A couple years ago, we had the good fortune to interview Jessica Williams of Visa’s Global Client and Digital Products Marketing team about Visa’s marketing campaign for the Summer Olympic Games in Rio. With the 2018 Winter Olympics approaching, Jessica was kind enough to spend some time with us recently to discuss the approach Visa is taking this time around. This post, the first of a two-part series, focuses on the core elements of their campaign, Visa’s values and the athletes.

Origami Logic: Visa has been a longtime sponsor of the Olympic Games. What are some of the best practices you have developed that you will apply for your Winter Olympics campaign?

Jessica Williams: Developing a creative strategy for a worldwide event like the Olympics is challenging. We need a solid strategy that has a core creative framework, a creative idea and creative elements that are going to stay consistent across all of the countries where Visa is relevant and that will be participating in the Olympics. This year we focused our framework on athletes. The key element is choosing athletes to sponsor that embody the Visa principles. The creative then revolves around those athletes, what they mean to Visa and how they portray what Visa stands for.

OL: The focus on athletes seems similar to what you did for Rio. How is the role of athletes in your Winter Olympics campaign different?

Jessica: We have gotten tighter around the stories we want to tell and knowing the emotions we want to tap into. It’s not Visa telling a story that resonates with a consumer. It’s the athletes telling their own stories that consumers want to see. How they have succeeded and have overcome hardships. So rather than Visa using advertising to push a message, we rely on the athletes to embody those Olympic principles, to embody the principles that Visa stands behind, and then we let them tell their own stories. This approach started in Rio, where we learned that it means more to someone who is watching the Olympics for the athletes to tell their stories and for the brands to flourish through the athlete.

OL: How do you strike a balance between building your brand versus pushing products?

Jessica: We still struggle with this and we are still learning the best mix between product and brand marketing. We do feel like our sponsorships, and not just the Olympics, but the NFL and FIFA allow us to educate consumers about our digital products. We want to use these broad strokes as awareness channels to educate a consumer on Contactless payments in the US, Visa Checkout in Ukraine or mobile payments in UAE. In the same vein, there’s a certain emotional component that comes with the Olympic Games and we want to make sure we’re not overly prescriptive on “here is how you use our new product,” but rather “here’s how Visa products enable people to live their lives to the fullest.”

In the end, we hope all of our content hones in on the emotional component of the brand and still serves to educate about our products.

OL: As I recall your campaigns around Rio, I remember the focus on athlete stories, like the US fencer who wore a hijab, and that was really powerful. But I also remember your Visa Checkout videos that were a little more fun and playful.

Jessica: Some of the athletes that we have chosen to sponsor have overcome significant challenges and inspire athletes and consumers alike with their determination and poise. I remember in Rio we were sponsoring the refugee team, and we continue to sponsor athletes who have a story about where they have come from and what they have accomplished. For example, in this Olympics the women’s bobsled team from Nigeria are on Team Visa. Without access to proper training equipment or ice time, the members of the Nigerian Women’s Bobsled Team started their journey on the snow-less grounds of Houston, Texas, in a wooden sled they nicknamed ‘The Maeflower.’ Once the team set their sights on the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018, they established a crowdfunding website hoping to raise the funds to get to PyeongChang. Upon discovering the page, Visa was inspired by their determination to carve out a place in history and worked closely with the team to help solidify the team’s trip to the Olympic Winter Games.

OL: Related to the hardship theme, social issues are popular in advertising these days. For example, the notion of inclusiveness is being featured by P&G in one of their early videos for the Winter Olympics. How does this impact how Visa thinks about an Olympic campaign?

Jessica: The inclusiveness social theme is one that is so intrinsically tied to our brand so it’s not hard for us to align to those social moments. Yet, we aren’t overly prescriptive on those themes in our creative. It comes through in just our everyday embodiment of the brand, the everyday creative that we run, whether it be our Hurricane Harvey spots for the NFL, the athletes we chose to sponsor at the Olympics, or what you’ll see from us in everyday emails and posts. The inclusiveness theme, which has become more and more front and center in today’s day and age, is truly a core principle for what Visa stands for.

Editor’s note: Stay tuned for Part II next week. In the next post, Jessica will talk about the impact digital channels are having on Visa’s Olympics campaigns.