Starting now, VISA will flood our eyeballs, minds and hearts with brand advertising.

VISA has become the quintessential Olympic advertiser. They bring the best running footage of athletic celebrities like Michael Phelps and the endearing shots of fierce little girls sticking the landing. Other than Dirt Devil’s puppies of the 90s, I can’t recall a better example of brand advertising. They’re evocative, positive, heart-rending and consistent. Morgan Freeman is the perfect voiceover too, adding his reputable credibility and warmth to each clip. More importantly, VISA’s money goes to support a fantastic cause- youth oriented athletic achievement and excellence.

But as I pointed out in yesterday’s article on the failures of brand advertising, VISA’s sponsorship illustrates my point perfectly- brand awareness advertising cannot compete with actual brand-induced customer experiences.

This week, my VP of Finance is switching our corporate cards from VISA back to American Express. Six months ago we moved our accounts from AMEX, a corporate card program we’ve used for ten years, to VISA’s on the promise of better administration and equal amounts of rewards kicked back to the company. In addition to corporate purchasing and travel, we sometimes spend millions of dollars annually on our cards buying online media. In the beginning it seemed great- the interface was easy to use and my finance team could quickly assign costs to codes across multiple cards using VISA’s administrative portal. Ease of card administration improved by at least 50%.

But then we tried to redeem some rewards points for a trip. It was a nightmare of rules and regulations. We could not use the points for travel unless we stayed over a Saturday night. There were a surprising number of blackout dates. We couldn’t simply exchange the points for Skymiles and finally, when one calculates how many points to book a ticket versus using AMEX, it took more VISA Rewards points than AMEX- leading us to conclude that the points were much less valuable.

We switched our corporate cards under the warm glow of VISA’s assurances and advertising that our financial life would improve and we wouldn’t lose any benefits. Our actual experience proved different.

I am so grateful to VISA for serving up the perfect example to make my point- Brand advertising means nothing to customers who experience something different. I’m glad VISA helps pay for the Olympics, but their failure to correctly set my expectations and our experience with them caused us to leave-no matter how many commercials they may run.

I would never say brand advertising doesn’t work. But it doesn’t build a brand. Customer experience does.

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