Western Union sets global effort to protect its turf

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Western Union is preparing a global advertising campaign for late April that will tout its growing array of money management services.

Using the theme, "Uniting People with Possibilities," the campaign via WPP Group's J. Walter Thompson, Chicago, will be shot over the next few weeks in South Africa by director Keith Rose of Velocity@ Crossroads Films, according to executives close to the situation.

The three-spot package marks the first branding effort for the First Data Corp. unit by JWT since it won the domestic $25 million to $35 million account in April 2002 with independent Hispanic shop Zubi Advertising, Coral Gables, Fla. WPP sibling MindShare, Chicago, handles media buying and planning. J. Walter Thompson referred calls to Western Union, which did not return calls. Crossroads Films declined to comment.

translation issues

Planned for use in up to 40 countries, it's unclear how the campaign will be translated for Western Union's 151,000 worldwide locations. Although it controls 83% of the money transfer market, Western Union's dominance has whittled from a 92% share in 1990, according to The Nilson Report, which tracks payment services. Western Union accounts for 42% of First Data revenue.

In addition to old rivals like Viad Corp.'s Travelers Express/Money Gram, banks and ATM services are trying to enter the money-transfer business to gain a foothold with so-called "unbanked customers" who represent more than 50% of repeat business for Western Union.

"It's the biggest threat because it has this compelling business proposition," said David Robertson, publisher, The Nilson Report. "Some of the largest financial institutions in the world are forming partnerships with counterparts in different areas of the world."

outflank

Western Union is expanding to outflank potential interlopers by going high-tech and global. Most of Western Union's services still are rooted in face-to-face money transfers, but have expanded in recent years to include bill paying, stored cellphone minutes and prepaid debit cards. The company also is testing a self-service kiosk that authenticates customer identity and handles transactions from money transfers to bill payment. Last year, the company said it would triple its outlets in China to 5,000 by year's end to capture the market for Chinese living in the U.S. sending money home. By comparison, more than 7,000 of its locations are in Mexico.

"U.S. banks have to overcome cultural biases to get customers into the bank and to trust the bank with its money," said Mr. Robertson. "There's an opportunity for Western Union to compete with financial institutions for business from immigrant communities here in the United States."

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