• 03.28.12

Aziz Ansari, Thomas Keller Help American Express Launch The Membership Effect

American Express CMO John Hayes talks about The Membership Effect, part of a bigger social push from the brand.

Aziz Ansari, Thomas Keller Help American Express Launch The Membership Effect

Aziz Ansari goes on a spending spree, snapping up everything from a tuba to an abstract painting and a kayak in a new commercial for American Express debuting on TV March 28. It’s all part of an elaborate–and expensive–plan to impress a girl. Who knew the Parks and Recreation star was such a romantic?


Created by Ogilvy & Mather New York, the commercial is designed to demonstrate how syncing one’s American Express card with Facebook, Foursquare, and Twitter has its benefits when it comes to shopping. It’s part of “The Membership Effect,” a new American Express brand campaign that also includes a commercial in which chef/restaurateur Thomas Keller highlights the support American Express offers merchants. Another spot promotes Small Business Saturday, which began two years ago as a way to encourage American Express users to support local establishments. Print ads will also launch soon, and American Express will be a significant presence across Facebook, Twitter, and iAd.

But “The Membership Effect” is more than an ad campaign, says American Express chief marketing officer John Hayes. “It’s really about our overall business model. We have this end-to-end business model, which is pretty unique in the marketplace,” Hayes explains. “We have deep relationships with merchants as well as deep relationships with card members and everything that takes place in between them. And we’re able to serve both parts of this ecosystem and build those merchants’ business and build added value for the buyers. When you put that all together, that’s what we call The Membership Effect.”

Going forward, The Membership Effect strategy will inform everything coming out of American Express, from product development to marketing to new services in the social space. “We’ve been thinking this way for a long time,” Hayes says. “But the technology today really allows us to move this forward, offering the opportunity to create marketplaces, to evolve commerce.”

To that end, American Express has made a serious push into the social media space in recent years, offering discounts to Foursquare users who check in to certain restaurants and other businesses and creating a Link, Like, Love app for Facebook that observes a cardholder’s Facebook behavior then uses the information to offer targeted savings.

Earlier this month, the company used a Jay-Z concert at SXSW to launch a groundbreaking syncing program with Twitter. Customers who sync their American Express cards with Twitter are eligible for special deals at participating merchants, including Best Buy, McDonalds, and Whole Foods, by simply tweeting designated hashtags. No coupons are exchanged at the point of sale–the savings show up as credits on their statements. The transactions are frictionless and simple for both the seller and the buyer. “It’s hard for others to replicate this,” Hayes maintains. “Our unique business model, having those relationships with merchants, relationships with card members altogether is what allows us to do this so seamlessly.”

American Express has been ahead of the curve when it comes to using social media to foster commerce, and Hayes sees the digital space presenting even more opportunities in the future. “What we’ve seen so far is not even the beginning of what’s going to happen with social media and business, particularly local small businesses,” Hayes says, noting, “One of the things I’m seeing already is a shift towards driving longer-term commerce by making analytics and data very user-friendly for the small business.”

About the author

Christine Champagne is a New York City-based journalist best known for covering creativity in television and film, interviewing the talent in front of the camera and behind-the-scenes. She has written for outlets including Emmy, Variety,, Redbook, Time Out New York and