Diners Club enters credit-card fray Advertising targets business travelers


NEW YORK -- After keeping a low profile through most of the credit card wars, Diners Club is about to go on the offensive.

Next week, the Citicorp unit will launch an ad campaign designed to position Diners Club as the best choice for business travelers.

The campaign will be the first under Robert Rosseau, a Citicorp marketing executive who became chief executive officer of Diners Club late last year.

The company is taking aim at people who take 10 or more business trips a year. The campaign will consist of 60-second commercials on airlines' in-flight video programs, two-page ads in airline magazines, and airport billboards.

Previous ad programs at Diners Club, though small, were designed for a much broader travel market.

"It has to do with understanding your resources," Mr. Rosseau said in an interview this week. "It would be difficult for us to be all things for all people."

Business travel is "a niche in T&E; that we are good at."

The campaign, created by Foote, Cone and Belding of Chicago, positions Citicorp Diners Club Inc. as a direct competitor of American Express Travel Related Services Co., the clear leader in the huge business travel and entertainment market.

Sporting the tag line, "If you're not using Diners Club, you're missing the points," the ads tout Club Rewards, a marketing program akin to frequent-flier programs.

Club Rewards, which lets cardholders earn frequent-flier points, was introduced in 1985. American Express came out with a similar program, Membership Miles, this year.

According to Rosseau, who worked at American Express in the early 1980s, Club Rewards is superior to Membership Miles, mainly because more major carriers participate. They include American, TWA, United and USAir.

A spokeswoman for American Express said its program is better because cardholders can earn more miles for each dollar they charge.

"Competitive promotions don't faze us," said another spokeswoman for American Express. "We have won a number of new accounts against tough competition."

American Express has relationships with 88 Fortune 100 companies, she said. Diners Club does business with 256 of the Fortune 500, Mr. Rosseau said.

American Express does not disclose how many of its 36.5 million cards are corporate cards. It is believed to dominant the business travel market, not only through cards issued for specific companies but also because many of its individual cardholders routinely charge business expenses on American Express.

Diners Club was established in 1950, making it the nation's first charge card not tied to a single merchant. Today the company has 6.9 million cardholders, and it reported $16 billion in sales last year.

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