How Visa Pivoted Its Marketing When the Tokyo Olympics Were Postponed

Helping athletes, merchants and consumers through the pandemic

Visa's pandemic pivot included a commitment to Olympic athletes, Lynne Biggar said. Adweek

One outcome of the coronavirus pandemic is that two Olympic games will now occur within just months of each other. The International Olympic Committee’s postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Summer Games to July 2021 means that the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing will happen just seven months later.

For the IOC’s presenting partners, including Visa, that means years of marketing work in a compressed time period, with a lot of pivoting in between.

“We had been consulting with the IOC, so we had a little bit of an advance warning,” said Visa’s chief marketing and communications officer Lynne Biggar during a Brandweek Sports Marketing Summit chat today. “We were scenario planning, but we just put the brakes on a lot of what we we had planned and what we were doing.”

That included a large experiential showcase planned for Tokyo for spectators and big plans with the more than 100 athletes the company sponsors, who the company calls Team Visa.

“These folks just had the rug pulled out from under them,” Biggar said. In response, the payment solutions giant pivoted to creating athlete PSAs about proper hygiene and protecting others from contracting Covid-19. “It was quick and it was impactful and it was very much right for the times.”

Biggar said Visa also spent much of the summer educating merchants and consumers on the benefits of contactless payments. “That’s what we pivoted to—moving away from what we had planned, which was the Olympics, towards the things that just mattered in the moment.”

Biggar told Adweek’s Lisa Granatstein it’s still too soon to talk about what the brand has planned for Tokyo next summer or for the Winter Games in Beijing in February 2022, but the commitment to the athletes has not wavered. “We told all of these athletes ‘we are with you through 2021 to support and partner with you,’ and the outpouring of thanks from the athletes was very heartwarming.”

Biggar left the audience with three insightful takeaways about Visa’s pandemic pivot:

  • Stay true to your mission and vision.
  • Sponsorships provide a platform for important messages and an opportunity for change.
  • Quick pivots are the new norm—embrace them.

@ChrisAriens Chris Ariens is the managing editor and director of video at Adweek.