Mobile-Payment Venture Backed by T-Mobile, AT&T and Verizon Preps Marketing Push

Isis Aims to Turn Phones Into Credit Cards; Take on Google, BlackBerry in Highly Competitive Category

By Published on .

Most Popular

Mobile-payment venture Isis, backed by U.S. mobile carriers including AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile, is finalizing agency partners for a major awareness push next year for its upcoming commerce platform and mobile wallet.

"The reality is , we're accelerating," said Jaymee Johnson, head of marketing for Isis, which aims to turn mobile phones into replacements for plastic cards in brick-and-mortar retail as the entire mobile-payment category heats up. While Mr. Johnson declined to comment on agency selections, shops said to be in the running include independent Butler Shine Stern & Partners and Publicis Groupe 's Razorfish. No contracts have been signed, he added.

As other major mobile platforms such as Google and BlackBerry also clamber into payments, marketing might prove to be Isis' leg up in a category that 's already highly competitive, far before the technology's even ready.

While it operates as a separate entity, Isis' owners are all top-50 U.S. ad spenders; AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile parent Deutsche Telekom spent more than $4.5 billion in U.S. measured media last year, according to Kantar Media. The three companies also lend Isis more than 200 million mobile subscribers straight out of the gate. Isis budgets and specific marketing plans and tactics have not yet been finalized.

"We're creating a new category and certainly, as a part of that , there needs to be a considerable awareness campaign for consumers to understand that it's possible to put your wallet on your phone," said Mr. Johnson. "We would anticipate ad initiatives to support that . ...There would be a substantial awareness campaign introducing Isis and mobile payments more generally."

As more and more smartphones come out with near-field communication (NFC) chips that allow touch-to-pay transactions, Isis is one of many parties vying to be there first when consumers look to spend with their phones. Google is beginning to ship phones with chips and has teamed up with Mastercard and Citigroup. BlackBerry manufacturer Research in Motion is also launching handsets that will have NFC and has patterned with Mastercard and Bank of America. The next-generation iPhone is rumored by some to have NFC, too.

Isis' commerce platform and mobile wallet will launch during the first half of next year in Salt Lake City, Utah, and Isis is currently in discussion with the major credit-card companies to facilitate transactions. (Initially, Isis had one partner in Discover, but is now open to multiple credit-card partners.) Marketing will coincide with launch.

The Isis system is designed to replace both plastic credit and loyalty cards. Here's how it will work: When a shopper walks into a grocery or drug store, he checks in to Isis to let the store know he's there -- this is private, not published to social networks such as Foursquare or Facebook Places. After that , the shopper can touch his NFC smartphone to shelf-talkers along the aisles, end-caps or posters to load coupons onto an Isis app, also known as a mobile wallet. When he goes to checkout, he touches the phone to a reader at the register, and pays with all the offers deducted. Isis will generate revenue from both card issuers and advertisers.

"Context matters: Advertisers will be able to present an offer in the actual shopping avenue," said Mr. Johnson, who came to Isis in January from T-Mobile. Isis employes several hundred people and is headquartered in New York.

In this article: