Marketing Mayhem: American Express

The other day I received what I consider one of the strangest direct mail pieces I’ve ever seen.

An unassuming white envelope contained an unsolicited credit card application done up in a travel theme — replete with a very convincing looking boarding ticket and goofy fake passport book containing one of those plastic your-name-here credit cards. Conceptually I get it — “oh, the places you’ll go” and all that — but what really throws me is the unbelievable amount of design used in executing it. (Some text redacted, but trust me, even the fonts look perfect).


I guess now we know what all the BFAs out there are doing for a living.

You can’t help but admire the level of attention to detail. It may not be fully captured by the photo, but the bogus boarding ticket looks and feels really real. For a split second after opening the envelope, I thought it was (before I remembered that I hate going places).

The passport book lacks the thick and vinyl-y feel of the real thing, but the overall effect is the same. It reminds me of the first time I ever saw a fake ID, courtesy of an older brother who had recently returned from a trip into the city. To a ten-year-old in the pre-Photoshop days, it was simply unbelievable that someone could make something like that themselves. I was sure the guy who produced it was some sort of crazy savant who, in his spare time, made rocket ships out of old beer boxes.

Sure, basically everything we touch crosses the desk of a graphic designer at some point — even the boring gray boxes and text of the usual credit card application – but the amount of work behind this single, disposable, probably completely unwanted piece of mail is staggering. Just imagine all the executives, marketing strategy people, designers, copywriters, printers, and mailhouse workers, each working on just a small aspect of this thing — not to mention the data and business analysts involved in deciding whether or not it was successful. When you take all that into account, it seems like the only way this could make any kind of business sense is if it were compared to the marketing effectiveness of burning $50 bills in an open pit.

But there’s a grimmer message here still. Many of us have accepted the notion that the arts are a luxury that we simply can’t sustain, and that – at the end of the day – we simply have to do what sustains us. What makes money. But it’s not true; there’s art all over the place.

It just comes with 20% APR and no annual fees.

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