Visa teams up with e-tailers to acquire online dominance

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Dreaming of a wired Christmas, Visa USA will use print and TV advertising, promotions and tie-ins with e-tailers in a push to rule e-commerce.

The company unveiled a tie-in with Amazon.com Dec. 3 with a new TV spot from BBDO Worldwide, New York. That follows tie-ins with America Online, eToys and several other online companies for advertising, promotional and other marketing efforts.

It's all part of Visa's latest strategy, which includes an online component on all marketing efforts.

"The overall objective is to keep the Visa brand synonymous with e-commerce," said Elizabeth Silver, senior VP-advertising at Visa USA.

CO-BRANDED ADS

The Amazon link includes co-branded advertising, Visa banners on all Amazon home pages as well as pages dealing with payment, and sets up Visa as the site's default payment option.

"We're both clearly leaders in what we do. It just made sense to have a meeting of minds," said Ms. Silver.

In a spot called "Convent," a nun in a remote cloister has all the comforts of the outside world delivered via Amazon and Visa. It's a metaphor for the ease of use and acceptance of online shopping and Visa, said Ms. Silver.

Amazon also has a separate tie-in with NextCard, an Internet company that issues several co-branded Visa cards. That tie-in, announced last month, includes a co-branded Amazon Internet Visa.

Amazon follows eToys, which last year became the first online merchant to appear in Visa's 15-year-old "It's everywhere you want to be" campaign. EToys is also Visa's partner this year in a charitable promotion with Toys for Tots that lets consumers buy toys online at a 50% discount to donate to the charity's holiday drive. That promotion is also backed by print ads from BBDO that broke last week.

Another promotion, "Visa Rewards Online for the Holidays," offers special discounts to cardholders who shop at partner sites, including Art.com, macys.com and marthastewart.com.

HOLIDAY MOMENTS

Online commerce also makes an appearance in holiday spots from BBDO to back Visa's "Precious Moments" contest promotion, which gives away free charges at one random moment daily through Dec. 31. One spot shows a marriage proposal in a busy restaurant -- while another diner is paying his bill using his Visa -- and the other a baby taking his first steps -- while dad is shopping online at The Gap's Web site.

That is an indication of how Visa has chosen to focus on e-commerce, said Ms. Silver.

"If we had done this [campaign] last year, we would have used a restaurant and a jewelry store," she said.

Visa has also kicked off advertising and promotions to support the use of so-called digital wallets that transmit credit card data to online merchants with one mouse click. The campaign, also from BBDO, includes print ads, bank statement inserts and a tie-in with AOL.

SEEN AS AN ADVANTAGE

The digital wallet is an advantage, according to Gerry Sweeney, VP-marketing at e-Visa, because research shows many customers drop transactions to avoid filling out the shipping and payment information covered by the wallets.

Visa -- which accounts for 50% of dollars spent online, according to Internet researcher Cyber Dialogue -- in September grouped its online initiatives in the new e-Visa unit, focused on building its e-commerce activities. (AA, Oct. 11). The unit consolidates Visa's efforts to market digital wallets to online consumers, as well as help merchants and member banks establish secure e-commerce links.

"This is a great opportunity for our members. In the e-commerce world, plastic is how you pay," said Ms. Silver.

The online offensive is part of Visa's plan to get the largest slice of the growing online sales segment, where credit cards are the payment method of choice. According to Cyber Dialogue, the number of consumers using cards for online transactions jumped to 19.2 million through the third quarter, from 9.3 million in 1998.

Thanks to an aggressive strategy of signing "preferred card" deals with Web sites, Visa claims the largest share of online spending. But lately its competitors have made moves to catch up.

American Express Co. introduced Blue, a "smart card" designed specifically for Internet shopping.

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