Will Visa’s New Social Media Strategy Score A Perfect 10?

If you’re a major brand and you want to get your message across to as wide an audience as possible, what’s the best strategy?

What’s guaranteed to get the customers rolling in? Well, all the big boys like Visa and Coca Cola realise that the most effective strategy is to sponsor a major event like the Super Bowl or the Olympics. The sponsorship generates interest, builds brand awareness and generally results in increased sales. So in many ways it’s a no-brainer. Unfortunately Visa has already been doing this for the last 25 years, so it needed to find a new strategy: something that was fresh and appealing. So it turned to the social media naturally. After all, Coca Cola had great success with the Super Bowl, so why shouldn’t Visa jump on the bandwagon? The London Games has already been dubbed as the first social media games by the IOC, so it made perfect sense to use the medium to promote the Visa brand.

Advertisers at Visa therefore came up with the idea of a ‘social-by-design’ marketing campaign.

The idea was simple enough, but the execution proved to be slightly more problematic, so Visa threw down the challenge to its advertising agencies, Omnicom Group’s TBWA, Atmosphere Proximity and OMD, to come up with an innovative and appealing concept that would grab the public’s attention. They collectively came up with the idea of the ‘Cheer’ campaign, as everyone tends to cheer at the Olympics for either a favourite athlete or a country. However, Visa wanted more from its campaign. It wanted to give to give people a reason to cheer, and as many fans will be cheering throughout the two week event through social media channels, Visa decided that it made sense to lead the cheering. So it turned to its own Olympic focus group – the 60 Olympic athletes who make up Team Visa, including the likes of swimmer Michael Phelps, runner Lopez Lomong and tennis player Li Na, after these athletes had told Visa that cheers do in fact make a material difference. Consequently the cheer platform, with the call to action that fans can make a difference, was born.

The first TV advertisement, narrated by actor Morgan Freeman, made its debut earlier this month. It was entitled unsurprisingly “The Difference,” and featured triumphant moments in Olympic history – from Russian pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva’s record-breaking jump to gymnast Nadia Comaneci’s perfect 10. It ends with video of Michael Phelps’ 100-meter butterfly win for his seventh gold medal in Beijing, accompanied by the words: “when we come together to cheer, we know what happens. … Join our global cheer.”

Fans will be asked to interact over the next few weeks as part of this online cheer campaign.

They’ll be asked to upload a text, photo or video cheer they’ve created for the athletes using both mobile and YouTube, and to visit Visa’s Facebook page which will serve as the global hub of the campaign for consumer-generated cheers and athlete responses. They’ll be able to watch exclusive video footage in return. The online cheers, submitted by fans during a promotion that runs up to the 15th of June, will be used for several congratulatory advertisements which will be run during the Olympics in Late July and August.

So why is Visa switching its attention from paid advertising to social? After all it’s never gone down the social route before. Well, if you cast your mind back 4 years to Beijing, 2008, then you’ll probably remember that social media and the use of social media marketing was in its infancy. Facebook was alive and well, but only had around 145 million users. Twitter and Google+ were just a distant dream. Fast forward 4 years and the world is social media crazy. Facebook has over 900 million users; Twitter is reported to have 175 million registered users and even the new kid on the blog, Google +, can now boast an audience of a reported 170 million. Whether these figures are factually correct is academic. What really matters is that the public has bought into the social media big time, and businesses want to exploit this as best they can.

So is this social media departure just a one off, or is it a sign of things to come?

Well, according to Kevin Burke, global CMO for core products, it’s here to stay. Speaking to AdAge CMO Strategy, Burke stated:

“Will every campaign be social by design? There’s a very good chance of that. But definitely every program will incorporate a social strategy and that’s always a question we’ll ask.”

Visa hopes to measure the success of the campaign using traditional gauges like business metrics, in addition to transactions, card activations and usage. Visa is also hoping to use brand-equity measures like awareness and perception, as well as the satisfaction of clients like merchants and banks. The final gauge is social engagement which Visa hopes to measure through video views, uploads of cheers and shares to gauge success.

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