Visa Seeks Out Mobile Lessons

NEW YORK Visa is launching a pair of mobile initiatives in San Francisco that it hopes will help it learn more about what works in the still-emerging world of mobile marketing.

The pilot programs, created with digital shop AKQA, seek to reach on-the-go consumers in restaurants and supermarkets to build the Visa Signature brand through useful applications. In one, which launched Sept. 1, shoppers at 19 Safeway and eight Mollie Stone’s stores are invited by shelf displays to text Visa for wine and food pairings. In another launching later this month, diners at local restaurants can text Visa to receive voice messages from the establishment’s chef about that evening’s menu.

Both programs include promotional messaging from Signature, Visa’s brand for affluent cardholders.

Jon Raj, vp of advertising and emerging media platforms at Visa, said the eight-week-long programs were part of a series of efforts Visa was making to find its footing in the mobile marketing world. “Right now [mobile is] in the learning stage,” said Raj. “I like to think every campaign we’re working on in the digital space can have a mobile aspect to it.”

There are over 2.6 billion cell phones in use worldwide.

AKQA, which started a mobile practice in March 2006, is working with Visa on several initiatives, said Scott Symonds, executive media director at AKQA, including a partnership with Zagat to sponsor its new mobile service.

“There’s no question that the majority of people will be accessing the Web from a mobile platform,” said Symonds. “We have to start thinking about this.”

While Visa has run mobile banner ads, it feels they are only part of the mobile equation, with the need for mobile sites and applications that add value.

“They’re not going to change lives,” Raj said of the pilots. “But they’re going to enhance them.”