Visa is an old pro when it comes to sponsoring major sporting events, like the FIFA World Cup and the Olympics. However, for the Rio Olympics, they are taking a different approach in terms of the role athletes (“Team Visa”) are playing in their marketing Olympics campaigns. We recently had a chance to speak with Jessica Williams of Visa Global Innovation Marketing about their approach to this year’s Olympic Games.
Origami Logic: Let’s start at a high level. Why does Visa sponsor events like the Olympics?
Jessica Williams: For Visa, from a business perspective, we get a huge benefit from sponsoring the Olympics. Visa is the only card accepted at the Games. So from a revenue standpoint, there is a huge benefit.
This time around, however, from a branding perspective, the Games have a new meaning, especially as it pertains to our “acceptance” messaging platform. The Olympics brings people together, particularly now as we are in a time when there’s a lot of tumultuous things going on in the world. The Olympic spirit really aligns to what our newest message is all about — acceptance.
OL: Can you expand on what you mean by this?
Jessica: In general, we have taken a hard stance on acceptance of everyone, everywhere. It aligns to Visa being accepted everywhere. Our focus has always been on payment acceptance but this year we took a more holistic approach to this message. It began with us supporting the Supreme Court vote on gay marriage. We were one of the first brands to come out and take a hard stance that we support this and that we accept everyone, everywhere.
It felt natural for us to then move this message into the Olympic Games. Whether it’s our employees or the people who use Visa or Olympic athletes, we accept everyone, everywhere.
OL: How are you tying together the “acceptance” message with the role athletes of Team Visa are playing in your campaigns?
Jessica: If you look at the way we used athletes in the past, they weren’t the core part of the campaign. This time we decided to take a different approach.
First, for Rio, we decided to use global athletes in every market, so we aren’t just using US athletes in the US market. We are using Canadian athletes and Brazilian athletes and the Refugee team athletes because in today’s day and age, with globalization occurring at a rapid rate, people from different countries live everywhere.
Second, we really wanted to highlight the athletes’ stories and show who they are. We feel like athletes from every country have a story that resonates with the US market and each of our markets, so we want to take the time to tell their stories under the overarching theme of acceptance.
OL: So what are you doing to tell the athletes’ stories?
Jessica: One of the things we have been doing is creating content that feature athletes of Team Visa. We have highlighted Ibtihaj Muhammad, the first American Muslim who will be wearing a hijab in the Games. If you look at her story, it’s about her wanting to be who she is, but still hold true to her cultural norms and her cultural standards. Fencing was a sport that allowed her to be able to do so. She’s one of, if not the best in the world. We are 100% behind the notion of being exactly who you are while competing in the sports you love.
Same with Yusra Mardini. She has this incredible story about traveling from Syria on a lifeboat over to Turkey. The lifeboat collapsed and she had to swim the entire way to safety. These kinds of stories are heart-wrenching, but again, they are also what we’re trying to get to here, which is everybody deserves a place in the world and everybody deserves a way to pay. I think the Olympics is a time where we can all stand together and accept everyone.
OL: Can you talk about the Carpool campaign? That seems to have a different tone than the content you just talked about.
Jessica: Yes, Carpool is our main creative campaign. It’s a bunch of Rio athletes that drive around the world to pick each other up to get to the Games and, along the way, they’re using different Visa products: the card, Samsung Pay, Visa Checkout, in order to provide for their trip there. In Carpool, we are showcasing the products while keeping it light and fun, which is a key differentiator of the Visa brand. Carpool also shows that the Olympics have no country borders. While you may be rooting for a country, it’s more likely you’re rooting for an athlete, and we wanted to stand those athletes up.
OL: It looks like you are also using Facebook Live videos to tell the athletes’ stories.
Jessica: Yes. We’ve done a lot of testing with Facebook Live video over the past few weeks, just some light, funny content with our athletes. It’s a new way for us to give the athletes a voice and be able to get people behind the scenes with our athletes. The first two athletes we did this with were English Gardner and Ashton Eaton. It was a fun way for our viewers to be able to ask questions and stay engaged. The more we can show who the athletes are, the better. We believe in these athletes, and we know that they care for our brand. In many cases, the athletes were hoping to be on Team Visa. It’s less about marketing the Visa brand and more about supporting these athletes who stand for the same things that we stand for.
OL: Do your partners get to take advantage of all of the work you do and the assets you produce?
Jessica: We always have passed through rights to our issuers, those who issue Visa cards. That is definitely part of why we take on Olympics sponsorship. We put together a playbook that an issuer can tap into for different pieces of Olympics creative we produce. This year, we built playbooks for all of the Team Visa athletes and we have passed them on to our issuers.
This year, we are also worked to pass-through rights to our Visa Checkout merchants to utilize our Olympic creatives. We are creating an ecommerce moment with the Olympics and Visa Checkout to say, “Visa Checkout and Merchant X are bringing you the best way to pay and get your great Olympics deals.” Some of these merchants might have never had the opportunity to market the Olympics before and we feel being able to pass through these rights solidifies our relationship with the merchants. It shows them that we are all in this together and we want to support them with great opportunities like being able to bring the Olympics spirit into their marketing.
OL: Thank you very much for your time, Jessica.
Want to see what other official sponsors, and unofficial sponsors, are doing for the Rio Olympics campaigns? Check out the Brand Olympics website, where all big brand activity is being tracked throughout the Olympic Games!