Letters

Vis-a-vis Visa
Allow me to offer insight on the history of the Visa account, mentioned in the article “Storming the Citadel” [News Analysis, Oct. 5].
As the last creative director for Visa’s in-house agency, my final assignment was to brief the agencies invited to pitch the account (when senior marketing management decided it wanted the comfort of a traditional outside agency).
As part of that briefing, we outlined the various strategies we employed–or tried to employ. With the country in recession in the early 1980s, the then senior management decreed that Americans weren’t concerned with traveling overseas. They wanted a warm and fuzzy Americana image for Visa. Internally, we argued this was wrong, that MasterCard (newly renamed from MasterCharge) was touting its universality and the real danger was American Express. Outspending Visa 3 to 1 on advertising and promotions, Amex was perceived by the public to be the best credit card.
In fact, several creative directors before me made the same argument. As a counterstrategy to Amex, it was obvious that Visa’s acceptance worldwide over Amex by more than five times was the way to go. But management ignored this information and was insistent. Consequently, MasterCard and Amex seriously encroached on Visa’s marketing lead.
By 1984, even management could see the error. We embarked on a new, competitive campaign, themed “Visa. All you need,” that showed how the card was accepted “around the corner, around the world.” But before we finished production, old management retired, new management (an ex-MasterCard man) took over and hired a new marketing director, whose background included a long tenure at American Express. He reapproved the new campaign, telling members of the in-house agency that Amex could never understand why Visa didn’t use its great advantage of “widespread acceptance” against Amex. It wasn’t for want of knowledge. In the end, the new marketing director, being a traditionalist, preferred an outside agency instead of Visa’s longtime policy of in-house work (much of it, I might add, award-winning, including a silver Lion at Cannes).
All this was relayed to the pitching agencies, including BBDO. They were all told what to do. Visa was already in the “upper echelon of credit cards.” What BBDO got to do was name names.
Tom Cammarata
Principal, creative director
Coyote Hill Advertising, Middletown, Calif.
For the Record
In Best Spots [Oct. 12], the creative-director credit for Jeep’s ad (titled “Mom”) was not originally provided by the agency, Bozell Worldwide. Colette Bukowicz handled the CD duties on the commercial.
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