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The Drum speaks to Rustom Dastoor, senior vice president, head of marketing and communications, Asia Pacific, Mastercard, about the unique platform, its evolution over the years and the legs of the ‘Priceless India’ program.

Mastercard recently launched its flagship 'Priceless' program in India with the proposition of offering domestic and global travellers exclusive access to several unparalleled experiences in the country. The ‘Priceless India’ program is an extension of Mastercard’s Priceless Cities program that was launched to unlock several unique experiences in various cities across the globe, for the brand’s customers. South Asia has been a relatively new entrant for the program - having been launched last year for the first time and India is the recent addition.

How does the ‘Priceless India’ launch fit into Mastercard’s overall brand journey?

We segment our demographics by passions which include sports, culinary, shopping, entertainment, arts and culture, travel rather than segmenting the consumers by age, location, income, etc. For instance, if you love cricket, it doesn’t matter what your age, gender or income is, you are bound for a love of the sport and that gives us a way to engage with you. We curate these one-of-a-kind Priceless experiences through our partnerships and ambassador relationships. 

Our brand strategy is to connect people to Priceless possibilities, to create opportunities to support their passions. By reaching people through their passions, we’re able to bring together people from all around the world, from all different backgrounds, to participate in and enjoy their passion. To bring this campaign to life, Mastercard has partnered with the world's top travel researchers, historians, art curators and more to bring the choicest benefits to the cardholders who place a premium on experiences, be it untold stories, history, food, people, culture and more. 

What are the various phases of the India launch? 

The 'Priceless India' program will roll-out in two phases. In the first phase, 16 short films, specially created for Mastercard cardholders are being launched. The films cover several unique aspects of India’s most iconic tourist cities and destinations. The films cater to the aspirations of nuanced domestic and global travellers, who want much more from their trips. Overall, these 7-8 minute films cater to different interests: from learning about the history of various cities, exploring palaces, forts and museums, to interacting with famous Indian personalities, learning arts and crafts from award-winning artists, exploring India’s gastronomical landscape and more.

In the second phase, Mastercard cardholders will get a chance to partake in real-time experiences through curated packages available online. These packages include: 

  • A session with an award-winning filmmaker on the story of India's famous film industry. This will include a showcase of the most iconic objects connected to films
  • Cookouts with India's marquee chefs 
  • Curated tours of the grand palaces of India
  • Behind the scenes on a Bollywood set

How would the physical experiences be brought alive in a post-pandemic world?

While the pandemic has not yet subsided, findings from the Mastercard APAC Covid-19 consumer sentiment research suggest that after a long period of lockdown and working from home, Indians are now really looking forward to being able to travel for leisure and to meet friends and family in 2021. According to the findings, the desire to travel internationally remains strong despite COVID-19 and restrictions on travel. 

  • Consumers are starting to settle for domestic leisure despite their desire to travel overseas. Millennials are expected to fuel domestic travel in 2021 with 72% intending to travel for leisure this year.
  • 60% of Indians are already planning to take a leisure trip domestically in 2021.
  • The intent to travel Internationally for leisure or business is relatively lower at 55% and 52% respectively.

As the pandemic has forced people across the globe to cancel their travel plans, the ‘Priceless India’ program hopes to address the aspirations of Indian and global travellers who seek much more from their trips. This would also help in bringing out a unique experience built around India and to put the country on the global tourism map once again. 

How much has the ‘Priceless’ platform, launched way back in the late 90s, evolved over the years?

The ‘Priceless’ platform launched in 1997, was initially an advertising campaign to position the brand. It has resonated with people for more than 20 years and over the years, the brand strategy has evolved from storytelling to story-making, to connect with people on a more emotional level. Earlier marketers focused on showcasing the product (the best product got the most consumers). Today, it’s no longer about having the best product; it’s about emotion. Consumers gravitate to brands that they feel a lasting connection with and are proud to be associated with. 

Through story-making, we curate and/or enhance experiences for people to get them closer to the things they love. By connecting with people through memorable experiences, the idea is to give the consumers a lasting positive impression associated with the brand. We know music, smell, touch and taste evoke emotions and reach people in more lasting ways than just sight. 

How has Mastercard's overall brand strategy kept pace with the changing post-Covid landscape?

Critically, the global pandemic crisis has taught us that brand communications and transparency internally and externally is more important than ever. If brands fall silent, or if brands are being opportunistic of the current situation (or even remain with their business-as-usual campaign strategies), it will be detrimental to the success of their business now and in the future.

Now that we’re into year two of the pandemic and fatigue is setting in, we understand that we are still in a time of crisis and it’s important that we continue to serve and not sell. The priorities that we set at the start of the pandemic are the same – and will continue until we are in a state of normalcy. These priorities are: Don’t go dark; Don’t ride the sea of sameness; Keep our employees close and consumers our priority. When we stand by people during hard times, they will stand by us during the good.