Never Lie to a Market Researcher

When I was very young, I used to have a Barclaycard. Despite the fact that I didn't have tuppence to rub together, and a fundamentally incontinent credit history, they gave me the card in the hopes that I might one day Amount to Something. I had my own credit limit, of, oh, fifty pounds or so, which I was careful never to exceed. I paid it off every month, or at least most months, like you do, and I didn't pay a fee, and it seemed like having a credit card was a useful thing.

Some years later, Barclaycard decided that giving people like me something for nothing was a bad idea, and they introduced an annual fee. I objected, but they explained that if I wasn't happy, then I could cancel the card at any time over the following year, and they would refund the fee. So I paid the fee, and kept the card, and considered the matter. And then I discovered the National and Provincial Visa card. It didn't have a fee. It gave me a bigger credit limit. It had my photo and signature electronically etched into the back of the card. But these features were not what attracted me to it. Oh, no. What attracted me to the N&P Visa card was that you could choose the design you wanted on the card from a range, and that one of the designs in the range had penguins on it. I suddenly realised that I had always wanted a credit card with penguins on it. Several penguins, wambling gently across a glacier.

Once I was safely in possession of an N&P credit card with penguins on it, I cut up my Barclaycard, popped it into an envelope, enclosed a cheque for the outstanding balance less the fee, and sent it off to them. And I thought no more of it.

A few weeks later, the phone rang. The woman at the other end explained she was a market researcher, and she wanted to know why I had cut up my Barclaycard and sent it back. And I bottled out. I told her I was upset about the fee, and I told her that the interest rate was better with the N&P card. I remarked on the impressive new security features. I didn't tell her that the real reason I'd sent back my Barclaycard was that I wanted a credit card with penguins on it. And she seemed quite happy with my answers, and went away.

And I've used my N&P Visa card ever since. I've had hundreds of discussions with shopkeepers about what a good design it is, and how much better than other, boring, credit cards. It gives me a little frisson of delight whenever I use it. "How would you like to pay for that?" "Eventually," says Alison, ripping off the best line in Against A Dark Background. But a few weeks ago, N&P were taken over by Abbey National. Abbey National are a large and very serious Bank, and they don't have anything as frivolous as penguins. So I got a letter from them the other day, explaining that when my current card expired, the replacement would be an Abbey National Visa Card, with the Abbey National logo. And no penguins.

So, I can't help thinking, if only I'd told that market researcher that the key decision for me in choosing a credit card was the opportunity to keep a picture of penguins in my wallet, would things have been different?

-- Alison Scott

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