Corrupting the Meaning of Words
It seems to me that nobody does a better job of corrupting the meaning of words than bank marketers – particularly those working for the huge banks – and the marketers employed by the major credit card issuers.
I was reminded of this yesterday while reading the morass of sales and disclosure copy in the latest credit card solicitation my spouse received from those pesky marketers at Chase.
The corruption of words began in the third sentence of the letter which reads, “And you’re already pre-approved.”
Back in the good old days of credit card marketing – the 1970s – the word “pre-approved” meant just that. We had checked your credit history at the credit bureau and found it solid enough to issue you a card if you simply signed and dated the acceptance form and returned it to us.
Today, the word “pre-approved” means something very different. It means you MIGHT be pre-approved but we aren’t really sure. It depends!
Upon receipt of your completed acceptance form, the issuer pulls another credit report and reviews it along with the personal information you provided to determine if you still meet the original credit criteria. But since the issuer now has your stated gross annual household income amount, the final criteria for getting a card changes.
In fact, based on the final information possessed by the issuer, you might not get any credit card.
So, when an issuer like Chase tells you in a glitzy letter that you are pre-approved, in reality you are only tentatively or conditionally pre-approved. Today, the meaning of pre-approved has been corrupted by the credit card issuers.
The corruption of words continues on the back of the Chase sales letter.
Of course, it’s likely few recipients of the Chase offer ever read the disclosure copy that fills the back side of the letter and the separate disclosure insert.
The word corruption appears in footnote #1. It reads: “You will first be considered for a Visa Signature card. If you do not qualify for that product, you will automatically be considered for a Visa Platinum card, which has different fees, benefits, and credit availability.”
The word corruption occurs when something called a “Signature card” is positioned as being superior to a “Platinum card.”
When premium credit cards were first introduced by the major issuers in the 1970s, they were first labeled as “Gold” cards. When a second premium card was introduced it was labeled a “Platinum” card. So the more affluent consumers had their choice of a regular credit card, a Gold credit card, or the ultimate “Platinum” card.
This labeling made sense to everyone as we all understood that gold is very expensive and is used for the finest jewelry. And when a card superior to a Gold card was introduced, we all understood that Platinum is even superior to Gold.
Unfortunately, over the last 30 years of credit card marketing, word corruption has been rampant as issuers attempt to one-up each other by introducing more upscale cards. Each new upscale card requires use of a word that connotes wealth.
To me, the straw that broke the camel’s back as it relates to word corruption is when the marketing folks at American Express introduced the prestigious “Black card” also known as the “Centurion card.”
Today, the once-prestigious word “platinum” has been relegated to a middle-of-the pack credit card – or worse, in the case of the Chase offer. This fact is confirmed in the Chase package where the copy advises us that, “If approved for a Signature account, your credit access line will be at least $5,000. If approved for a Platinum account, your credit line will be at least $500.”
Needless to say, I was shocked by the lowly $500 credit line amount mentioned in the same sentence as the word “platinum.” Talk about word corruption.
In effect, the marketing folks in the Chase credit card group have destroyed the marketing value of the word “platinum.”
It’s unfortunate that they didn’t follow the lead of their counterparts in the Chase retail deposit group. Visiting the Chase website yesterday I learned that Chase currently offers three personal checking accounts, at least in California. They are:
Chase Checking (basic checking)
Chase Premier checking
Chase Premier Platinum (for affluent customers)
No word corruption here.
Lest you think this word corruption is limited to bank-issued credit cards, you should take some time to study the words being used to name the growing assortment of checking accounts, particularly among banks with multiple accounts aimed at different target market segments. It’s often tough to determine the target audience simply by seeing the name of the account.
Still, the award for word corruption today goes to bank card issuers as exemplified by the Chase example above.