awful lot of vitriolic criticism” of the marketing purpose that was not entirely justified.

However, marketing experts including Professor Byron Sharp, Marketing Week columnist Mark Ritson, and Richard Shotton, founder of behavioral science consultancy Astroten, have called the research flawed for comparing goal-oriented campaigns. “strong” with weak and strong non-target campaigns combined.

Later in October, Sharp claimed the goal could be “the death of brands”.

The argument was reignited in January this year when fund manager Terry Smith, founder of Fundsmith Equity Fund, called Unilever’s emphasis on sustainability and brand purpose “ridiculous” and claimed that the strategy had led to the disappointing performance of the giant FMCG in 2021.

However, Unilever disputed that claim, noting that its 28 “sustainable lifestyle” brands grew 69% faster than the rest of the company in 2018, up from 46% in 2017, and generated 75% of the Unilever’s overall growth that year.

At the time, CEO Alan Jope pledged to bolster Unilever’s credentials, saying: “We believe the evidence is clear and compelling that brands with purpose grow. In fact, we believe in it so strongly that we are prepared to commit that in future every Unilever brand will be a brand with a purpose.


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