Over the past 18 months, Visa's Elizabeth Silver quite unexpectedly has emerged as a champion for an unpopular cause: branding on the Internet.
Many high-profile marketers still gripe that banners constrain advertising messages. Not so, says the 46-year-old Silver: "I think of the Internet totally as a marketing tool. It's another outlet for branding."
With little fanfare, Visa has maintained a near-constant online presence since the 1996 Olympic Summer Games, peppering the medium with a volley of online ad buys that place the credit card company in the rank of top 30 Web advertisers, according to a variety of industry trackers. A sponsor of this year's Winter Games in Japan, Visa has been building up its Olympic arsenal since early 1997, when it dispatched a team of journalists and photographers to Nagano to collect insights into Japanese culture that it could use to brighten up visa.com.
And it's Silver's job to make certain surfers pay a visit. "We've devoted considerable resources to building this content, so we think it's a good idea for people to see it," says Silver, vice president of advertising for Visa U.S.A., San Francisco. Silver's strategy has been to corner the market with sponsorships and banner buys on the top sports sites for what is sure to be the biggest wired event of the year. Olympics junkies who need to know how the Americans fared in the two-man luge competition or when to tune into see Tara Lipinski's short program will find Visa everywhere they go on sites such as ESPN SportsZone and CBS SportsLine.
Silver is no stranger to integrated marketing; in her years as an account manager at Grey Advertising, Los Angeles, she worked on accounts such as Bank of America and Caesars World Resorts. "The way we approach our sponsorships, there's always a crossover with platforms to signage, advertising, promotions, P.R.," says the nine-year Visa vet. "Now online is a bullet on the list."
Visa's dedication to the wired world can best be explained in one phrase: online commerce. If it explodes on the consumer level, as many predict, Silver expects credit cards to become the de facto currency. "If this is going to be a medium that grows in terms of its penetration and use," she says, "then we want to make sure that we're there."