Visa U.S.A., Inc.

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Visa U.S.A., Inc.


900 Metro Center Boulevard
Foster City, California 94404
Telephone: (650) 432-3200
Web site:



In 1985 Visa U.S.A. was the world's largest credit card company, but it lacked a specific brand image. The American Express Company advertised its cards as the best way to pay for travel and entertainment expenses. MasterCard International positioned its brand for middle- and lower-income consumers. Visa, however, aimed for both American Express's and MasterCard's target markets as well as for more traditional consumers who paid with cash and checks. Visa realized that one advantage it had over its competition was that merchants worldwide accepted Visa more than any other credit card. Hoping to gain more customers, the company released its "Visa. It's Everywhere You Want to Be" campaign to brand Visa as the most widely accepted credit card in the world.

The campign, created by the ad agency BBDO New York, debuted on October 1, 1985. Its budget began at $20 million. At the end of its 20-year lifespan the campaign consumed a budget of $335 million. Always lauding Visa as the most widely accepted credit card, "Visa. It's Everywhere You Want to Be" targeted a broad market and employed television, radio, print, Internet, and billboard advertisements. The original advertisements featured unique and upscale businesses that accepted Visa but not American Express. Later spots advertised the advantages of Visa Check Cards over paper checks. In 2000 the campaign heralded the "smart Visa card," a card with a security chip. Four years later the spots promoted the Visa Signature card, the company's first limitless credit card. The campaign became a mainstay of Super Bowl and Olympics advertising. The campaign ended just before the 2006 Winter Olympics.

Advertising critics praised the campaign throughout its 20-year run. It collected may of the ad industry's most prestigious awards, including EFFIEs, Clios, and Cannes Lions. Visa's credit card market share expanded from 43.8 percent in 1985 to 52 percent in 2004, an increase the company attributed to the campaign.


Although Visa had been steadily capturing American consumers since its inception in 1958, the company suffered from a lackluster image. Rival American Express "projected status and prestige," explained the Wall Street Journal, by airing commercials featuring glamorous celebrities who used the charge card. Visa, on the other hand, lacked a coherent brand message and was often confused with MasterCard, another bank card competitor. An in-house marketing shop produced all of Visa's advertising, which, according to the September 9, 1994, American Banker, was "quite similar" to MasterCard's, with both companies "hammering the point that a single card could be used anywhere for anything, with the ability to spread payments or assist in budgeting."

In 1984, however, Visa brought in renowned ad agency BBDO in hopes of revitalizing its image. Visa and BBDO approached the crafting of a new campaign with two goals: to differentiate Visa from MasterCard, which was increasingly encroaching on Visa's market share, and to "reinforce [Visa's] upscale image and remind consumers that it [w]as … the most widely accepted payment card in the world." The company decided that the best way to achieve both aims was to take on American Express. At the time AmEx dominated the lucrative travel and entertainment sector of the market. Visa sought "to piggyback on American Express' image as the premier travel and entertainment card," explained an article in the September 27, 1985, issue of American Banker. Thus, in ad after ad Visa drove home the point that elite and trendy restaurants, hotels, and shops—the sorts of establishments most consumers associated with American Express—emphatically did not accept that card.


"It's Everywhere You Want to Be" initially pursued adults who were American Express's core customers. Although the Visa card was carried by more American consumers and was accepted at more merchants than AmEx, market research at the time revealed that "people tend[ed] to spend more on their American Express cards," according to the November 27, 1989, edition of the Wall Street Journal. The original target audience of the "It's Everywhere" campaign was adults aged 25 to 54 who lived in major metropolitan areas and had an annual income of more than $20,000. In order to tout its acceptance in the travel and entertainment sector, Visa's early commercials focused exclusively on such businesses, especially restaurants, hotels, and leisure activities. For instance, the three launch commercials portrayed Rosalie's Restaurant, Captain John's Boatyard in Mangrove Bay, Bermuda, and a fishing tackle store in Texas. Later spots featured the exclusive Telluride Ski Resort, the Jack Nicklaus/Flick Golf Schools, and Granita, a chic eatery in Malibu, California.

