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Credit cards now a colorful business

March 02, 2009

I'm really digging on this new black Visa card, the credit card that is so upscale, so exclusive, that you can only obtain one -- you can only obtain one, and I want to stress this -- if you have $495 and a pulse.

It also helps if you value status more than money.

While it's advertised that only 1 percent of the population will qualify, Consumerism Commentary says it's heard reports that people with average credit scores and low incomes can receive one, as long as they are willing to pony up the 495 bones in annual fees.

"This is not what you would expect from a card that claims to be super-exclusive, but it's bound to make certain people feel good about themselves," its Web site dryly notes.

What? You mean the common clay can score a Visa black? Fie! Who wants it if any old Archie Bunker can put his Pabst on a black credit card? That's not the image the card is fishing for -- in its own ads, the company tries to portray exclusivity by saying the card "is not for everyone."

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Or, as Stephen Colbert says, "Visa: It's everywhere you want to be -- unless that place is a Jimmy Buffett concert."

I've always been interested in the credit card companies' color fetish, as they scramble to appeal to populations' most shallow and insecure elements.

First there were the standard credit card company colors. Then there was the silver card, then the gold card, then the platinum card, which looked a lot like the silver card, really.

Then we went through the minerals: Ruby, turquoise, amber. Now it's carbon, so I guess we're back to the credit card periodic table. Personally, I'm holding out for the uranium card that can charge at Macy's by day and blow up small nations by night.

American Express had that clear card which, from what I've seen, was about as successful as clear cola.

But I can believe that just about anyone can get a black card, if it matters that much to them. If my household is any indication, you would never know we're in the middle of a severe credit crunch. We still get about three credit card offers a day in the mail, as well as plenty of low-interest checks and announcements of "Congratulations, your credit limit has just been increased."

But unless you wear it around your neck at cocktail parties, I'm not sure who the black card is really supposed to impress -- the single mom with three kids who's moonlighting at a clothing store?

"That will be $34.95."

"OK, here's my exclusive black Visa card that represents my elevated financial ..."

"Hey, speed it up, will ya? I'm late for my smoke break."

The card does offer a "concierge" service you can call to handle the niggling details of life. Here is an actual example, as envisioned by AdSavvy:

You are on a resort island when a massive storm shuts down the airport, canceling all commercial flights. You call the concierge, who arranges for a charter flight that, at an admittedly steep cost, whisks you away from the mayhem.

OK. Could happen. I'm thinking that I might have done something totally nuts before I debarked for said island, like checking the 10-day weather forecast. If I see a major hurricane bearing down on the island, I might be convinced not to go in the first place.

But I suppose rich people don't think that way. They might consider the possibility of paying the storm to take another route. They can put it on their black card.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324, or via e-mail at timr@herald-mail.com.

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