Amex, Starwood go social to launch co-branded card

In a first for American Express in Canada, the credit card company uses social media to lay the foundation for its launch campaign, with immediate results.

In the Oscar-nominated movie Up in the Air, frequent fliers Ryan (George Clooney) and Alex (Vera Farmiga) meet in a hotel bar and only minutes later are whipping out their wallets and comparing rewards cards in an oddly sexually charged battle to see who’s the most savvy with their points.

A bit over the top? Sure, but those people exist and they are exactly the type that American Express and Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide are hoping to reach with their new co-branded credit cards. And since their target demographic – the people who truly love to collect points – was more specific than usual, so too has been their media approach in launching the campaign to promote it.

In a first for American Express in Canada – and for Starwood as well – the brands chose to pursue a pre-launch social media strategy to prep the cards for their public debut. In its research of the marketplace, Amex discovered that there was a passionate travel-points market out there, and they were ‘very sophisticated in how they talked about the program,’ Wishnu Waworuntu, director of lending, American Express, Canada, tells MiC. ‘We thought, ‘this was our target market’ and we wanted to be a part of whatever discussions were happening within it.’

The strategy started with an e-blast out to Starwood’s email database, advising Starwood members that there was a new product coming out and if they wanted to sign up for a ‘wait list,’ they would be the first to know about it, Waworuntu explains. The ‘wait list’ was promoted through the Amex and Starwood websites, as well as through e-blasts from the companies. Then, Amex selected 10 influencers from the blogosphere, and treated them to a ‘brand experience’ weekend, wining and dining them at a Starwood resort and treating them to the full Amex ‘Front of the Line’ experience. Once the relationship with the influencers was cemented, they then entrusted them with spreading the word across the web.

The influencer outreach and wait list strategy has paid off Waworuntu says. In the first three days of the card’s official launch this week – before the media campaign to promote it has even begun – the company reached 25% of its total membership target for the first year. ‘The demand was incredible, there was a lot of interest in the product, and there continues to be. We are definitely looking to sustain this momentum.’

The media campaign behind the card’s launch is currently in its planning stages and will begin later in 2010.