Editorial: Finally, a Credit Card For the Admittedly Crass

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"Technophile? Narcissist? Slave to fashion? Have we got a card for you." That was the back-envelope teaser copy on a pitch that arrived in the mail from Citibank last week introducing the Citi.You card.


Clearly aimed at online shoppers, the card offers among its features a built-in smart chip on which the cardholder can store his credit card, billing and shipping information. This way Mr. Narcissist can complete online order forms with one click.


The card also comes with a free smart card reader that Ms. Technophile can plug into her computer as long as she orders her card before May 31, 2002.


The Citi.You card also offers online account management.


All very cool ... but that pitch. Who the heck is going to respond to a pitch that says, in essence, "Are you self-important, crass and shallow? Then have we got a card for you."


Any direct marketing copywriter who has done even the slightest academic exploration into the craft knows that one of the two most powerful selling words in the English language is "you." (The other is "free.")


But harnessing the selling power of the word "you" requires treating recipients as they think they are, not how they truly are. Hard to believe that there's a significant universe of people who want to admit they're self-absorbed, no matter how big the audience is in reality.


Here's a reality pitch: How about Citi.Slob?


"Are you an overweight couch potato who has let personal hygiene slip? Is your wife sick to death of watching you sit in front of the TV wearing the same sweats and T-shirt every weekend? Well, have we got a card for you."


The brochure headline could read, "Isolation from the rest of the planet, here we come."


Member benefits include automatic payment of cable bills, regular shipments of beer, pizza and chips and a little bottle of air freshener for those days when rolling off the couch is too difficult.


Meanwhile, Citi.You cardholders also can have a special name printed on their cards -- no kidding -- like an AOL chat room user name, or CB handle if you remember them. The name appears in the upper-left corner of the card. Any lingering questions about the card's target audience are answered by the name on the sample pictured inside: "citi.mememememe."


For those having trouble thinking of names for their cards, CitiYou.com has an interactive tool that can help. Choose two attributes from four categories (hobby-interest, zodiac sign, favorite color and personality type), click "submit" and presto!, three Citi.You card-name suggestions appear. Choosing "crazy" and "bowler," for example, appropriately returns "Citi.pinhead," among others.


Funny, nowhere are the options "superficial" and "jackass" offered.


Now, admittedly, this editorial is by a guy who has made some hall-of-fame bad predictions ("AOL's customer service issues will be its downfall," and "VW's reintroducing the Bug?!" to name the top two).


But the Citi.You card's positioning and anyone who responds to it are pathetic.


Recent events have supposedly resulted in much of the American public rearranging priorities. Spending more time with family, for instance, repeatedly comes up as more important in research on consumer attitudes since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.


It's hard to believe that the majority of folks in say, San Diego, have done even close to the amount of soul searching that folks in New York City have recently (it would be awfully strange if they did). But it would be nice to think that the superficial mentality that gave birth to Citi.You is in shorter supply in the marketplace, and that the card will have to be drastically repositioned to succeed. One can only hope.


Meanwhile, a call to CitiGroup's public relations department concerning the Citi.You card was not returned. Apparently it's not all about me, after all.


We welcome your views, opinions, news tips and questions -- by phone to 212/925-7300, Ext. 220; by mail to iMarketing News, 100 Avenue of the Americas, 6th Floor, New York, NY 10013; by fax to 212/925-8754; or by e-mail to ken@imarketingnews.com. Letters to the editor must be accompanied by a daytime telephone number and may be edited for space.


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