Events and Experiences are Core to What Mastercard Does, Says Manasi Narasimhan

Industry Watch | March 23, 2021 | Interview

Manasi Narasimhan MasterCard

Experiences differentiate Mastercard as a brand, according to Manasi Narasimhan, VP, Marketing & Communications, South Asia, Mastercard. Here, she talks about the newly launched ‘Priceless India’ programme, the kind of experiences it offers people, as well as plans to promote the safety aspect of digital payments and partner the Government in growing inbound tourism.

Tell us about the ‘Priceless’ programme recently launched by Mastercard. How did the idea of such an experiential marketing initiative materialise?

Mastercard is a payments brand, a fintech brand, but at its core, it's about people. Our motto is – ‘There are some things that money can't buy, for everything else, there’s Mastercard’. So over the years, the brand has created and built the ‘Priceless’ platform, which is about giving people once-in-a-lifetime experiences with their loved ones. For example, through ‘Priceless Cities’, a child can actually walk out holding Lionel Messi’s hand at an UEFA Champions League match, or an art aficionado can visit the Louvre in Paris after it is shut to the public; can you imagine what those experiences will really be? Such unique experiences are being enabled by Mastercard. Earlier this year, we launched ‘Priceless’ in India. Just before the pandemic, we had launched it in Sri Lanka with a series of physical experiences - for example, it could be a tour of a national park with the forest guards after sunset, literally something that money can’t buy, no matter how affluent you are. 

So, in India we opened this up, and obviously we have so much beauty and heritage to explore. In fact, my husband and I recently realized that holidays for us meant Switzerland or France or some other country, while there is so much to see in this country. We have started ‘Priceless’ digitally for obvious reasons, but in time, we hope to bring this country both to Indians and visitors from abroad. That's a big mission for the Government too, so we hope to partner them as well. That was the genesis behind the Priceless India programme. 

What has been the response from Mastercard cardholders to this programme so far, especially Phase 2 of the ‘Priceless’ programme that allows customers to get a taste of these experiences in real-time through curated packages?

So far, our experiences are only digital. So there are 16 forts out there, from the palaces of Jaipur to Agra beyond the Taj Mahal to Baba Naseer as well as behind-the-scenes tour of the Mumbai Opera House, opportunity to learn handicrafts from an artisan in Jaipur, and so on. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, it may be delayed by a few weeks, but the idea is for Mastercard holders to physically have some of these experiences. I wish I could give you a date when it would be open, but at the moment, it really depends on how the vaccine goes. As a brand, we are very, very cautious that we need to be responsible and let the pandemic pass.

What do you think of the medium of experiential marketing and activations? What kind of ROI do you derive from the events and experiential medium for your brand?

As a brand, it is extremely important because payments are ubiquitous - you pay for everything from a loaf of bread to an IPL match to just about everything in your life. But the moments that you remember and relish, at the end of the day, are experiences and those are based on your passion points. So if someone is a foodie, then a Michelin-starred restaurant or a cooking masterclass resonates. If you're a golfer, imagine being able to take golfing lessons from a world class golfer! If you're a tennis fan, we sponsor the Australian Open, and imagine going there, onto the Rod Laver Arena, and maybe meeting a great tennis star like Jim Courier or Roger Federer. So events and experiences are actually core to what Mastercard does, also in terms of sponsorships and other assets that we've built.

At some level, experiences differentiate us as a brand - you can always say ‘Priceless’ and put anything you want in an advertising campaign, but at the end of the day, you want your consumers to speak about you and they will do it only if they have the authentic, actual experience of something. Unfortunately, right now ‘Priceless’ is virtual, but obviously it will go back to being physical. We have something called ‘Priceless Surprises’ too – like someone literally opening their door and seeing their favourite pop star there. That is something they would like stand on the rooftop and scream about, right? They will tell every single person they meet, and that's eventually what our brand is about. Over the last few years we've invested heavily in this, and it's paid off in buckets.

Going forward, what are your plans for Mastercard for the next year?

We will continue to promote the safety and efficacy of digital payments, and encourage heavy use of e-commerce and contactless cards. We will continue to work with banks to realize their goals, because we are in the partnership business and what works for banks, works for us too. We are very excited about the ‘Priceless’ India launch - we hope sooner than later to take it physical, to partner with the Government to open up more and more of this country, both to Indians and visitors. Frankly, I have been living in Mumbai for 14 years, but I did not know there was such a story behind the Mumbai Opera House. So, our endeavour will be to allow people like us to have these experiences, and then to drive inbound tourism.

Lastly, name a quality that every marketer should absolutely possess.

I think every marketer has to have good people skills, because this is a profession where numbers are important, technology is important, business is important but at the end of the day, it is about people. The people you work with, those you lead, your agency teams and your consumer… if you have that instinctive ability to truly empathize with people, that's what distinguishes a great marketer from an average one.

Mastercard’s ‘Priceless’ platform is about giving people once-in-a-lifetime experiences, literally something that money can’t buy, no matter how affluent you are.

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