Mastercard's new logo spits on plastic

The change from 'MasterCard' to 'Mastercard' is part of a play for a role in a digital marketplace

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Logo redesigns, while nicely profitable for designers and consultants, rarely do a heck of a lot for the company behind the logo. Consumers generally don't care or even notice.

But sometimes, subtle changes are meant to convey important changes, although it can take the skills of an old-school Kremlinologist to decipher them. Take the case of Mastercard's new logo and typography, rolled out last week. At a glance, the new logo just seems to be an updating and streamlining of the same basic logo that has been in place for decades (you can see a history of Mastercard's logos here). But when you deconstruct those remarkably unremarkable changes, you see that this is all meant to usher Mastercard into the digital age, and indeed to de-emphasize any connection between Mastercard and plastic magstripe cards.

mastercard logo 2016

Mastercard's new logo

Mastercard hinted at this in its announcement, but only hinted. (If the company is also looking for an update of its slogan, how about: "Clear communication is for startups. For everything else, there's Mastercard.") Here is how Mastercard explained its logo and uppercase letter change: Mastercard "unveiled the evolution of its brand identity, including a modernized and simplified update to its iconic red and yellow logo and new look and feel for branded communications and experiences. The ability to thrive in a digital age as well as position Mastercard as a forward-thinking, human-centered technology company is fundamental to this change."

So that's why it took the name of the company out of the logo? In a sense, it is. It wants the brand to be recognizable on things such as watch faces and other small digital devices where the words may not be readable. Think Amazon Dash and especially Apple Watch

But don't overlook an even more interesting change: the officially sanctioned casing of the company's name. Gone is "MasterCard," with the uppercase C in the middle. The new approach is "Mastercard." That lowercase c downplays the word "card," and possibly the entire concept of cards. The erstwhile card brand now wants to be thought of as digital/virtual brand, and so the C gets turned into a c. Subtle, but important.

Neither plastic nor magstripe plays a big role in payments companies' long-term plans, so there's a logic to de-emphasizing "card."

The bigger branding issue for Mastercard, though, is that mobile is changing perceptions, and various payments players are jockeying for position. Walmart and Amazon want consumers to see everything from a retailer-centric perspective, with Walmart Pay as the best example. A shopper inside Walmart, the retailer's hope goes, is willing to trust everything to Walmart.

Apple and Google want consumers to instead trust their mobile devices, with Apple Pay and Android Pay delivering all that a consumer needs.

Visa and Mastercard, though, make the case that their brands have generations of marketing to make them the trusted payments brands. Don't forget that Visa and Mastercard have done brilliantly well at hiding the various banks behind each card. Yes, the bank logos are there, but how many consumers even notice? They think of their credit cards as their Visas or Mastercards, not as bank cards.

What is at stake here is how purchases will be perceived by most consumers in three years. If they are asked "How did you pay for that new thing you're holding?" will they say Mastercard, Apple Pay or Target Pay? 

The lowering of the case of one letter in the company name won't change that, but it at least puts the company positioning that much closer to consumer perceptions.

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