On the eve of the 2010 Winter Olympics, athletes, fans and consumers from around the world are converging on Vancouver for more than two weeks of competition. Also focusing on Vancouver are companies seeking to connect with the billions of people who will be focusing on the Games. Among them, Visa is one of just nine top tier partners of the IOC, which, as Visa global CMO Antonio Lucio explains, is a role the company embraces with a mixture of pride, passion and business acumen.
By Barry Janoff, Executive Editor
(Posted February 10, 2010)
Visa has been an Olympic sponsor since 1986, using both the Summer and Winter Games to build brand loyalty among consumers and spur engagement and participation among clients, banks and merchants. As a top tier worldwide partner of the International Olympic Committee, Visa is the exclusive payment card of the Olympics, and has exclusive category rights to all 205 National Olympic Committees and their Olympic teams. That includes advertising and promotional use of Olympic marks and imagery from the Olympic Games as well as marks from the National and International Olympic Committees.
To epitomize how vital the Olympic alliance is to the company, Visa, which also is an official partner of the U.S. Olympic Committee, recently extended its contract with the IOC to become just one of three worldwide partners, along with Omega and Coca-Cola, whose current deals run through 2020. (The other top tier IOC partners are Altos Origin, Panasonic and Samsung, whose current deals run through 2016; and Acer, GE and McDonald's, whose current deals run through 2012).
Activation behind the 2010 Games, which run from Feb. 12-28, is being spear headed by Visa's first global Olympic-themed campaign, "Go World." The effort is the next generation of a "Go World" campaign created for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing that had focused on the U.S. market, and also incorporates elements from Visa's first global brand campaign, "More People Go With Visa," which launched in March 2009. For the 2010 Olympics, elements of the "Go World" campaign will reach 21 markets and have been localized in Canada, Russia, Japan, Korea, China and Latin Americas. In the U.S., the effort includes as many as ten TV spots; dedicated Internet destinations including Facebook, Twitter, Visa's own GoWorld.Visa.com and YouTube, where Visa has been breaking such ads as “Team Visa,” “Lindsey Jacobellis,” “Julia Mancuso,” “Alexi Salamone,” “Bobsled” and "Zhangs” prior to airing on national TV; extensive on-site activation in Vancouver; experiential marketing in New York and San Francisco, where Visa is headquartered; and a "Trip for Life" sweepstakes offering as a grand prize a trip to every Winter Olympics for the life of the winner beginning with the 2014 Games in Sochi. Visa's lead agency is TBWA Worldwide.
Also integral to "Go World" are the current and former Olympic and Paralympic athletes who make up Team Visa, whose stories are being told via the campaign's multitude of elements. Among those on Team Visa USA are Julia Mancuso (alpine skiing), Lindsey Jacobellis (snowboard, snowboard cross), Ryan St. Onge (freestyle skiing, aerials), Angela Ruggiero (ice hockey), Alexi Salamone (ice sledge hockey) and Dan Jansen, who won a gold medal in speed skating at the 1994 Winter Games in Lillehammer, Norway.
Antonio Lucio, global CMO for Visa, spoke with NYSportsJournalism.com in the subway station below Grand Central Terminal in New York, where Visa set up a viewing area during the first week of February that included an 8' x 14' flat-screen TV showing its Olympic ads in 3D, 3D wall posters, stair risers, wall wraps and Dan Jansen in person.
NYSportsJournalism.com: This is about the most interesting thing I've seen in the New York Subway in quite a while.
Antonio Lucio: A lot of people are stopping to watch our ads, find out about our involvement with the Olympics, talk to Dan Jansen, so it is a great way for Visa to get the 'Go World' message out there.
NYSJ: What is the importance of having Olympic athletes such as Dan Jansen play a major role in the Visa campaign?
AL: The Olympic Games are all about the athletes, and what we celebrate is human achievement. Behind every athlete there is a great story, and we like to associate our brand with those particular stories.
NYSJ: Part of the challenge would have to be that Olympic athletes seem to be top of mind with the general public only once every four years.
AL: That's right. That's why we have athletes such as Dan Jansen and Julie Mancuso, because they have stories that certainly focus on the Olympics but go well beyond that. People can relate to their stories and what they have accomplished, so it's not just an Olympic story but a story that reaches people on a personal level.
NYSJ: How have consumers reacted so far to the 'Go World' campaign?
AL: We have been doing this for more than 20 years, so we have all sorts of data from which we can actually demonstrate which effort works the best. We did a 'Go World' campaign in the U.S, for Beijing, and that campaign connected best with consumers when it came to increasing relative equities for the brand. In the year after Beijing we looked for ways to build our marketing for the Olympics around the world in order to take better advantage of our presence as a global company. So this is the first time that Visa is using a global campaign for the Olympics.
