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Visa Sees a Golden Opportunity in Beijing

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Visa has been the official payment service at the last 11 Olympics, and a top-tier partner of the International Olympic Committee since 1986. But events over the past year have repositioned Visa's business and marketing dynamics regarding the Summer Games in Beijing. In June 2007, Visa became the exclusive financial services marketing partner of FIFA (Federation International Football Assn.), giving it global rights to the World Cup, which, added to the Olympics, aligned Visa with the world's two biggest sports events. In November, Visa named nine-year PepsiCo executive Antonio Lucio as its first global CMO. And in March, Visa, San Francisco, raised $17.9 billion in an IPO, per the company. Lucio spoke with Brandweek about Visa's Olympic efforts, including a campaign that broke in May, "Go World," via TBWA\Chiat\Day, Los Angeles, featuring such athletes as Michael Phelps and Kerri Strug. Visa spent more than $360.4 million in media in 2007, per Nielsen Monitor-Plus (not including online).

Brandweek: What unique challenges and opportunities do you see in Beijing?
Antonio Lucio: Visa has a strong Olympics partnership history and alliance with both the IOC and USOC. I was also involved with the Olympics when I was with PepsiCo. So from experience I can say that each Olympics has challenges and opportunities that are unique to those Games. But in looking at China and Asia, we saw that the dynamics of the business in that particular market were not going to be as they had been in previous Olympics.

For Visa, there are two fundamental challenges associated with these Games. This is our first Olympics since our IPO. So we are looking at a significant increase in marketing on a global, rather than regional, context and a new approach to defining ROI and measuring sponsorship on a global basis. Visa is a global brand with global acceptance. That always has been a cornerstone of our business. But with the Olympics, and also I would say with FIFA, we are taking a more vigorous approach to standardize and define our numbers around the world and to prove that we can deliver ROI. Another challenge is that we are a relatively small business in China, where [the category] is pretty much controlled by domestic companies and is controlled by the central government. But with properties like the Olympics we have opportunities to develop the category [there] in the long-term.

BW: How will you make your message resonate so that consumers will remember what Visa is saying?
AL: You address that by the different programs you have in each area of the world. We have a promotion in 66 countries offering Visa cardholders the opportunity to win a trip to the Olympics. In Asia we are featuring [Chinese basketball legend and NBA star] Yao Ming and [actor] Jackie Chan in promotional and ad campaigns. In China, Visa has installed more than 90,000 ATMs and [we have] 216,000 merchant locations. We also invited people in Asia to submit photos to a "Visa Moving Images" Web site that showed their vision of the Olympic theme, "Faster. Higher. Stronger." In the U.S., we launched "Go World" to honor our historical affiliation with the Olympics and to celebrate the Olympic spirit. Given that we just came out of a U.S.-driven IPO, this is a statement of our brand aspirational values and our global presence.

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