Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Black Edition Is The New Extreme

Once upon a time in the mid-1980s, American Express came up with a special credit card for its most elite, high-profile cardmembers. They quietly introduced a very exclusive card called the "Centurion card" which was shrouded in secrecy during its earliest days.Rumors about this new credit card began circulating in the late 1980s, and a 1988 article by the Wall Street Journal finally cleared up the controversy. The card was discontinued afterwards, but consumer interest in the card was so strong that it was reintroduced in 1999.

To understand what all the fuss is about, I need to explain that the Centurion card is not just another credit card, it is *THE* credit card. Here are several ways in which the Centurion card is different from ordinary cards:

-It was originally not available to the general public. It was offered only to high-profile AmEx Platinum card members who met specific criteria and spending habits established by American Express. A few thousand cards were issued to high rollers such as Hollywood celebrities and Fortune 500 CEOs.

-The privilege of carrying a Centurion card came at an exorbitant annual fee of $1,000 per year (now $2,500).

-Third, the card included a 24-hour worldwide concierge service for its cardholders. The service helped wealthy cardholders make travel arrangements and other personal services including private shopping and dining.

To carry a Centurion Card was to be treated like royalty with special VIP lounges at airports and nightclubs. In addition to VIP treatment, it was rumored that the card simply did not have a credit limit at all. Customers have used Centurion cards for everything from charter jets to exotic car purchases.

When you take all of this into account, you can see that the Centurion card, or "Black Card" as it is commonly known, really is the ultimate credit card. But this isn't a rant about credit cards for people with excessively lavish lifestyles. It's about other companies borrowing from the mystique and the success of the Centurion card in an endless game of "me-too!"

In recent years, the number of consumer products being marketed with the moniker "Black" has exploded. Today, the word word "Black" comes with the implication that what you're buying is the absolute finest product the company makes; its halo product, its gleaming signature creation. This is a trend that transcends multiple industries and products. Take the following list of products for example:

Mercedes-Benz CLK-63 AMG Black Series (link)
Mercedes-Benz SL-65 AMG Black Series (link)
Audi A3 Black Edition (link)
Brabus Unimog U500 Black Edition (link)
MSI N260GTX Lightning Black Edition Video Card (link)
AMD Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition Quad-Core Processor (link)
Western Digital Caviar Black Edition Hard Drive 1TB (link)
Need For Speed: Most Wanted: Black Edition (PC) (link)
Painkiller: Black Edition (PC) (link)
Nokia N96 Black Edition (link)

Ten years after its introduction, the original Centurion card is everywhere in popular culture thanks to celebrity interviews, rap music lyrics, and even magazine ads! A wealth of information about the Centurion card is now available online. Competing credit card companies have responsed with their own versions of the card, including Visa who actually calls theirs the "Black Card."

The elite status once required to attain a Centurion card has diminished, and in its place we have just another credit card with requirements easily met by many small businesses, entrepreneurs, executives, and celebrities. In its wake, we have a wide range of products in various industries seeking to capitalize on the success of the "Black Edition" name.

I think it's time we put this whole "Black Edition" trend to rest for good, but I know that somehow the replacement catchphrase will be even worse.