To reach this audience of older, more affluent Americans, Visa also took care to form advertising alliances with celebrities who appealed to these baby boomers. In 1989 the company teamed up with Paul McCartney. Visa sponsored the ex-Beatle's solo U.S. concert tour in exchange for billing as the only credit card accepted at the event. McCartney's allure was evident, as a BBDO spokesperson explained to the Wall Street Journal: "He spans generations; he has an international image, and he has a family image."

As the "It's Everywhere" campaign flourished, Visa expanded its target market. Generation Xers, those Americans born after 1964, accounted for 30 percent of all credit card purchases. Visa crafted television commercials and print ads that were designed to capture the allegiance of this demographic group. "The Attic," for example, targeted 20- and 30-year-olds with its "fast-paced montage of live fashion shots [that] could easily be part of a music video," according to a Visa press release. Indeed, the commercial's "funky music, hip Gen Xers, and popular vintage clothing" were carefully selected to reach this more youthful audience. "The only thing that's out of style," quipped the commercial, "is using American Express." In a similar vein, Visa also crafted a group of spots to attract owners of small businesses.

In 1996 the campaign targeted consumers accustomed to using paper checks, encouraging them to switch to its Visa Check Card with advertisements that carried the tagline "Works Like a Check." Four years later spots for the new "smart Visa card" targeted what BBDO called "alpha consumers," or technologically minded Americans between 18 and 34 years old. In 2004, with commercials that advertised Visa's Signature card, a limitless credit card aimed at wealthy consumers, the campaign's target shifted toward professionals aged 35 to 54 who earned at least $125,000 per year.


When Visa set out to garner a more prosperous consumer base, especially in the travel and entertainment sector, it faced fierce competition from both American Express and MasterCard. Indeed, the Chicago Sun-Times succinctly concluded that AmEx "owned" the travel and entertainment category at the time of the 1985 launch of the "It's Everywhere" campaign. For years American Express had cultivated an elite image through its "Portraits" campaign and its series of "Don't Leave Home without It" advertisements. "We have always directed all our efforts toward the upscale market in the United States," an AmEx executive told Gannett News Service. When Visa began its barrage of comparative advertising against its competitor, AmEx first sought to remain above the fray. By 1992, however, with its market share in a tailspin, American Express struck back with a counterattack to Visa's Olympic Games advertising. Working with a new agency, Chiat/Day/Mojo, American Express released two spots that were set in Barcelona, the location of the 1992 Olympic Games. The copy in the spots slyly sniped at Visa with slogans such as "And remember, to visit Spain, you don't need a visa" and "Obviously, we're here for more than just fun and games." Nevertheless, AmEx's market share continued to decline, dropping that year from 20.4 to 19.6 percent, while Visa's remained strong, at 45.4 percent. Still striving to rebound, American Express initiated a national print and television campaign in 1997 that openly criticized Visa. "Visa says they're everywhere, but isn't it more important to have a card that helps you with just about everything?" queried one such commercial. AmEx also signed comedian Jerry Seinfeld as a spokesperson to appear in a variety of witty ads. American Express's era of decline ended when in 1997 the company's market share rose to 17 percent, up from 16.4 percent in 1996.

While Visa wrested control of the upscale market from American Express, MasterCard strove to reach middle-class consumers. In 1993, MasterCard abandoned its long-standing "Master the Moment" campaign, which relied on scenes of celebrities and carefree spending, in favor of "It's More Than a Credit Card. It's Smart Money." Component spots showed regular people using MasterCard in their daily lives, for example, while shopping at the supermarket. Instead of emphasizing prestige, MasterCard hammered home the value of its card and its practicality. In 1997, however, MasterCard switched strategies once more with the debut of the "Priceless" campaign from its new ad agency, McCann-Erickson. After boosting its ad budget 8 percent, to $106.2 million, in that year and honing its message to reach more affluent consumers, MasterCard saw its market share rise to 27.8 percent.


The $20 million campaign's initial goal was to reinforce its upscale image and establish itself as the most widely accepted payment card in the lucrative sector of travel and entertainment. "Just a little north of Boston, in the old town of Marblehead, is a place where only the local people used to eat," declared the inaugural spot of the campaign. "Where the scaloppini and the scampi were so good that word soon got out that a night at Rosalie's was like a night in Milan. But if you go there, remember, bring a big appetite and bring your Visa card. Because at Rosalie's they don't take no for an answer and they don't take American Express. Visa. It's everywhere you want to be."

