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The 35-year-old spoke as he walked around the event at the San Francisco Marriott, a place abuzz with talk of blogs, search marketing and technologies like broadband, podcasting, RSS feeds and video-on-demand. There is a palpable excitement in the air and Mr. Raj clearly glories in it. "I get the same feeling I got in 1995 about the Internet," he said.
Based in San Francisco, he has been Visa's director of advertising for four years, during which he has focused almost exclusively on the digital side of marketing communications and he makes no bones about his intention to keep Visa on the cutting edge of new marketing technologies.
"TV is still the mainstay of our advertising, but we are looking at different emerging platforms," he said, noting that the advertising market had changed so dramatically that "anyone who is doing their media planning the same way they did it 15 years ago should be fired."
He declined to reveal specific figures, but said the Internet marketing budget at Visa has "increased steadily each year for four years."
Among the new technology campaigns Visa is rolling out this year is a wireless promotion for its Signature card. Starting in May, the integrated campaign features a wireless component that will be showcased on personal digital assistants (PDAs) and smart phones.
Along with Internet marketing, Mr. Raj is testing the waters of video on demand, broadband and wireless applications. Through a study of DVRs, Visa is also investigating how consumers behave with the "ad skip" technology of digital video recorders. Questions he's asking include: Are they willing to view a part of an ad before fast-forwarding through it? Do they skip all ads? Are they more likely to watch an ad at the beginning or at the end of a program?
Visa is also part of a study that's testing consumer behavior on landline home telephones that have screens hooked to the Internet. The screens feature a rolling roster of news, weather and entertainment programming, similar to the screens in elevators that show headlines, weather and short entertainment briefs. The technology lets consumers interact with advertising by asking for more information on aspects of the ads that interest them.
Mr. Raj was instrumental in Visa's "Ideas Happen" campaign, now in its second year. Created by Visa USA's online agency, AKQA of San Francisco, the campaign was targeted to the 18- to 29-year-olds, asking people to submit project ideas in categories of entrepreneurial endeavors, community service and creative self-expression. Last year a little more than 19,000 people entered and 12 winners received $25,000 toward fulfilling their ideas.
Mr. Raj also credits himself for bringing AKQA into the planning sessions with its offline agency, Omnicom Group's BBDO, New York. "We challenged AKQA to challenge the traditional," he said.