Joyce King Thomas on How ‘Priceless’ Became a Meme Before There Were Memes


Joyce King Thomas is the mastermind behind Mastercard’s iconic “Priceless” campaign, which marked it 20th anniversary this year. She also played a role in shepherding the world-renown ‘Fearless Girl’ campaign into existence. 

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Thomas, whose creative career started at a time when there were few female senior creative leaders in the business, first joined McCann Erickson New York in 1995 and ascended to the role of Chief Creative Officer.


 

Today, she leads XBC (ExtraBoldCondensed), a unit of McCann that leads all of MasterCard’s global marketing efforts, from advertising to digital and events.

She’ll will be making her way to Asia as Grand Jury President at AdFest 2018.

Barbara Messer recently spoke with Thomas about her work, the importance of diverse leadership and the meme before there were memes.


“Priceless” was a meme before there were memes. What were the biggest challenges in growing this from a seed of an idea into a global campaign?  

This year is the 20th anniversary of the priceless campaign, and the McCann/Mastercard relationship. I wrote the very first Priceless ad with my partner during the pitch for the business and, except for a couple years when I took a break, I’ve been guiding Mastercard creative around the world since then.


 

We’ve seen in research study after research study that organizations perform better when they have diverse leadership. So, it’s not just nice for women to have leadership roles, it’s crucial.

Priceless became a meme for three reasons. It was a built on an insight emerging in culture – that things were not as valuable as experiences – so it felt true.  Second, it was disruptive for a financial company to talk about the things money can’t buy. And third, it was fun and easy to imitate. Anybody and everybody could and did write priceless ads. 

You have said that ‘Fearless Girl’ for State Street took a “herculean effort” to create. What was your role in helping to make the impossible happen for this campaign?

I didn’t come up with Fearless Girl. But I did help shepherd her through some of her challenges. I can’t mention most of them, but suffice to say we had a very brave client!

I worked closely with State Street as we launched and I was cheering at dawn down on Wall Street when Fearless Girl took her spot. It was a day I won’t forget. Nor will I ever forget how people all over the world reacted to her.

It’s an interesting time to be talking about leadership. Do you think it’s important for females in advertising to have strong female mentors?

We’ve seen in research study after research study that organizations perform better when they have diverse leadership. So, it’s not just nice for women to have leadership roles, it’s crucial.

I was cheering at dawn down on Wall Street when Fearless Girl took her spot. It was a day I won’t forget. Nor will I ever forget how people all over the world reacted to her.

I had a great role model in Nina DiSesa (former Chief Creative Officer of McCann New York). Watching her taught me that there’s not one way to lead—and that you can lead heart first. 

You studied journalism before pursuing a career in advertising. What are you reading/writing now? 

The NY TimesThe Guardian and New Yorker are my everyday go-tos. But my true love is fiction. My favorite recent book is A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. And before that, The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson, a magical story set in North Korea.

How does New York inspire you?

Every day, this city grabs you by the shoulders and tells you that anything is possible.

What are you most looking forward to about overseeing next year’s judging process at AdFest, where you’ll be Grand Jury President? 

The opportunity to see and debate Asia’s best work alongside talented people from all over the world at a beach town in Thailand was irresistible. The theme of the show—Transformation—is perfect, and I look forward to seeing how this diverse and culturally rich region is reinventing what we do. I also can’t wait to meet the people behind that reinvention.

 

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