Eighty percent of the campaign's budget was spent on commercials aired during programming such as the Today Show and Good Morning America, both popular with the initial target audience; the NFL's Super Bowl, which annually drew the largest television viewership of any single event; Monday Night Football; and the final episode of the popular situation comedy Seinfeld. As a company spokesperson explained in a press release, Visa often selected venues such as Seinfeld to carry the "It's Everywhere" message because spots broadcast on such shows were "in the position to reach millions of current and potential cardholders in numerous market segments." Visa and BBDO also crafted print ads and radio spots that furthered the "It's Everywhere" theme.

In addition to airing television spots, the campaign built alliances with high-profile events. In 1986 Visa teamed up with the Olympic Games as an official sponsor, a relationship that would continue for the breadth of the campaign. Visa subsequently forged exclusive contracts with the National Football League, Paul McCartney's Concert Tour, and the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. In addition to using these relationships in its advertising to hype that the organizations did not take American Express, Visa was able to capitalize on the cachet that events such as the Olympics possessed.


Ad agency BBDO was quite clear in an interview with Adweek that its explicit strategy for the "Visa. It's Everywhere You Want to Be" campaign was to "attack American Express." Stung by Visa's success, American Express (or AmEx) often vociferously complained that Visa's much-vaunted universal acceptance was the result of "buying off" the merchants who appeared in its highly publicized commercials. But the "Telluride" commercial generated particular controversy. The spot—which proclaimed, "at Telluride Ski Resort, they'll let you take the plunge, but they won't take American Express. Visa. It's Everywhere You Want to Be"—also showed 13 shops on Telluride's main street, 10 of which accepted American Express, and also showed a hotel in town that took AmEx. American Express cried foul and sought an injunction to prevent Visa from running the spot. Visa agreed to pull the spot until it had removed the scenes of merchants that accepted American Express. But this did not end the bitterness between the rivals. According to Corporate Legal Times, in a court document American Express claimed that Visa "singled out high-visibility American Express clients and persuaded them to cancel their AmEx contracts in return for television advertising."

To target people between 18 and 34 years old, one spot in 1999 featured young people salsa dancing. The voice-over, provided by the actor Ed Grover, explained that the Salsa Lovers Dance Studio in Miami did not accept American Express, only Visa. The spot was one of many Visa advertisements that used Latin culture to attract consumers. "I think Latin culture used to be for Latins, but not anymore," Jimmy Siegel, a BBDO senior creative director, said to the New York Times. "Latin culture has become hip, and it's sort of on the edge of becoming more popular in the mainstream. I would expect more commercials with some sort of Latin influence." The campaign targeted tech-savvy "alpha consumers" the next year by advertising the new smart Visa card, a card that interacted with the Internet via a security chip. One Internet ad on, the official site of the National Football League, read, "They don't take American Express—not even Blue." (The Blue Card was AmEx's version of the smart Visa card.) The copy referenced Visa's exclusive relationship with the NFL.

In 2003 the campaign focused more on business credit card advertisements. One spot that aired on ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox, MSNBC, ESPN, and other networks featured a clothing-store owner using her business credit card to make purchases, track expenses, and accept deliveries. Print ads and more television spots targeted larger businesses the next year. One 2004 print ad showed a business executive sitting in a swan chair (an office chair that was an icon of midcentury furniture design) beside stacks of paper. The ad's copy stated, "I want to be surrounded by intelligence, not information." Other ads used the "I want to be …" tagline and featured executives reposed in the same chair. "The swan chair is a platform to speak from, for business executives to voice their aspirations," Dawn Volan, director of advertising at Visa, said in B to B. "We want to use the chair as an identifier that Visa and Visa Commercial Solutions can help you reach those aspirations." The ads featured the modified tagline "It's everywhere you want your company to be."

One of the campaign's last efforts was promoting the Visa Signature card. Spots linked the no-limit credit card to other "signature" icons. Part of Visa's $335 million ad budget was used to create a spot that compared the Signature card to Marilyn Monroe, "the signature blonde," Frank Sinatra, "the signature voice," and the classic Ford Thunderbird, "the signature sports car." The spot ended with a voice-over explaining, "It's not just everywhere you want to be, it's everything you've ever wanted." The campaign ended in early 2006.


