The Risk Communicator Newsletter
Providing information and resources to help emergency risk communicators prepare and effectively respond in the event of a crisis.
“Priceless” Collaboration for Hurricane Preparedness: Florida’s Department of Community Affairs and Its Experience with MasterCard®
2004 and 2005 were two of the worst hurricane seasons on record for the Florida coast. In the aftermath of the storms, the state of Florida realized the need for a new approach to encouraging Floridians to prepare for future hurricanes. The Director of Communications for the Florida Department of Community Affairs (DCA) at the time, Adam Sohn, reached out to adapt one of the most successful ad campaigns ever created.
The eight hurricanes and tropical storms Florida experienced during 2004 and 2005 resulted in enormous damage, lost lives, and lost property. According to Sohn, the main reasons why people were in danger were twofold: They either did not have enough warning or they did not prepare as well as they could have. There was clearly room to improve state-level communications about what items are needed to prepare for severe storms.
Tasked with creating a preparedness marketing campaign for the 2006 hurricane season, Sohn viewed MasterCard as a viable partnershsip. “When you are on a very limited budget, well-known brands and positioning of products can very well aid recognition of messages that have a social purpose to them,” said Sohn. He thought MasterCard’s “Priceless” campaign would be a great strategy to motivate Floridians to buy a few items in order to secure some peace of mind.
MasterCard’s ubiquitous “Priceless” campaign is based on the idea that the cost of ownership is secondary to the emotional value the object creates in the owner. Each ad has nearly identical copy, and each ends with the tagline “Priceless.”1
The “Priceless” campaign has been in existence for 10 years, and as a result, Sohn knew the state could save time and dollars by not having to test messages prior to using them. “I can only deduce that if a 10-year campaign has been in place from a company with one of the biggest consumer brands in the world, then the advertising campaign must’ve been a boost in transactions,” said Sohn.
MasterCard and the state of Florida formed a private-public partnership to carry out the campaign. Sohn had no previous relationships or contacts with MasterCard when he formed the partnership. “I actually cold-called a head of public affairs from MasterCard, representing the state of Florida,” he said.
For the first time in the 10-year history of the “Priceless” campaign, MasterCard lent their brand and their positioning for free—an exclusive and unique agreement with Florida. The initial concept for the ad copy was produced by Sohn and his team and was based off the Priceless campaign. MasterCard worked with their ad agency to execute the layout of the ad itself. The final approval came from the Governor. The ad copy read, “Battery-powered flashlight, storm shutter, and weather band radio…$349, tax free. (A little help before the storm…Priceless.)”
Reflections on the Campaign
The hurricane preparedness campaign was so successful that MasterCard continued to run ads longer than anticipated, all the way through the last day of hurricane season. The extension occurred because the campaign received significant media attention and was received well by Florida citizens, according to Chris Harrall, Vice President of MasterCard’s Payment System Integrity Group.
The campaign was launched as a pilot project in three cities, later expanded to eight. MasterCard bought advertising space in major newspapers, including the Miami Herald, the Tampa Tribune, and the Orlando Sentinel. Although Sohn could not say how much the ads cost, he indicated that, though expensive, they came at no cost to taxpayers. “That came from MasterCard, trying to inform Floridians to do the right thing during hurricane season,” he added.
The campaign received the Shoestring Budget Award from the National Association of Government Communicators, which recognizes government communicators that spend a nominal amount of money and are still able to reach many citizens.
“You really never know what is possible,” said Sohn, who currently serves as Director of Media Relations for AARP. “I think other government communicators should look at this and say, ‘Well, if it worked in Florida, there are a number of pieces of critical information that we would like to get in the public hands. How can we partner with the private sector to help facilitate that goal?’” Sohn continued, “I think there is a huge opportunity for the government to reach out and do these types of things, because what MasterCard has proven is a willingness and boldness to go out and conduct a private project on something that is built upon a social mission, and they can put their brand in on the conversation, and it’s a win/win for everybody.”
1MasterCard: Priceless. Accessed on Marketing Practice. Available at http://marketingpractice.blogspot.com/2006/11/mastercard-priceless.html
- Page last updated December 20, 2010
- Page last reviewed December 20, 2010
- Content source: CDC Emergency Risk Communication Branch (ERCB), Division of Emergency Operations (DEO), Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response (OPHPR)
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