You’ve no doubt heard the tagline more times than you can remem­ber, and chances are it’s felt fresh every time. What is it about MasterCard’s ubiq­ui­tous “Price­less” cam­paign that res­onates not just with con­sumers but also with the three Mas­ter­Card CMOs who have reigned dur­ing the ini­tia­tive? And what has enabled the mes­sag­ing to main­tain a fresh­ness and con­sumer appeal after nearly 17 years? Can any­thing live up to “Price­less” in terms of longevity and uni­ver­sal­ity? It’s not just 17 years, but 50 lan­guages and 102 coun­tries, too.

First and fore­most, “Price­less” is about cre­at­ing emo­tional moments, and the cam­paign has done this by tap­ping into some­thing sim­ple: peo­ple don’t have the time or the finan­cial means to cre­ate those truly spec­tac­u­lar moments.

Or do they?

Not only did the cam­paign bring cher­ished moments to the fore­ground, it posi­tioned these moments as both uni­ver­sal and highly acces­si­ble by alle­vi­at­ing any post­pur­chase guilt. The tick­ets to a base­ball game, hot dogs, and auto­graphed base­ball are the investment—and after the money’s spent, the pay­off is the real con­ver­sa­tion with your son.

Another tro­phy in the case? Sure. But more impor­tantly, it was truly the first—and one of the most innovative—viral cam­paigns in his­tory. The “Price­less” cam­paign launched in 1997, long before the age of social media, but peo­ple still knew about dad and son and the auto­graphed base­ball. It was a big idea that res­onated and social­ized the old-fashioned way, with­out the crutch of now-universal viral tac­tics to give it wings. When “Price­less” started, Mas­ter­Card couldn’t really gauge its suc­cesses the way we can today. There was no defin­i­tive assess­ment to say “they say this cam­paign and this many con­sumers went on to apply for a card.” Today we have those tools and count­less oth­ers. We can dive into the met­rics for this and any other print, dig­i­tal, broad­cast, social, or mobile cam­paign and fig­ure out ways for it to run far­ther and faster.

As social media ramped up so, too, did MasterCard’s enve­lope push­ing. In 2011, the com­pany took seats from the old Yan­kee Sta­dium, affixed QR codes, and stuck them near leg­endary New York City spots, dri­ving con­sumers to check in on Face­book Places, back when both tech­nolo­gies were rel­a­tive new­com­ers. As part of the same “Price­less Cities” ini­tia­tive, Mas­ter­Card curated a series of truly exclu­sive events (think rehears­ing with the Rock of Ages cast), help­ing card­hold­ers cre­ate those in-ad expe­ri­ences in their own lives.

The mar­ket­ing cam­paign con­tin­ues through 2013 and, no doubt, will forge ahead in 2014 and beyond. Mas­ter­Card, as well as any other inte­grated brand, is in a unique posi­tion at the inter­sec­tion of mea­sur­ing suc­cess and push­ing even harder against those met­rics to achieve some­thing truly great and long last­ing. Mas­ter­Card could even look to break its cam­paign into smaller, equally pow­er­ful calls to action to fur­ther hit on spe­cific goals of the orga­ni­za­tion and enable the core cam­paign to live on in new, unique formats.

It’s a pow­er­ful thing to think about: longevity and con­stantly re-evaluating and re-imagining suc­cess. Mas­ter­Card has done it in a seem­ingly flaw­less for­mat for close to two decades. Think about how you’re putting together your brand assets now and in the year ahead. Are they work­ing as hard as they pos­si­bly can for you? Are you mea­sur­ing your suc­cesses, and push­ing even harder against those suc­cess met­rics? What are your cam­paign goals, today and tomor­row? Map­ping out long-term strate­gies and con­stantly re-imagining and re-assessing are critical—even “price­less,” perhaps.