"It's Everywhere You Want to Be" was heralded by both Visa executives and advertising analysts as an unequivocal success. From 1989 to 1993 Visa doubled its sales in the travel and entertainment sector. The company's share of the total credit card market increased from 43.8 percent in 1985 to 52 percent in 2004. "The ad campaign has succeeded beyond anybody's wildest imagination," a Visa spokesperson told the September 23, 1993, issue of American Banker. "It's Everywhere" collected many advertising awards, including a Gold Lion at the prestigious International Advertising Festival in Cannes, France, and numerous EFFIEs, Clios, and ADDYs.

Even though the campaign jabbed at American Express for nearly 20 years, Elizabeth Silver, the senior vice president of advertising at Visa, said in an interview with Advertising Age, "American Express was a foil. Our real aim was MasterCard." When the campaign started, there was not much brand discernment between MasterCard and Visa. According to Visa, the company split the market nearly two to one with MasterCard. By the campaign's end Visa completely outpaced MasterCard with more than 50 percent of the entire credit card market.

Unfortunately for BBDO, by a few years into the new millennium Visa was viewing the campaign's message as outdated. In 2005 most merchants accepted American Express, Visa, and MasterCard. Consumers were not worrying about their American Express cards being denied. "We've had a very successful campaign with 'It's Everywhere You Want to Be,'" Visa's chief marketing officer, Susanne Lyons, said to the New York Times. "Acceptance was a great differentiator 20 years ago. But it's not so important now as qualities like security and convenience." Just before the 2006 Winter Olympics, Visa awarded its $335 million ad account to the agency TBWA\Chiat\Day Los Angeles. The 20-year campaign was replaced with the new agency's "Life Takes Visa" campaign.


Barge, Jeff. "Fantastic Plastic Commercial Squelched as Too Misleading." Corporate Legal Times, December 1993.

Bird, Laura. "Race for MasterCard's Account Narrows." Wall Street Journal, August 7, 1992.

Dash, Eric. "To Make the Card Special, Try the Warm and Familiar." New York Times, February 8, 2006, p. 4.

Elliott, Stuart. "VISA USA Decides It Wasn't Where It Wanted to Be." New York Times, November 15, 2005, p. 13.

Garfield, Bob. "Not Catchy, Not Creative, but Visa Found a Keeper." Advertising Age, February 27, 2006, p. 59.

Gross, Laura. "30 Years of Bank Credit Cards." American Banker, September 9, 1994.

Gross, Laura, and David Tyson. "Visa Ad Campaign Emphasizes Wide Acceptance." American Banker, September 27, 1985.

Lipman, Joanne. "McCartney: Madison Avenue's Newest Pitchman." Wall Street Journal, November 27, 1989.

Maddox, Kate. "Visa Effort Aims to Raise B-to-B Profile." B to B, July 19, 2004, p. 4.

Meece, Mickey. "Credit Cards Increase Market Share." American Banker, September 23, 1993.

Millman, Nancy. "DDB Needham Management Shaken by Defections." Chicago Sun-Times, February 11, 1987.

――――――. "Visa Charges Ahead with Successful Ads." Chicago Tribune, January 30, 1994.

Voight, Joan, and Andrew McMains. "Storming the Citadel." Adweek, October 5, 1998.

Woller, Barbara. "Credit Cards Fight to Get Into, and Out of, Consumers' Wallets." Gannett News Service, July 26, 1990.

                                  Rebecca Stanfel

                                        Kevin Teague



With little fanfare and virtually no advertising support, Visa U.S.A. introduced the Visa Check Card in 1979. This off-line debit card, which resembled a traditional credit card except that it deducted funds from a user's bank account like a check, was accepted by a wide range of businesses. It was not until the mid-1990s, however, when technology played a stronger role in American culture, that Visa executives decided that there was a vast market for its Check Card. Banks favored the card system because it reduced the amount of transaction fees they had to pay in comparison to covering checks. Merchants welcomed Check Cards because a transaction was approved only if the user had sufficient funds to cover the cost. Hoping to increase consumer awareness, acceptance, and use of the Visa Check Card, Visa released its "Works Like a Check" campaign.

Created by the ad agency BBDO New York, the estimated $45 million television campaign debuted during coverage of the 1996 Summer Olympics. Its emphasis was that using the Check Card was a significantly more convenient way to pay for a purchase than writing a conventional paper check. The first six commercials featured a wide range of celebrities, including 1996 U.S. presidential candidate Bob Dole, professional football player Deion Sanders, and actor Pierce Brosnan. Despite their fame, all the featured celebrities were unable to pay by check without their photo identification. Early spots ended with a voice-over explaining Visa's Check Card: "It works like a check … only better." Later spots featured a voice-over that stated, "Get in, get out, get on with life," which was followed by Visa's long-standing tagline, "Visa. It's everywhere you want to be." Visa simultaneously ended the campaign and its longtime relationship with BBDO just before the 2006 Winter Olympics.

Visa was delighted with the campaign's results. According to the Nilson Report, a publication for the credit card industry, charges made on Visa Check Cards skyrocketed from $20.2 billion in 1995 up to $467 billion in 2004. The campaign was critically acclaimed as well; it garnered a plethora of advertising awards, including a coveted Gold Lion at the Cannes International Advertising Festival.


Visa U.S.A. first introduced its debit card in 1979, when it issued 917,000 Check Cards. The cards, which were released by banks and credit unions, carried the Visa logo and looked almost identical to the already familiar credit cards. But unlike credit cards, the off-line debit cards deducted the funds used to make the purchase directly from the cardholder's bank account. Off-line debit cards also differed from ATM cards issued by banks in that the check cards did not require the cardholder to use any sort of personal identification number (PIN) or password. Banks found the Check Cards to be quite a boon to their operations. When their customers chose to pay for purchases with debit cards, the bank only paid around 30 cents in transaction fees, as opposed to the 65-cent cost it incurred when a customer paid with a check. Customers did not embrace the concept immediately, however. Many who received the new cards in the mail did not distinguish them from credit cards. Nor were the off-line debit cards "well entrenched in the marketplace," according to Credit Card Management.

Visa had never devoted an extensive advertising campaign to promoting its Check Card, although the number of cardholders had climbed slowly to 9.2 million by 1991. But Visa recognized the growth potential of the Check Card. Not only would banks prefer the lower transaction costs of the debit card but merchants would also benefit from the guaranteed payment of the Check Card. In Gallup polls American adults expressed interest in a payment method at checkout counters that was easier to use than a personal check. Moreover, people were increasingly reluctant to carry large amounts of cash, a concern that the Check Card could address.


Because of the ubiquity of personal checks, Visa was interested in reaching virtually every American consumer. The company decided that celebrity spokespeople would be the best way to convey its message to its desired audience. Using a famous face to pitch a product was a tried-and-true advertising strategy. But Visa did not want generic "stars"; it wanted "unmistakable personalities" to deliver its key message—that even the "unmistakable" can be hassled to prove their identity. The next step was to use care and select as its spokespeople those whose appeal was broad enough to cross demographic lines. For instance, Tony Bennett, who appeared in the sixth installment of the campaign, was not only well liked by his retirement-age contemporaries but was also growing increasingly popular among a younger audience of baby boomers and Generation Xers. "His renditions of timeless classics have struck a chord with an entirely new generation of music lovers in their twenties and thirties," said Liz Silver, Visa's senior vice president of advertising.

Visa and BBDO were also sensitive to consumers' potential apprehensions about a new product—especially one that dealt with their finances. Featuring Bob Dole, a retired senator with a reputation for honesty and service, as well as cantankerousness, enhanced the product's credibility in a relaxed and entertaining way. "By having this very conservative, rather traditional, non-techie person use a newfangled way of doing business, you eliminate the objections of a lot of people who were uncomfortable with the product," Alvin Schechter, chairman of the brand-consulting firm Interbrand-Schechter, told American Banker.

The campaign's primary appeal, though, was its use of humor, which was intended to make the commercials—and Visa's Check Card—unforgettable to viewers. "Our philosophy is that the commercials need to entertain," Matthew Brispiel, Visa's director of advertising, told Credit Card Management. "If it doesn't entertain, it becomes wallpaper, and no one pays attention." Moreover, the campaign's comic elements were designed to put viewers at ease and to allow them to relate to the situations depicted. According to Visa's Silver, each scenario portrayed in the campaign served "to illustrate the frustration felt when paying by check in a light-hearted way. The punch line is that we're not alone—celebrities as recognizable as Tony Bennett can't avoid I.D. hassles."