NYSJ: What has been the impact of having the Olympics in Vancouver as opposed to Beijing, which was a location that a lot of people in North America did not fully know or understand?
AL: In this situation we are talking about North America. In Canada, which is a very important market for us, the campaign works very well. In the U.S., which is our biggest market, it also works very well. We are also leveraging the property across 21 markets. So in markets such as Japan, Korea, you have to do a little more explaining. Almost the opposite of what we needed to do with the Summer Games in 2008, where people in Asia knew about Beijing and China; in this case, Vancouver and Canada would not be as well known to them.
NYSJ: There obviously have been many changes in marketing since 1986, but what are the changes that have impacted Visa the most in activating for the 2010 Games?
AL: Several things. In 1986, the main focus was TV and billboards. Now, foremost, we can leverage our global property in a global way. Also, we are leveraging much more of the promotional components of the asset. This year we are spending about 50% of our messaging against consumer promotions. Consumers are telling us that value is important. And there is a lot more focus on the digital world. So this time around, not only did we do the TV campaign and a microsite, we also have a YouTube channel. We are releasing all of our commercials there first. We also have a Facebook page, with sections for each of our individual Visa athletes so that consumers can access first-hand experiences while the athletes are preparing and competing during the Olympics. We are personalizing these pages, so for example consumers can download songs that the athletes are actually listening to while they are training. We are listening to our consumers and providing them with as many options and elements as we can to personalize the Olympic experience.
"We have credibility with the [Olympics] from a consumer standpoint. So we can present our brand as being an integral part of the Olympic experience."
NYSJ: Is part of the challenge as a financial firm not wanting your message to consumers to come across as Visa is selling the Olympics?
AL: In 1986, the message was 'acceptance,' that Visa has exclusivity as the card of the Olympics. That was at a time when that was an important business objective. Now, because we have been doing this for 24 years, we have credibility with the [Olympics] from a consumer standpoint. So we can present our brand as being an integral part of the Olympic experience. To the extent that we are able do that successfully, our campaign works. We also have to remember that when you are part of the Olympics, which is the focus of the global community, the goal is not just to be best-in-class within the financial services and financial network category. People are looking at world-class companies such as Coca-Cola and McDonald's and seeing what they are doing. So the bar is pretty high.
NYSJ: Visa recently extended its partnership with the International Olympic Committee through 2020, and are only one of three to have such a long-term deal. What are the benefits and challenges of that alliance?
AL: This is not our first renewal with IOC, but it is the first time we renewed as a publicly traded company. So the level of accountability and focus on return on investment is exponentially higher for us now. We went through a very extensive analysis to demonstrate that our association with the Olympic Games would drive transactions across the markets in which we are activating; drive the level of engagement and participation by our clients, banks and merchants; and, as important, would drive the equity of our brand. So because we have enough data from 24 years of experience, we were able to demonstrate that every time we leverage the Olympic Games, our levels of brand equity grow.
NYSJ: Ten years ago there was no Facebook, YouTube or Twitter for companies to include in their marketing plans, so there is no way to know what might be at your disposal ten years from now at the 2020 Olympics.
AL: That is part of the challenge and the reward: Being a global company, working with the IOC, the USOC and growing the Olympic experience and our brand equity on a global basis.
NYSJ: The next Olympic Games will be 2012 in London. How far advanced are Visa's plans to activate behind them?
AL: We work on four-year cycles. So in the case of London we already are halfway into our cycle and preparations. We have sent the infrastructure piece, the signage location piece, the relationship with the banks piece, the relationship with the London tourism authorities. What we need to work on over the next two years is the commercialization aspects. And the preparation for the next Winter Olympics in Sochi in 2014 will begin [in earnest] right after the Vancouver Games are over. In fact, we already are working with some of our banks in Russia to leverage our property there. There are all types of long-term preparations that need to happen: You need a network of banks that will leverage the property. You need a relationship with the tourism authorities. Plus you need to build infrastructure.
NYSJ: What are the challenges of doing all of this in the current economy?
AL: Several things. Efficiency and effectiveness rule every decision that we make. So that made the move toward a global approach to drive synergies more important. Also, it made the move toward the Internet more significant because there are higher returns on investment and higher levels of accountability there. It also made the move toward more promotions vital, because consumers are expecting higher levels of value. And there is a higher degree of focus on the rational benefits of our products, particularly in the case of debit.
NYSJ: How does the economy look from Visa's point of view?
AL: We are seeing what the rest of the market is seeing. Signs of improvement, signs of improvement in transactions, improvements in debit, slow improvement in credit, improvement in cross-border around the world. We are cautiously optimistic. But we can see the economy coming back.