Thursday, October 13, 2005

Leaving home without it.

Speaking of mysteriously awesome brands, I miss my Platinum Card.

I cut it up and sent it back to American Express a few months ago when it was turned down for the umpteenth time by a merchant who didn’t like paying their vig. I’d been feeling stupid about having it for years. Paying an annual fee to carry it around, all the while knowing that I had to carry a second card just in case. I didn’t even feel special anymore: They say right out loud on their web site that you only need to make $60,000 a year to qualify. That’s an average household income, give or take a big screen TV. No status, no special treatment, no end to the junk mail, and no guarantee you’ll even be able to use the damned thing.

And yet.

That bad boy used to shine out of my wallet like a mighty beacon of plutocracy. Whipping it out in a restaurant would capitalize the ‘s’ in ‘Sir’ faster than you could say Karl Malden. The envious sidelong glances at hotel check-ins were to die for. If you had one, it was evidence that there was more to you than mere means. You might actually be somebody.

I guess brands can invent their own mythologies, and few have ever done a better job than American Express did. Decades later, it lingers: The great ads, the rumors of the card’s ‘no limit’ omnipotence, and the seminal question, “Do you know me?” Pure gold. Or platinum. Undimmed by the ruthless gutting of its original value proposition. A hall of famer for sure.

American Express, alas, does not know me, as it turns out. A few weeks after I canceled my Platinum Card, they cheerfully advised me I’d been pre-approved for a Gold Card. Straight into the shredder.

Still, I thought wistfully afterward, they do have that cool new ‘Do you know me?’-redux ad campaign with Robert DeNiro and Kate Winslet and Tiger Woods. I bet they get respect in restaurants. And I heard there’s even a black card, now… look, AmEx, call me and we’ll talk. No hard feelings.

It’ll be just like old times.

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