The "Works Like a Check" campaign's use of ironic humor and quirky celebrities distinguished Visa from the marketing efforts of its primary competitor, MasterCard. In launching a 1997 campaign for its own debit card, MasterMoney, MasterCard eschewed many of Visa's strategies for reaching its target market. MasterCard's "Priceless" campaign centered on the speed of making purchases with a debit card. One of the spots in that series, called "Paint," related the plight of a man waiting to buy a can of paint in a long hardware-store line while another customer paid with a check. "Al," the slow-moving manager, first had to approve the check. The man finally escaped when another register opened, and he was able to use his debit card quickly. The onscreen caption read: "Knowing you will never have to wait for Al—Priceless." Another spot portrayed the experiences of two women, one who successfully caught her train because she shopped quickly using a MasterMoney card, and the other who missed hers because she made her purchases by check.

Visa spent significantly more on advertising than its rival. In 1997 Visa devoted $46.7 million to promoting its Check Card, compared with the $10.9 million spent to market MasterMoney. Not surprisingly, Visa had issued over 50 million Check Cards by the end of 1997, while only 15.6 million MasterMoney cards had been issued to consumers. MasterCard, however, remained optimistic that its promotional strategy would close this gap at less cost to MasterCard. Instead of running a blitz of high-profile commercials during prime-time television slots, the company tried to win over viewers in other ways. For example, MasterCard took part in a 1997 contest on the television show Live with Regis and Kathy Lee, seen by more than 27.6 million consumers. Contestants had the chance to win a MasterMoney card with $5,000 or more on it. "While we may get 30 seconds to promote MasterMoney on a commercial, we'll be getting considerably more exposure through this promotion," MasterCard vice president Irene Katen told Credit Card Management.


The 60-second James Bond commercial that appeared in 1997 marked a new step for the "Works Like a Check" campaign. Visa forged a promotional alliance with MGM Pictures that was intended both to aid Visa's overall strategy and to hype the MGM-produced James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies that was released at almost the same time that the campaign debuted.

Analysts noted that in 1996 and 1997 Visa and MasterCard's true competitors were not each other. According to Credit Card Management, "the goal for both … was persuading Americans to stop using cash and checks and to use debit cards instead." Although Visa held a far larger share of the debit card market, neither its ads nor MasterCard's were intended simply to outdo the other. Rather, both companies sought to build market acceptance for debit cards. Key competition for both Visa Check Card and MasterMoney was checks and the force of habit that kept consumers using them to make purchases. In essence, the campaigns for the only two off-line debit cards were mutually reinforcing. Neither company, however, lost sight of its ultimate goal of dominating the debit card market.


Visa's goal was to increase the profile of its Check Card. In an effort to reach as broad an audience as possible, it opted for a strategy of "," which entailed running the commercials during some of television's highest-rated shows. According to Credit Card Management, Visa's commercials reached more viewers than MasterCard's "because of the types of programs on which they appear." The first spot of the campaign, featuring all-world athlete Deion Sanders, premiered during NBC's broadcast of the 1996 Summer Olympics. The best-known commercial of the series, which debuted during the 1997 Super Bowl (at an estimated cost to Visa of $40,000 per second simply for the airtime), featured the recently defeated presidential candidate Bob Dole returning to his hometown of Russell, Kansas. The 60-second spot cut between scenes of Dole's homecoming speech to the residents of Russell, a parade held in his honor, and tributes from local residents who had long-standing relationships with him. A sign in front of a grain silo declared, "Welcome to Russell, Kansas. Home of Bob Dole." After Dole finished lunch at the town diner, he asked the waitress, "Take a check?" "Of course," she replied, and then added with the first stern look in the commercial, "Can I see some I.D.? Driver's license, passport, military I.D., voter …" A voice-over interjected, "Maybe it's time you tried the Visa Check Card. It automatically deducts from your checking account everywhere Visa is accepted. No questions asked. No I.D. needed." The final image was of Dole: "I just can't win," he quipped. The voice-over that closed the spot stated, "The Visa Check Card. It works like a check, only better."

