In its first corporate ad campaign for six years, American Express is to run with a concept dreamed-up outside the environs of its longtime agency Ogilvy & Mather.

The campaign, into which Amex is ploughing over $100 million (€113.23m; £70.38m), will feature up to nine newly created TV commercials, plus a celeb-oriented print drive adorned with specially commissioned shots by famed photographer Annie Leibovitz.

But Amex lead agency O&M was not involved in the strategy underlying the campaign. This is the brainchild of freelance creative consultant Gordon Bowen and – even less to O&M's liking – Mark Downley of Momentum Worldwide, a unit of Interpublic that provides event marketing and promotional services for Amex.

Explains John Hayes, Amex executive vp global ad and brand management: “Part of my responsibility at American Express is to get the best talent to work on our business. That is why we draw from all our agencies strategically. We felt now is the time to really bring it back to a unified message.”

Why “... now is the time ...”? Perhaps because the value of the Amex brand increased last year only by a meager 5%, according to Interbrand. Of late, the company has accorded priority to tactical product-specific ads.

Also, reports media monitoring specialist CMR, Amex’s domestic adspend in 2001 dived 32% to $233.8 million, providing a ladder up which Visa International scrambled to the top-spender spot among US card issuers with $251.9m.

Despite this, Amex remains America’s largest general-purpose card issuer with $224.5 billion in total volume, although others are coming up the inside straight, according to the Nilson Report, a newsletter focussing on the credit-card industry. These include Citigroup with $196.57bn in total volume, while Bank One's First USA had $140.4bn.

Says Nilson Report president Dave Robertson: “Branding for the credit-card giants is critically important for everybody at this stage of the game.” He also observed that American Express now has significant competitors for its core card business.

Data sourced from: The Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff