So today I came across a banner ad on buy.com that was introducing “The Black Card” by Visa. “The world’s most prestigious and versatile credit card” boasts a limited membership, 24-hour concierge service (whatever that means), an exclusive rewards program, luxury gifts and, wait for it, a Patent Pending Carbon Card…all for the low annual fee of $495. $495? Seriously?
Is it just me or is this the absolute worst time to launch a card like this? This is Visa’s contender to Platinum Card® from American Express as they carry about the same features, benefits and price tag. Visa would typically have called this a “Platinum” card if they hadn’t totally devalued the word by saturating the market with it on every card they offer, which is what they did to the word “gold” years before that.
Although the “experience” is like the AMEX Platinum Card, what Visa is alluding to is the elusive American Express Centurion Card aka the Black Card–a card so special that they don’t even advertise it. In fact, there’s no mention of it at all on americanexpress.com. It’s the Sasquatch of credit cards; the Loch Ness of luxury. Many have only heard rumors of such a card and only a few actually claim to have touched one (no doubt while working at a swanky boutique somewhere in New York’s meatpacking district). Those rumored few who hold the American Express Black Card use it to buy islands or Learjets not groceries at Sam’s Club or tires at Costco. And with a $5000 initiation fee and a $2500 annual renewal, you can see why. All of that aside, it’s the mystery that makes the American Express Centurion card so desirable. The fact that they don’t have to advertise at all, or even acknowledge its existence, is marketing genius. And the result: scores and scores of people applying for an AMEX Platinum card and spending their little hearts (and wallets) out in hopes that someday, they’ll get that exclusive invitation. That’s creating desire. And to this, Visa appears to be, well, colorblind.
Marketing aside, you have to ask yourself this: Do we really need cards like these in today’s economy? I don’t think so. I think what we need are cards that don’t keep hiking up interest rates for those in trouble. I think we need cards that offer you cash back when you pay your card in full every month – now that’s a reward. I think we need more cards that give a percentage of your purchases to charities. I think we need cards that identify those with spending problems and rather than keep increasing their credit limits, they offer them a low-interest rate to pay them down while also lowering their credit limit until it gets to something they can manage. Or cards that identify those same people and offer to close their accounts while transferring their balance to a low interest, or even no interest, loan to pay it off without screwing up their credit report. We need cards that help you out not help you get into trouble and prey on you when you do. If you really must have a card with color, go to the UK and get an American Express RED card, part of the (PRODUCT)RED campaign. That’s a color worth having.
We’re living in a world where thousands of people are being laid off from work every day and even more are going hungry or homeless. And yet the Visa Black Card offers this tagline: The World Awaits. Clearly we’re not living in the same world.