VISA TO INCREASE ADVERTISING FOR PREMIUM CARDS: AFFLUENT CUSTOMERS AGAIN THE TARGET

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Visa USA intends to boost advertising for premium card products next year as the industry increasingly targets affluent customers.

Visa plans to advertise a new product to compete against MasterCard International's premium World card and also will boost spending behind its platinum cards.

The new Visa card will be introduced during the first six months of 1998 and will include benefits similar to MasterCard's World, such as travel rewards and no pre-set credit limit.

"We are taking an aggressive approach to brand building and image building," said Becky Saeger, exec VP-advertising and marketing for Visa USA.

The new product will receive some advertising support, Ms. Saeger said, via agency BBDO Worldwide, New York.

'ME TOO'

"It's a me-too response and quite rightly," said David Gagie, marketing director for Auriemma Consulting Group, Westbury, N.Y.

This direction fits with the competitive industry's recent focus on affluent customers, Mr. Gagie said. Faced with narrowing margins and increased delinquencies and write-offs, credit card marketers are focusing on wealthier, more stable customers who can provide greater fee income.

In another sign of this focus, Visa plans to boost spending behind its platinum cards. Platinum card "image support will double for 1998," Ms. Saeger said. "That is the core premium product."

$220 MILLION

Visa was the biggest ad spender among credit card companies in 1996, putting $220 million behind its products, according to Competitive Media Reporting. During the first six months of 1997 it spent $92.7 million, up 2.2% from the year-earlier period.

The marketer also plans to put more print and TV weight behind its small-business card products.

MasterCard introduced its World card in October, supported with print ads from Clarkson & Cogan, New York. It plans to continue advertising in 1998.

The card marketer expects to have mailed out 3 million World card solicitations by the end of '97, a spokesman said.

It also plans to boost advertising for its platinum card. One of the first TV spots to air from new agency McCann-Erickson Worldwide, New York, featured the product.

MasterCard ranked fourth among card marketers in ad spending last year, putting about $99 million behind its products, according to CMR. It spent $44 million

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