Visa, the world's largest electronic-payment network, and Discover Communications' Discovery Networks Asia unit have produced six short films that capture special moments in host cities of earlier Olympics through the eyes of Chinese filmmakers.
The production team includes up-and-coming young directors who have worked with Discovery's First Time Filmmakers program and a duo from Bartle Bogle Hegarty's Shanghai office, Creative Director Johnny Tan and Kelly Pon, head of art. Bartle Bogle was involved in writing the scripts for several of the films and directed one of them.
Instructed to be subtle about integrating the benefits of a Visa card in the film, each filmmaker flew to one of six former Olympic host cities -- Los Angeles; Sydney, Australia; Seoul, South Korea; Rome, Mexico City and Athens, Greece -- to shoot a five-minute film against the backdrop of the Olympic experience, giving Chinese audiences a look at travelers' unexpected experiences.
"There was a requirement for the role of Visa to exist in the films. But they had to be used as an integral part of the storyline and done in a subtle manner," said Bartle Bogle's Mr. Tan. "It's a hell of a lot more engaging to include the brand in this kind of format, with a storyline like this, compared to general advertising. It seems more believable and interesting for consumers."
The story filmed in Mexico City, for instance, stars a young man with a backpack, a Visa card and an open heart who endears himself to the local people as he buys a sombrero, dances in the street and plays soccer with kids. A local girl exclaims: "I'll never forget him -- the way he danced!" In late September, the films premiered at a Beijing cinema and started airing on China's best-known travel-oriented network, operated by Hainan Satellite TV in southern China.
A dedicated web page appears on an entertainment section of Chinese portal Sina.com and on Visa's Chinese consumer site (visazone.com.cn). Visitors can view the films, share stories of their own experiences in Olympic cities and win tickets to the 2008 games in Beijing. They can also vote online for the best film.
Although the films are not scheduled to air outside China so far, said Fang Chang, Beijing-based VP, Discovery Networks Asia and general manager, China, "by reliving the personal experiences and stories from a Chinese viewpoint, we can make the Olympic experience more real to audiences not only in China, but also around the world."
Discovery Channel started the First Time Filmmaker project in China four years ago, and this is the first time Visa has taken part.
Chinese are eager to learn about foreign brands and places online, then experience them first-hand. Visa wants to help them, since travel expenses like hotels and plane tickets often require a credit card. Few Chinese have credit cards. At the end of 2006, Visa had issued only 20.6 million international credit cards in China. Of the 1.23 billion bank cards issued by March 2007, most were debit cards and only 54 million were credit cards, according to the People's Bank of China. About 1 million credit cards are issued each month in a country with a population above 1.2 billion.
But as incomes rise and travel restrictions for Chinese are reduced, travel abroad is growing. Visa is tapping into the emotions and sense of pride people feel when they live in an Olympic host city such as Beijing. Li Sheng, Visa's Shanghai-based VP and head of marketing for China, said "Visa hopes to inspire more Chinese cardholders to use the convenience and reliability of Visa card to explore the world around them."