The usual leagues showing us that the biggest brands in the world are the usual suspects are sometimes, in my opinion, misleading.

As I walk through the streets of London, or New York, or Manila I can pretty much guarantee that I will be within a few yards of a MasterCard or Visa logo.  In fact I am a few centimeters away as both of these brands are in my wallet and the wallets of over a billion of us on this planet (There are over 4 billion cards, but some of us have more than 1, remember). 


But let's suppose I landed here from an alien planet and was looking around for the first time.  I am not one of the planet inhabitants that happens to have an iPhone.  I am not a Coke drinker and I have been warned off McDonalds by the interplanetary briefing.  But I am walking around one of the major cities on this odd planet, and I start to look in shop windows.  Yes, I see the store name first and even some of the items for sale in each window.  But I quickly start to notice at least two consistent brands at each store.  If I landed in Vienna, I would probably notice this less, but if I was lucky enough to land in Singapore I may well report back that these brands were at war with each other and were fighting for every inch of space and promotional material.

Sure, Apple is everywhere and Microsoft is kind of hard to ignore too especially if you are a Windows user.  Even Telco brands like Vodafone and Nokia are portable brands that you see whenever you interact with the device or network.  The logos of Coke, Pepsi and McDonalds are of course present on the product itself but the marketing departments of these legendary organizations ensure that these brands are top of mind even in the gaps between consumption of their products via massive global advertising and sponsorship campaigns.

But MasterCard and Visa cut across all of that.  They are not only front of mind; they aim to be front of wallet, top of statement, on your TV, bottom of the webpage, inside your Google Wallet and all over the high street.  They also do not take their unique position for granted.  Their visibility is further reinforced by global advertising campaigns (Priceless) and Sponsorships (FIFA World Cup, Olympics, etc.).  There is good reason for the scheme's lack of complacency.  The world is moving quicker and quicker into the online world, and the schemes are keen to ensure that the portability (and integrity) of their brands does not suffer.

Who will ultimately control this space?  Today, the brand sits in your wallet and the card is owned by the bank.  The merchant has control over the branding at the acceptance location (within certain parameters).  In the online world things start to get less clear.  Samsung have a phone with a Citibank MasterCard which a customer is using at a contactless terminal acquired by Streamline merchant, Harrods and is buying a Gucci handbag which earns her loyalty points from Airmiles.  There are 6 brands here competing for your attention.  Who is drawing the lines between the brands?

Massive consumer brands such as Google, Facebook, eBay and PayPal are ingredients of our everyday life now.  But they are (still) dependent on connectivity and are not (yet) very visible in the bricks and mortar world some of us like to spend our weekdays in.  This world is still dominated by the big two.

“..They not only aim to be front of mind, they aim to be front of wallet, top of statement, bottom of the webpage, on your TV, inside your Google wallet, and all over the high street.”

If you have spent a day without consciously or subconsciously seeing the MasterCard or Visa brand then you have truly switched off, or flown back to your own planet.