Metabranding and Intermediation: A Response to Prof. Fleischer
23 Pages Posted: 12 Jun 2006 Last revised: 16 Sep 2008
This essay is a response to Prof. Victor Fleischer's analysis of the MasterCard IPO as part of a symposium on the topic hosted by the Harvard Negotiation Law Review. In his article, Prof. Fleischer contends that the structure of the MasterCard IPO -- in particular, for purposes of this essay, the decision to create a charitable foundation to hold a large block of MasterCard stock -- suggests that branding and antitrust concerns, rather than economics, were at the forefront.
This essay responds to Prof. Fleischer's assessment of the branding implications of the MasterCard IPO by considering, first, questions of audience. A corporation using its IPO structure to communicate something about the brand to the broader consumer market is not likely to be speaking to that market directly, given the presumably small overlap between consumers and IPO participants. In fact, I contend that the audience is in fact a third group through which much of the interpretive work is likely to occur and which will help intermediate this message: financial newspapers, brokers, and the like. If this is the case, then the factual disconnect between the branding message and the realities of implementation that concerns Prof. Fleischer -- i.e., whether MasterCard is in fact a charitable, public-minded organization -- becomes less important: the messenger creates the message. And because such branding intermediaries have a significant role to play in the creation of the brand, recognizing their importance -- in particular, their ability to disrupt the very brand message they are being asked to help create -- calls into question more fundamental trademark doctrines that depend, in part, on a stable brand meaning.
Keywords: MasterCard, branding, trademark, dilution
JEL Classification: M37, M31
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation