The CMO Interview

Life Takes Visa in New Marketing Direction

CMO Antonio Lucio on How It Plans to Keep Consumer Confidence Up and Use Media to Get Results

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Visa's first global chief marketing officer, Antonio Lucio, joined the company last November after 12 years at PepsiCo. Before that he held marketing roles at Kraft, RJR Foods and Procter & Gamble.
Visa Global CMO Antonio Lucio
Visa Global CMO Antonio Lucio

So what's a food and beverage guy doing at a financial-transaction company?

Quite a lot, actually.

In less than a year, he's overseen both a global-media-agency search and a global-creative-agency search and consolidation of the marketer's $600 million account. Now he is preparing for next year's review of interactive and direct agencies and is helping Visa navigate the transition from private to publicly traded company after an $18 billion public offering in March. He's also consolidating messaging and marketing processes around the world. And, oh, yes, he recently oversaw Visa's Olympic sponsorship in Beijing.

Mr. Lucio sat down with Ad Age after a Visa press conference in September in which the company announced several new wireless-payment initiatives as well as a partnership with Google's Android phone platform that includes opt-in mobile marketing via Visa merchant partners.

Ad Age: The financial climate right now does not affect Visa as directly as it does some other financial institutions, but consumer confidence overall is definitely very low. How do you deal with that in marketing?

Mr. Lucio: The keyword that I think summarizes what we are going to need to do is optimization, across three dimensions: optimization in terms of country support, meaning investing in those countries that are going to provide the higher level of return in the next few years. The second is within those countries, optimization of all the different communication vehicles that we have with emphasis on the ones that you can measure the most, which will mean shifts in media-spending patterns by key country. And the third is optimization in terms of the messaging to ensure that we are delivering an increased transaction message, whether it is debit and checks, which is the case in the U.S., or whether it is messaging of money transfer, which is the case of India, for example.

Ad Age: Does that mean you get away from the bigger branding concepts, such as "Life takes Visa"?

Mr. Lucio: What it means is that we need to establish a better balance between rational and emotional mind-sets. I believe that we need to help increase the level of transactions from cash and checks, and that has a very rational dimension to it. But I also believe that especially in times of uncertainty, when more people are spending more time at home, uplifting people or providing that message of 'What life should be' would be equally important. ... It's probably more important than ever.

Ad Age: Will the "Life takes Visa" tagline change now with the hiring of TBWA as creative global agency?

Mr. Lucio: We're in the process. We just went from an agency pitch, which means we were able to select a global agency based on their strategic capabilities and importantly in terms of their global reach. What that translates to in terms of an overall proposition, whether it is "Life takes Visa," or something else, is the work we need to do now.

Ad Age: Do you come out of the process with lots of ideas that are ready to go?

Mr. Lucio: Of course. It was an incumbent-only pitch. ... When you go through a process like this and you have four amazing agencies presenting different angles of your business, you come out incredibly rich in ideas.

Ad Age: Have you ever done a global agency review before?

Mr. Lucio: I have been involved before, [but] this is the first time that I have gone through a truly global pitch. And this is the first time where we actually requested the agencies to deliver specific tasks on five key markets around the world, to be able to show not only their overall strategic capability on a global basis but, more importantly, how would that translate into impact on five key markets around the world -- markets as diverse as Brazil, South Korea, the U.S. and Canada. So that to me was incredibly, incredibly interesting. It's been a great process, and we're full of ideas, but the work actually begins now.

Ad Age: You mentioned media shifts earlier. Does that mean shifts to digital because it's less expensive or because you can get a better return on investment?

Mr. Lucio: Because it's about optimization and ensuring that we're getting the right level of returns in what we invest, it will mean shifts toward those media vehicles that deliver the higher levels of returns first. And second, to those media vehicles where you can actually measure results. What I think this will do -- and, again, this is a shift over the past six months -- I will responsibly need to invest in more proven vehicles than taking big leaps on experimentation on emerging media. What that means, I cannot say exactly because we're in the process of evaluating that right now. ... But I would imagine that, directionally, we will be increasing our level of spending in the digital world.

Ad Age: What about mobile? It is an emerging medium, but there are 3.3 billion cellphones out there.

Mr. Lucio: There is enough energy on the multiple sectors that drive the channel to ensure its success, which means you have the carriers, the Googles, the banks, the Visas and the merchants. There is so much energy, time and effort devoted to the space. And you have the consumer demand as well, which in many places in the world is even bigger than the U.S. [Mobile marketing] is one decision any board of directors, any bank will go for.

Ad Age: How is Visa going to handle mobile payments and mobile marketing?

Mr. Lucio: From a marketing standpoint, it's the development of what the user interface is going to be that is a key marketing challenge. Our brand has existed within the context of a card (he pulls one from his wallet) this size. Now our brand is going to have to exist within the context of a significantly smaller space [on a cellphone screen]. ... Some of the first reiterations of the user interface will be featured with Android, and we will continue to develop Visa's face in front of the consumer. Design within the context of the digital world takes a completely different meaning. Design in my previous tangible world of packaging of beverages and snacks and food was a key component because it all starts with the eye. Within the context of the digital [world], it has become a fascinating question.

Ad Age: How many credit cards do you have?

Mr. Lucio: I have a corporate card, I have a debit card and I have a credit card. All of them Visa.

Ad Age: Do you pay off your credit cards every month?

Mr. Lucio: I pay them off every month. I'm old-school. My father was a Spaniard. He came to Puerto Rico, where I grew up, and credit was not something that was easily available to him at the time. So the whole idea of paying your bills on time is something I grew up with. I do have credit in the big purchases of my life, like my house, like the car. But when it comes to consumption, I pay every month.

Ad Age: But you wouldn't recommend that for your customers, right?

Mr. Lucio: Remember that 60% of our transactions in the U.S. are debit. Visa is a payment-technology company, and we drive our revenue through transactions. So if the transaction is with a prepaid card with Target or a credit card with rewards or my debit card, that's our revenue. What we do is ensure that the moment you're using that number or that card, that the transaction happens. So in a way, our job is done in seconds. What happens afterward -- the credit piece, the billing -- that's not our work. That is the work of our banks. For us, then, and my role as a marketer, is ensuring and building the transactions of our consumers in whatever shape, way, or form they want to use it.

Ad Age: Is it important for customers to know that? Does it matter that they know you're on the back end handling that transaction and not the bank on the front end? Or maybe is it more important now in this financial market to tell them that Visa is there handling their transactions securely?

Mr. Lucio: Visa means for consumers three things -- and this is not Antonio's words, this is what our data tells us -- universal acceptance, it is an acceptance mark. It is a safe transaction. And it is a convenient form of payment. That's what we are. ... Our job is to continue to grow the payment industry from cash -- and checks where to this day 60% of all payments still happen. ... My daughters who are in college, they don't even know what a check is. They don't. They use their card, they see their statement when they see it -- most of the time, I'm seeing it -- online. And I get a warning from the bank when they have a new bill up. And that's the new generation.

Ad Age: What's the last big purchase you made on your credit card?

Mr. Lucio: I bought two cars.

Ad Age: On your credit card?

Mr. Lucio: Yes, I had to call to increase the limit, but I bought two cars in San Francisco. I just moved [from New York] and we didn't have cars. ... [It was] just the down payment. ... So now I drive a Mini Cooper in San Francisco -- a convertible. I love it.

Ad Age: You mentioned that you have five daughters?

Mr. Lucio: Yes, from six to 26.

Ad Age: Do you have any sons?

Mr. Lucio: No. But I have a lot of boyfriends that drive me nuts [laughs]. And hopefully they will not be my sons anytime soon!
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