Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Visa 100 million usd Olympic Sponsorship goes pear-shaped. Social Media backlash follows.

I was very taken by David Jones commenting on the BBC regarding Visa's sponsorship of the Olympics. David is CEO of Havas, a large multi-national ad Agency group.

Visa have paid 100m usd to sponsor both the Olympics since 2010 Winter Olympics and including the London games. I agree, a significant sponsorship.

But in return, Visa insisted that it was the only credit card with which you could buy tickets or that were acceptable as payment, at all Olympic venues. Visa actually replaced 27 ATM's at Olympic sites with 8 of their own.  

In David's view (and mine) a big mistake, because it irritated people who went to pay with other cards. Some were left unable to pay at all because they'd no Visa card. Presumably because Visa think that's a good result in forcing customers to get one! Whereas, the more likely result is that the customer will say that they never will! Those disappointed customers are already tweeting about it.

And Visa went to the trouble to "rub it in" by having Point of Sale material (as shown above) beside retailers saying "proud to accept only Visa"(!). A ridiculous twist and poor advice.

Ron Delnevo of the UK Payments Council said the move appeared to be designed to "compel those visiting Olympic venues to use only Visa cards. The Olympics are going to be cash-starved by design. This is plainly unacceptable in a world where 85 per cent-plus of all transactions continue to be made using cash.The Olympics do not belong to any sponsor, however much money they have paid for brand awareness" reported in The Telegraph.

It actually prompted a statement from The Office of Fair Trading in the UK which contained in summary;

Based on the OFT's initial assessment of the facts at its disposal, the OFT proposes not to open a formal investigation at this stage. This is because the OFT considers that the aspects of the sponsorship arrangements under consideration are unlikely to give rise to material consumer harm. Therefore, the OFT has decided not to prioritise this matter at this stage. However, it does not rule out investigating the matter in the future should there be any evidence of material consumer harm going forward.

Which doesn't help anyone and it would seem to anyone, that a restrictive sponsorship deal such as this one, is the antipathy of "fair trade". Anyway.

Peter Vicary-Smith, chief executive of Which?, according to The Guardian, on the other hand said: 

"We think it's outrageous that some UK sports fans should be discriminated against in this way. We want the London 2012 Committee to take steps to ensure there's a level playing field and that UK consumers have equal access to the Games, whether or not they are Visa cardholders. If it doesn't, we'll call on the government to step in."

Whilst everyone accepts that spending that kind of money is deserving of some direct 'return on investment', annoying people won't do it - despite the sponsor wanting certain rights. Visa's image has been prominent at the Olympics and it will be damaged over this.

As David Jones said;

"But to actually go to the extent of only allowing Visa payments to be made at the Olympic stadiums and sites, to remove all the other cash machines that are non-Visa actually starts to really annoy people.

"And there are lots of signs around the Olympic Park saying 'we are proud to only accept Visa'. This is so out of touch with what is in people's heads.

"My view would be that Visa will probably end up damaging themselves through what they have done, rather than enhancing the brand."

It has also meant the start of a Visa backlash on Social Media which doesn't just target Visa but also The Olympic Council who agreed to these restrictive deals. Rightly. Because if you take the sponsorship too far, it will ultimately damage the brand and Social Media is now the outlet to do that.

According to a Visa online statement;

Visa Inc. (NYSE: V), a proud and long-standing worldwide sponsor of the Olympic Games, today announced that it will extend its Olympic Games sponsorship for a period of eight years. 

In renewing its sponsorship, Visa will retain the rights it has enjoyed since 1986 and remain the exclusive payment services sponsor and the only card accepted at the four Olympic Games that follow London 2012 Olympic Games, including the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and the 2018 Olympic Winter Games and the 2020 Olympic Summer Games.

So it will go on until 2020. Pity.

Because Visa will ultimately suffer for such a restrictive deal.
They, like so many other large corporates, forget the power of Social.
Ask NBC.

(And as an aside-

David Jones also mentioned British Airways 'London Calling' as being the example of advertising for the games given that it asked people to stay at home and not to travel. 

"They kind of get the gold medal for understanding their target group - that people aren't going to be wanting to travel away when this amazing event is happening. And I think they show they actually get what is in people's heads."

I couldn't agree more and here it is if you're interested.