Visa Scraps NFL Kickoff Ad For Last-Minute Harvey Spot

By Alexandra Bruell Features Dow Jones Newswires

When the Visa marketing team met August 28 at 3 p.m. to discuss its plan for the NFL season, including an ad set to appear in this Thursday's kickoff game, the conversation quickly shifted to Hurricane Harvey.

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"We all collectively decided it didn't feel right to launch an ad on behalf of our brand in the context of what's occurring in the gulf states," said Chris Curtin, chief brand and innovation marketing officer at Visa.

The company had spent over a month producing an ad that promoted Visa's mobile payment features, but Mr. Curtin and his team decided to save that ad for a later date and create a new spot that would drive donations for Harvey victims.

Visa President Ryan McInerney and Chief Marketing Officer Lynne Biggar both signed off on an initial plan that same afternoon, without any guarantee that the necessary pieces would come together.

Visa reached out to a handful of athletes it had worked with in the past, as well as the Red Cross and the NFL. Players including the New York Giants' Eli Manning, New England Patriots' Julian Edelman and Carolina Panthers' Greg Olsen, among others, agreed to film footage using iPhones and local production equipment at their practice facilities and stadiums around the country.

In the ad, the athletes identify their team and city, before saying, "But right now, we're all supporting the recovery efforts in the Gulf Coast." Visa then encourages viewers to donate to the Red Cross at the end.

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The commercial process often gets bogged down by costly production practices and lengthy approvals, especially when celebrities, unions, leagues and teams are involved. Visa's experience shows how advertisers, media companies and celebrities can produce a high-profile national ad with limited resources and time.

The NFL agreed to give an extension on the ship date deadline for the ad and the Red Cross helped to set up a donation domain. Creative agency BBDO prepared a script and guidelines for athletes to capture content and edited the footage, and sports management shop WME|IMG helped to connect Visa with the athletes and provided public relations support.

Some of the footage filmed and sent back by the athletes was a little blurry, creating a home-video effect, but it worked well for this particular Visa spot, said Mr. Curtin.

"It's suggestive of a different way of doing media in the future," said Mr. Curtin. While "it's not hyper-polished production quality, it speaks to the authenticity of the spot."

Visa also managed to eliminate the usual endless negotiations and back-and-forth with athletes' agents, managers and publicists.

The entire process took less than 24 hours, said Mr. Olsen, a tight end for the Panthers.

Mr. Olsen was on his way to his son's flag football game the Tuesday evening after the storm hit when he got a call from his marketing agent about the Visa ad. He immediately agreed to participate.

"It was an opportunity to do something so small but have a great impact, " said Mr. Olsen, who has worked with Visa in the past in a more formal capacity. "It made too much sense not to be a part of it."

The next morning, a production crew with the Panthers filmed Mr. Olsen in under an hour. "From the call to saying yes to actually being in there and being a part of making the content, this is definitely a record," he said.

Visa declined to disclose any contractual terms with the athletes. "They're doing it for all the right reasons," said Mr. Curtin.

The ad came together quickly, but Visa is still tying up loose ends. There may be extra costs associated with rush orders for certain production functions and work taking place over the Labor Day holiday, said Mr. Curtin. Visa also agreed to take care of any unexpected union costs related to working with athletes.

"We typically know exactly what something will cost, and have a hedge in there in case it goes over. This is something we really never have done before," said Mr. Curtin. "It is what it is."

Write to Alexandra Bruell at alexandra.bruell@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

September 06, 2017 11:55 ET (15:55 GMT)