Another commercial, starring Pierce Brosnan, debuted during ABC's Monday Night Football telecasts during the fall of 1997. When Brosnan as James Bond tried to write a check to cover his caviar at a Secret Service snack bar, he was asked for I.D. even though he had already successfully passed through a building security system that confirmed his identity by scanning his voice, handprint, and even his retina. According to Matthew Brispiel, Visa's director of advertising, the celebrity in each spot was used as a foil. It was the product that was "held up as the hero."

Despite the overwhelming popularity of the "Works Like a Check" campaign, Visa did have to overcome some negative publicity regarding the possibility that off-line debit cards made consumers easy targets for fraud. Because the card did not require a consumer to enter a PIN at the time of a purchase, some contended that the card was unsafe. The Consumers Union emphasized that, in cases of fraud, it often took banks weeks to reinstate the stolen funds. In response, Visa announced a new cardholder protection policy to alleviate this concern.

In midcampaign Visa adjusted the commercials' voice-over endings. Visa's brand-management team believed that they no longer needed to explain that a Check Card "Works Like a Check." In TV spots released in 1999 the voice-overs touted the convenience of the Check Card with the phrase "Get in, get out, get on with life." Liz Silver, senior vice president of brand management and advertising for Visa, explained the shift in Brandweek. "We were moving up that ladder of consumer benefit … to the ability to get on with the things that are truly important to you and enabling your lifestyle," she said.

One spot that aired during the 2002 Super Bowl featured the actor Kevin Bacon struggling to make a purchase with a paper check. Referencing a trivia game called "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon," in which players linked any actor to Bacon by referencing other actors who had worked with him (the idea being that he could be connected to any film actor in six steps or less), Kevin Bacon was humorously featured trying to prove his own identity to a convenience-store clerk. When denied purchase, Bacon tracked down six people who, through a series of relationships, ultimately linked him to the clerk. For a subsequent Super Bowl commercial the Chinese basketball star Yao Ming and baseball legend Yogi Berra grew frustrated with a clerk who would not accept their checks. The campaign ended in early 2006.


Early on in the campaign Visa declared its "Works Like a Check" campaign to be an unequivocal success. The number of Check Cards issued rose from 46 million in 1996 to 58 million in 1997. These figures validated Visa's assertion that its advertising campaign had achieved its primary goal of promoting awareness of its debit card. According to the Business Wire, Visa attributed the card's growing popularity in large part to its "consistent and high profile advertising." Testing done throughout the campaign revealed that consumers became increasingly more conscious of the option of using Visa's debit card. According to American Banker, Visa's tracking index indicated that by July 1997, 80 percent of consumers knew what a debit card was.

The advertising industry lauded the campaign as well. In June 1998 BBDO took top honors in the financial services category at the EFFIE Awards for the "Works Like a Check" commercials. The same year Visa won three Clio Awards for individual ads in the campaign. Moreover, the Bob Dole spot was honored with a Gold Lion at the International Advertising Festival in Cannes, France. The campaign also collected the prestigious 2004 Bronze EFFIE in the Sustained Success category, which honored campaigns over five years old.

The campaign was probably best measured by the increase in Visa Check Card use over the campaign's lifetime. The annual charges to Visa Check Cards surged from $20.2 billion in 1995 to $537 billion in 2004. Unfortunately for BBDO, Visa executives decided to end the campaign just before the 2006 Winter Olympics. Susanne Lyons, Visa's chief marketing officer, explained the campaign's later weaknesses to USA Today: "After the ads run for a long time, they become formulaic, and you become wallpaper … You have the same comic twist and you get a little predictable." Visa awarded its advertising account to the ad agency TBWA\Chiat\Day.


Arndorfer, James. "The Marketing 100: Visa Check Card: Liz Silver." Advertising Age, June 30, 1997.

Bloom, Jennifer Kingson. "MasterCard's 'Priceless' Ads Win Top Honors." American Banker, June 15, 1999, p. 16.

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"Visa Bonds with 007 in Its Latest Check Card Commercial." PR Newswire, November 10, 1997.

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Wallenstein, Andy. "A Lot of Famous Agencies Are Not Named after Agency Producers." Shoot, August 21, 1998, p. 51.

                                  Rebecca Stanfel

                                        Kevin Teague