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Culture on Demand: Black is Beautiful
The American Express black card is the ultimate status symbol
By STAN STALNAKER

December 1, 2000
Web posted at 9:20 p.m. Hong Kong time, 8:20 a.m. EDT


 INTERACTIVE  
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Over the past few months mysterious little black boxes have started arriving in some of the more posh mailboxes around town, causing quite a stir among the tai-tai set to see who gets the goods. In this case, the sender is American Express, who have quietly launched their new premium status symbol: the black Centurion, for card-carrying members of the consumer elite. Available in the U.K, Hong Kong, and soon, America, a few thousand cards are now in circulation.

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The story behind today's news from the editors of Asiaweek

First of all, you can't just "apply today" for this little piece of smart plastic. Only American Express top customers are offered this "invitation only" experience -- and even then they don't order it. It simply arrives one day in the mail, presented in a svelte box complete with padding and a nice, velvety scent. It may not be diamonds, but it sure can get you some. The card, which has no credit limit (it has been rumored to purchase Porsches on the spot), conforms to American Express traditional payment options, and I?m guessing that if you are the type who only pays the monthly interest on your balance, you're probably not on their list.

Anyway, the introduction of the card is now old news. What's interesting is whether or not people are getting value from the card. In this case, the usual spiel of card benefits reads like a lifestyle guide. For the busy traveler, you get access into any airport lounge, reduced fare companion airline tickets, $640,000 in travel insurance, trip cancellation coverage, and exclusive hotel privileges. Members can even receive upgrades at smart locations like the Mandarin Oriental, Four Seasons, Banyan Tree and Hyatt. Not bad for the little Centurion.

Then, when you've got a few moments to spare, private clubs around the world will open their doors with a flash of the card, and DKNY, Cerrutti, Celine and Valentino will arrange for private after-hours shopping sessions.

Must be nice, all those benefits, but do members really use them? The answer of course varies, but in principle, it?s "no, not really." If you've got the card, you don't need all the fluff. This baby is about status, pure and simple. American Express declines to elaborate on additional applications being developed for the card, but does confirm it is working on new member benefits. Which begs the question: what next?

Umm, may we suggest the following:

An Alert: notifying users that they've just forgotten their purse or wallet in a taxi, before it drives away.

Buyers Remorse Insurance: allow users to return the Jimmy Choo sandals that looked really great in Seibu, but make them slide on those marble floors in the office lobby -- after they are scuffed.

A Companion Finder: with all that time spent making money to pay off the card, who has time to find a suitable companion for spa weekends at the Banyan Tree? Shouldn't there be some sort of matchmaking service to introduce us to other black cardholders? This could set new standards in terms of partnership marketing.

Event Service: Automatically send friends and business acquaintances flowers on pre-set occasions (birthday, anniversary). Heaven knows how busy everyone is -- they'll understand as long as it comes with your digital signature.

Duty Free Allowance Increase: Just imagine how your buying power in Dubai would improve. It could almost justify a trip there to shop.

Make it high gloss: A little hair tease and tooth picking will hardly get noticed when done in the shiny gleam of that black gloss finish.

It's really no surprise that this product will continue to do well in Asia, and with the clever premium positioning presented by American Express, it won't be long before someone tries to outdo it.

Black is back, and it has something the person with everything wants: MORE OF EVERYTHING.

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