Can Reloadable Debit Card Companies Learn From Coke’s Brand Marketing?

It looks like Coca-Cola did it again. Some may be too young to remember the 1985 “New Coke” incident where they changed the formula and packaging that so many people thought of as a staple in their culinary lives. It didn’t take long for Coke to put the kabosh on the new campaign and actually turn a blunder into a marketing cuo by re-branding the original into Coke Classic and pretty much keeping the same can design. Every holiday season, for the past several years Coke has kept the classic “red” can theme, but designed in various Christmas-themed images. This year they decided to team up with the World Wildlife Fund in a global warming awareness program and design a white can depicting Polar Bears in their threatened Arctic habitat. Is this marketing genius or branding faux pas?

According to Coke’s spokespeople, the company really wanted to shake things up this season and get consumer’s attention. Well, it worked, although many consumers hated the new can so much that Coke is pulling the packaging before it really took hold. Reasons why include – similarity to Diet Coke silver cans, product “blasphemy” by changing from red to white cans and some people even thought the taste was different (unbelievable…).

Given the infancy of the prepaid debit card industry, there aren’t companies with as solid of a loyal consumer base as Coke yet. Maybe Green Dot and their MoneyPak branding comes close. Russell Simmons and now, Lil Wayne are making valiant efforts with the RushCard Visa and the Young Money Discover Card although time will tell if their branding can stick for the long term. We don’t even need to discuss celebrity branding disasters like the Kardashian Kard, do we? Obviously, Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Discover all have strong brand images but cut across too many different product lines to be effective in the smaller prepaid realm. Walmart’s MoneyCard, Western Union’s MoneyWise Mastercard and ACE Express’ cards all have relatively strong brand images, but similar to the ubiquitous network branded conduits, the images get diluted with other products in the mix (credit cards, for example).

With over 60 million people using prepaid cards in some form as a financial tool, it would seem that more people would actually understand the products better. I am amazed how many people don’t even know what a prepaid debit card is and how many others don’t distinguish the difference between reloadable prepaid cards and gift cards. As time passes and technology continues to illuminate the industry, it is apparent to me that prepaid will continue to make a bigger mark and maybe even someday, players will emerge with the branding power of a Coca-Cola.

Tracy Jones is a content contributor for, which provides information about prepaid products, including the Mango MasterCard.

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