Campaign Trail is our analysis of some of the best and worst new creative efforts from the marketing world. View past columns in the archives here.
A new national campaign for American Express playfully illustrates the benefits business owners receive when using the credit card as they grow. For some, growth could take the form of a major pivot, depicted in one ad as a bike shop smoothly transitions into a modern cycling studio. In a second clip, a hair salon kick-starts a viral hairdo, while another shows a pet supply store revamping into a bougie shop with vegan dog shampoos.
The four spots showcasing store owners embracing change to evolve their companies are the latest in AmEx's broader business-to-business (B2B) platform, "Built for Business," targeting small and mid-size business owners. To appeal to this audience as remote work continues to take priority in the pandemic, the financial services brand created pop-up stations designed for business owners on the go, converting billboards and bench ads into desks and mobile charging ports.
The installation — in New York's Madison Square Park through today (Sept. 24) — represents a physical manifestation of how AmEx's cards are built for SMBs, according to Jessica Ling, senior vice president of global B2B marketing.
"We're taking a new creative approach to reach small and mid-size business owners that aligns with our latest national spots — it's playful, bold, fast-paced and optimistic," Ling said. "We had fun creating these videos and wanted that energy and excitement to come through on screen for the business owners we're talking to through this campaign."
A touch of whimsy
AmEx puts experiential front and center for its latest phase of "Built for Business," transforming static advertisements into desks, park benches into workspace featuring charging stations and assembling phone booths for parkgoers to take private calls. The pop-up installation, developed with agency Dentsu Mcgarrybowen will hit Chicago and Austin, Texas, in the coming weeks.
"We wanted to create something that would stand out from the crowd in the world of B2B advertising. We're showcasing the benefits of using a business card but in a playful, bold, fast-paced and whimsical way," Ling said.
While the activations take place in cities with high foot traffic, Ling says the brand has taken COVID-19 safety precautions by hosting the activation outdoors and putting in place elevated cleaning protocols.
The campaign, promoting how AmEx's line of cards offers business-centric rewards, will run through the end of 2021 and includes buys on streaming TV, digital audio and social media. AmEx is also running local ads starring small business owners in cities across the nation, including Philadelphia, Denver, Las Vegas, Nashville and Seattle. Those ads will span out-of-home (OOH), local TV and radio stations.
'Office Hours' for business owners
Before the park pop-ups and national and local ad campaigns kicked off, AmEx in July debuted a series of video ads dubbed the "Business Card Chronicles" within its broader "Built for Business" brand platform. Three longer-form spots in the series told stories of small business owners around the country who experienced unexpected pivots during the pandemic.
The videos, directed by Brian Beletic, included "The Crane," "The Laptop" and "The Bunny," which depicted a veterinarian needing to bring in some assistance amid a rush of pet adoptions during the pandemic.
Beyond marketing to SMB owners and preaching the benefits of AmEx's business cards, the financial services company developed a series of initiatives to help these customers grapple with challenges spurred by the rocky past year.
Online resources within AmEx's Business Class mixes educational content with access to financial support. Dubbed the financial services company's "next chapter" in its support for merchants, the approach marks an authentic way to connect with small business owners. AmEx developed around 500 new resources for the small business community since the pandemic's onset in March 2020, including more than 225 articles and 30 episodes of a video series, entitled "Office Hours," on Instagram Live, showcasing how entrepreneurs like Drybar's Alli Webb and Ben Leventhal, co-founder of Resy, are navigating the pandemic.
"After a challenging year for small business owners, we wanted to double-down on meeting their needs," Ling said. "This includes how we think about our marketing strategy. With that intent, we created this campaign to emphasize to [SMBs] that our business cards are specifically 'built for business,' with their needs in mind."