AGENDA: Visa rethinks debit card strategy - The decision to allow the Delta brand to fade out in favour of a Visa-branded debit card is the result of consumer confusion over its uses. Sue Beenstock looks at how Visa seeks to clarify public perceptions

Delta Card is dead. Long live Visa Debit. On second thoughts, that should be: Delta Card is terminally ill. Expect death around 2001.

Delta Card is dead. Long live Visa Debit. On second thoughts, that

should be: Delta Card is terminally ill. Expect death around 2001.



For in the rebranding of its debit and cash card (Marketing, July 9),

Visa has chosen to roll out its new-look pieces of plastic as current

ones reach their expiry date.



The new card - which states Debit Card clearly on the front, alongside

the Visa flag, and relegates the Delta logo to the back - are all about

’cardholder clarity’, according to Adrian New, Visa’s senior

vice-president for relationship management and marketing.



Ten years after the launch of Delta (and its rival, Switch) says New,

consumers understand the concept of debit, so the card itself doesn’t

have to look different to remind them.



The gradual roll-out, he says, is to avoid giving the banks another

deadline and imposing extra costs.



There are other reasons for the rebranding too, says New. Delta was a

UK-only brand, while the Visa flag commands worldwide acceptance and

recognition.



Visa’s debit system is usable worldwide, so it makes sense to ditch the

UK Delta symbol.



Going global



’We’re hoping to lever the globality of the brand,’ says New. ’It’s

taking the confidence and trust people have in the Visa flag and making

it more global. The Delta logo was purely UK-based, but now people are

using the debit facility abroad more.’



In an industry where there’s a revolution every 18 months, New claims

that smartcards, which will put loyalty, debit and credit card

facilities onto one piece of computer-chipped plastic, is at least three

years away.



But the fight to brand that single card will be fierce and if Visa can

de-clutter its own cards, that will, he believes, help it win the

looming brand battle.



Scott Anderson, editor of Cards International, which analyses the retail

banking-card sector, says this is one of the main business reasons for

Visa ditching Delta.



’Control of that branding is going to be much more intense than anything

we’ve seen before,’ says Anderson. ’The key to control is certain

account relationships with customers, and debit cards are an important

strand in this battle.’



Switch has about 54% of the debit card market via relationships with

NatWest, Midland, The Royal Bank of Scotland, Bank of Scotland and

Halifax.



Delta has the rest, through Barclays, Lloyds TSB, Co-op Bank Abbey

National and Nationwide.



Naturally, New would never concede that Delta was too weak a brand

compared with Switch and that it has had to roll out the heavyweight

global name to fight on the British front.



But Anderson believes this is what happened. To a great extent, he says,

Visa has been a victim of its own success, with its name now synonymous

with credit.



Public perceptions



’The word ’Switch’ entered the latest edition of the Oxford English

Dictionary,’ he says. ’If that doesn’t indicate the success of the

brand, what does?



I’ve even heard people refer to their Delta Visa card as their ’Switch

card’.



’Visa is perceived as a credit card. But they just haven’t been able to

get the message across that your cash card is also a debit card - 25% of

Delta cards are never used at point of sale,’ he says.



Delta was the highest spending brand in the Visa portfolio, worth around

pounds 6m annually, arguably up to twice as much as Switch spent.



Kevin Monks, Visa corporate communications executive, agrees that the

new card aims to ram home that this is a cash and debit card. ’By

calling it a debit card on the front, we’re emphasising the cash card’s

dual use.’



Vanessa Feltz will be going on a photo-grabbing shopping spree to mark

the roll-out of the card at the beginning of September, but no other

advertising is planned, according to Monks: ’That’s a decision for the

banks, not us.’



Meanwhile, Visa International is reviewing its dollars 40m (pounds 24m)

pan-European ad account, currently handled by Saatchi & Saatchi.



Saatchis’ ’Kerching’ Delta ads starring Mel Smith were heavily

criticised for failing to explain what the brand is about.



But pushing the Visa brand is now top of the agenda, and the company’s

need to compete for card custom against MasterCard and American Express

will form the focus of briefs agencies will be receiving in the next few

weeks.



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