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  • Amanda Russo

Top 5 trends in card creative for 2020: Will they pay off?

As a card marketer and creative director, I’m always scanning the marketplace for new approaches and patterns across the industry. So far this year, there are a few key trends worth noting and watching, joining – or avoiding. While these trends largely began before the onset of COVID-19, they’ll have to sink or swim in our new normal.

Here’s a look at the trends in card creative that I’ve seen in my inbox, mailbox, social feeds and out in the wild, and my thoughts on the probability of their success.

Trend #1: Extreme simplification

Minimalistic design is a sweeping trend across industries that’s quickly become synonymous with modern and sleek – and as far as I can tell, it’s flooded the card space. With simple headlines on solid backdrops and very few graphics outside of card art, these communications are the essence of “less is more.”

Will it pay off? In my opinion, yes. By embracing visual simplicity, this trend forces the key messaging into the spotlight. Whether it’s bonus points or an opportunity to build credit, it’s hard to miss the point. These creative pieces are easy to read, easy to scan, and (when executed correctly) can be powerfully striking.

Trend #2: Experiential, aspirational spirit

Relaxing on private beaches. Rock-climbing waterfalls. Skiing European peaks. These are the implicit promises of cards this year. And while you may expect that kind of aspirational imagery – and headlines that follow suit – from travel cards, it’s a trend across the board. Cash back cards and even more basic products are positioning themselves as the rewards programs or tools for financial freedom that unlock unforgettable experiences.

Will it pay off? In my opinion, probably not. I realize that these communications were most likely conceived and developed long before the pandemic, but I don’t see how they’ll survive it. Now that we’re living in a COVID-impacted world, exotic trips and adventures just don’t seem realistic. At least not right now, and probably won’t be as financially feasible or responsible for much of the customer base for some time.

One way to pivot this type of campaign is to turn the experiential focus inward and reflect the ways in which a credit card to help enrich everyday life and create memorable moments at home.

Trend #3: Conversational copy

Credit card companies are making a point to distance themselves from the stodgy, official, unfeeling reputation of big banks. Headlines like “treat your crew” and “you’re on the right track” aim to connect with consumers on a human level by using familiar, approachable language. It’s obvious (and in some cases, too obvious) that they’re using a casual tone to gain credibility.

Will it pay off? For some, yes. For others, no. While a truly authentic and genuine voice can help make consumers feel comfortable trusting a credit card company, there a few pitfalls that can sour the whole communication, especially in our new normal:

  • Inconsistent informal tone – i.e., don’t say “you’ve got to check this out” in one place and “exclusive invitation reserved for you” in another. That immediately tells the readers that you’re not using conversational copy because you actually care – you’re just trying to sell them something.

  • Overly clever language that clouds the message – friendly copy can quickly turn into cutesy phrases that just confuse matters. Clarity should always be prioritized over tone.

Trend #4: Claims and superlatives

Apparently, this is the year that card companies have launched their best offers, greatest products, and most impressive rewards. Lucky us! Card companies aren’t acting shy about placing themselves at the top of the competitive set – whether that’s using terms like “best,” telling readers there’s “no need to compare” against other cards, or promoting third party endorsements and rankings.

Will it pay off? Probably – if it feels real. Essentially, if you’re promoting an offer you said is your best ever, and it actually is your best ever, consumers will pay attention. When superlatives and claims are used to support key benefits or add urgency, they can drive action. But when every benefit or bonus is the “best ever,” you’ll sound phony.

Trend #5: Challenging the category

Introducing a “new kind of credit card” is a popular approach this year. Bucking the trend of typical features, benefits and product mechanics has become a trend in itself. From new payment formats like Apple Card to reconsidered credit worthiness from Indigo, card companies are trying to make their mark by emphasizing (or exaggerating) their uniqueness.

Will it pay off? Probably not. In my experience, consumers are looking for big benefits from their credit card, not a lofty brand platform. They likely won’t care as much about carrying the coolest card as they will about earning more rewards or finding a lower APR.

Creative trends ebb and flow – some become norms and others quickly disappear – but the ones I’ve seen take hold are ways in which the benefits and/or call to action are made clearer to consumers. Message clarity has been a constant through my years of card marketing experience, and it’s how we at Pragmatic drive consistent, measurable results for our clients.


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