Building your brand in the Middle East. Priceless

Karen Hargreaves, marketing director for MasterCard, tells Richard Abbott why she’s so passionate about her job

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By  Richard Abbott Published  October 2, 2005

Building your brand in the Middle East. Priceless|~|Hargreaves,-Karen200.jpg|~|Hargreaves... ‘Everything we do from a brand point of view must fit in with the local culture and language’|~|Karen Hargreaves is playing keepy-uppy in her office with Pele, the greatest footballer the world has ever seen. Unfortunately, the great Brazilian is not showing much of his legendary poise and skill. But then again, he is a cardboard cut-out. Pele, like pretty much everything in Hargreaves’ office, is branded with the MasterCard logo. His polo shirt proudly showcases the familiar red and yellow circles. The wall-mounted clock, the football, even the building we are standing in at Dubai Internet City, all carry the brand name. And this, in a nutshell, is Hargreaves’ job. To get the MasterCard brand in front of Middle Eastern and North African consumers and to promote it as the best way to pay for the things that matter in life. She joined MasterCard in 2000 after spells with the Arabian Automobile Association and the Hard Rock Café. “Since I arrived here, I’ve had three interviews and three jobs,” she proudly states. She relocated to the Middle East seven years ago from the UK, where she cut her teeth in the agency world, working in both advertising and PR. Officially she has 23 countries in her region, but five key markets: Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait, Lebanon and Egypt. Much of her present work is based around MasterCard’s successful ‘priceless’ campaign, which highlights scenarios where material purchases can lead to meaningful and poignant experiences. The campaign has crossed cultures and is one of the most frequently ripped off slogans in the advertising world — a sure a sign as any that it has drilled deep into the consumer consciousness. In 2004, a localised, Arabic version of the ad was launched, illustrating the challenges of balancing work and family life in contemporary Arabic society. “This is a global platform and we never stray away from them regionally. We just make sure it fits in with our market,” she says. “Everything we do from a brand point of view must fit in with the local culture and language.” The one thing that stays constant is the language that the word MasterCard appears in. Sports sponsorship is crucial to MasterCard’s marketing strategy, although surprisingly it has passed up the opportunity to become involved in the Asian Games 2006, which is being held in Doha, Qatar, next December. “Only certain sports fit our criteria. We have just started getting into cricket, which is huge in this market. But football is the big one, a global sport,” says Hargreaves. We have moved into another room, with another two-dimensional, grinning Pele sporting a MasterCard polo shirt. “The reason we get involved with football is that we have an asset that we can take to our customers. We have pass-through rights, so a bank like Mashreqbank can produce World Cup branded cards,” she says. “The main reason we do it is for branding, enabling our customers to build their business. Our job is to keep the profile of the brand high.” Hargreaves will be using Pele as a brand ambassador in the build-up to the tournament. Partner banks will run competitions for customers to win a ‘priceless’ trip to the finals. But it’s not all about sport. MasterCard has been heavily involved with Dubai Summer Surprises, which attracts tourists from across the Middle East to the city. MasterCard likes to associate itself with vacations and shopping, so the festival was an ideal fit. “Shopping is a hobby here, which is great for us,” she says. The focus on global branding, sponsorship and events suggests that MasterCard is not as active in traditional media like TV and newspapers. “We will not advertise for advertising’s sake,” says Hargreaves. But there is still a sizeable investment in pan-Arab TV and newspapers, along with in-flight magazines, to get wide coverage. Local TV, lifestyle magazines, radio and outdoor also come into the schedule.” The company’s global marketing partner is McCann Erickson. In the Middle East it uses Promoseven as a one-stop-shop for advertising, media planning and buying and PR. “They have what we want, which is the regional network,” she says. The conversation turns to the region’s media owners. “They are not very helpful,” she says. “But it is getting better. “The thing is, they dictate the rules. We spend a large amount of our marketing budget on advertising but the owners dictate the terms and conditions of what we can do. “There is a lack of professionalism, There needs to be some regulation, some common standards. “When I first came out here, a media company would offer me an advertising proposal. I would ask them certain questions and they didn’t know the answer. I used to send them away. “Now I know you can’t do that so I try to work with them in a different way by getting the best possible information I can. We have to rely on UM7, they have their own research.” Which brings us on to the thorny subject of auditing, greeted with a sigh. “We never know who is picking up the magazine, where it is going. It is not that hard — they just need to invest some of their money back into the business, to find out who they are talking to, and then tell us.” Hargreaves is passionate about her job, working six days a week and staying late for a conference call with New York every day. “I am a great believer that, unless you enjoy what you are doing, don’t do it. And I love what I do,” she says. “When a campaign comes together and it’s out there, and all the account planning, management and execution is over — that is really satisfying.” Pele is still smiling down on us. He will be in Germany next summer for the World Cup finals. And with MasterCard plastered over every bit of promotional material, you expect Hargreaves will be having a ball too.||**||

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