Tuesday, June 27th, 2006

Cross-Media Case Study: Life Takes...Multimedia

Visa's new media-infused effort takes on gaming and mobile TV


Rebranding one of the best-known brands in the world takes...well, these days it takes new media. "Life Takes Visa," the credit card company's first rebranding effort in 20 years, launched with an interactive microsite at its core, complemented by forays into gaming, mobile television, mobile phone ads, and more.

The campaign, which enjoyed a massive launch during the 2006 Winter Olympics, incorporates plenty of traditional media in the form of television, outdoor, and print spots. But the microsite and other elements show that the company is making good use of new media in positioning itself as the worldwide leader in payment solutions. Attention-getting online spots, like a one-day stunt in which Slate.com's home page loaded backward ("Life Takes Perspective"), helped lead users to the microsite--nearly 2 million in the first month. An interactive ad on msn.com, in which viewers could get a 360-degree view of the Eiffel Tower, generated many times more feedback for the msn site than usual, says Jon Raj, Visa USA's vice president of advertising and emerging media.

No stranger to online media and marketing, Visa appears willing to keep experimenting with digital media. "We definitely see this as a serious, viable medium for brand-building, as well as direct response," Raj says.

Microsite Mania

Visa's competitors have succeeded in creating emotionally evocative branding, and in some cases have spurred consumer engagement. MasterCard, for example, spun off from its "Priceless" campaign a contest that allowed users to fill in the blanks ("Blank: Blank dollars. Blank: Priceless") to create original spots of their own. "Life Takes Visa" aims for a more personal approach, especially online, than that of its old standby, the now-defunct, "It's everywhere you want to be."

The heart of Visa's new online effort is its microsite, LifeTakesVisa.com. The site hosts about 60 video vignettes (each 60 seconds or less) that feel like well-made home movies. The spots, scattered to look like a collection of Polaroids, illustrate that life takes courage, dads, poets, remedies, spontaneity, trust, and more. Viewers can e-mail the clips to friends. It's a simple concept--post a bunch of videos and invite people to send them to one another--but it's attracted a lot of attention.

In the first month of the site's existence, the videos had been viewed 4.7 million times, Visa reports, and users spent an average of nearly three minutes per session. Though Visa isn't reporting the number of people who e-mailed videos to friends, Raj says, "The rates that we saw we know are above industry average."

To get viewers to the site, Visa relied on word-of-mouth and some eye-catching online spots. One, for example, allows user to run a mouse over a blank space and create a piece of artwork ("Life Takes Imagination"). An ad for Visa's Signature service lets viewers "pick up" pieces of sushi with chopsticks to reveal copy on the plate ("Life Takes Choices"). Simple banner ads keep up the personal feeling of the campaign by eschewing stock photographs in favor of photos found on Flickr.com.

Standouts include a man and his dog napping together ("Life Takes Soulmates") and a boy staring intently over a chess game at his competitor behind the camera ("Life Takes Showdowns").

Visa doesn't include the URL in all of its offline ads, in part to keep the sense of exploration that online promotes, Raj says. However, the tightly themed offline and online components reinforce each other, sending a clear message in each medium.

Enticing Engagement

Emily Riley, an advertising analyst with Jupiter-Research, applauds the concept of the microsite and the diverse demographics represented in the videos, but says the site misses an opportunity to encourage engagement. "It's not a Web site where people can contribute," she points out. "I think they could have helped the person...interact with the brand."

The site also lacks a direct conversion mechanism, though there is an unobtrusive link that leads to the rest of the campaign on Visa USA's home page. The videos are "all interesting, but at the end of the day, what's the call to action?" asks Steve Cranford, CEO of Whisper, a brand strategy consulting company.

Cranford applauds the high quality of the production, but says Visa missed the opportunity to optimize its online opportunities.

Jeffrey Zabin, coauthor of Precision Marketing, approves of the "engaging and even amusing" video vignettes avoiding a hard sell in favor of spreading a message. "The fact that you can e-mail the vignettes to your friends...harnesses the power of interactive media to create a networking effect that can further drive campaign awareness," says Zabin, a director at Fair Isaac, which provides business solutions in areas such as account management, risk management, and marketing. Fair Isaac provides Visa with some services, but is not involved in Visa's marketing.

How the campaign translates into increased use of Visa products or growth in the number of transactions remains to be seen, but Raj says he is looking for results in how well the campaign impresses the brand's attributes upon the public. Visa expects to learn more from research this summer. "I'm pretty confident ... that when you have this much buzz around it, the results are going to be pretty positive," Raj says.

Dabbling in Mobile

Visa extended the campaign to in-game and mobile phone advertising, which remains unproven territory for marketers. Ads were downloaded within ESPN content to cell phones, and ran on MobiTV, which allows users to download TV content to their phones. Visa is pre-empting competitors by jumping into these arenas, which remain in the early-adopter phase and are less popular with marketers than blogs or podcasts, says Riley of JupiterResearch.

Cranford, the branding company CEO, likes Visa's entry into the mobile arena, and says "third screen" advertising will boom because it reaches out to people where they are, instead of making them come to the advertiser. "We think that has some enormous opportunities in the future, particularly as mobile phone usage becomes more ubiquitous worldwide," he says.

The guidelines of in-game advertising are still being worked out. Instead of relying on in-game product placement, Visa negotiated a starring role for its fraud protection service in a storyline of the pc game "CSI: 3 Dimensions of Murder," published by Ubisoft. "We are part of the plot," Raj says. "And to solve the mystery you really have to understand Visa's multiple layers of security." Visa expects the game to sell about 1 million copies, while educating the public about Visa's security options.

Everything It Wants To Be

Visa's new tagline and campaign have only been around a few months, as opposed to the two decades that the company committed to its previous slogan, so it will take time to determine how well the message is being received by consumers. Fair Isaac's Zabin is curious to see how the current campaign plays out.

"The new Visa campaign is all about changing people's perceptions of the brand _ which, after all, already has ubiquitous awareness," he says. In the short term, Visa should "focus on the extent to which the campaign has positively influenced people's attitudes and perception of the brand. Is it cool? Will it help me live my life to its fullest?" he says, adding, "Long-term, of course, these metrics should translate into dollars and cents."

The impact of the campaign, developed by TBWA/Chiat/Day and interactive agency AKQA, will be evaluated by Visa this summer. Raj plans a future for the microsite beyond its current incarnation, but it remains under wraps. "To reach consumers today is a very different ballgame than it was five years ago," Raj says. "Unless we're prepared to go beyond certain traditional media...we're really going to be left out."

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