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“Meet Visa”: How Visa’s rebrand strategy seeks to prove it’s more than just a card company

August 3, 2021, 7:55 PM UTC

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Jordi Luna and Yahkeema Moffitt like to say their work as creative directors at Wieden + Kennedy is sometimes akin to practicing judo. In Japanese, the word judo means “gentle way.” The idea is to maximize efficiency using minimal effort, balancing both technique and timing. “It means to use the current weight and meaning of the brand to make the move,” says Luna, who runs art direction at W+K.  

When the Portland, OR based agency was hired to help Visa redefine its brand, Luna and Moffitt were energized by the existing brand power Visa held across the world. “We were tasked with a very big thing,” says Moffitt, who directs copy at W+K. “We wanted to rethink the way Visa is showing up in the world. You think you know the credit card people, but then as we dug in it was this realization, ‘Oh, holy smokes!’ They’re more than just these cards; They are this entire network that moves money. The scope and scale of it is much grander than we thought.” With that, the agency’s task was framed in a totally new light.

It’s been widely covered (even here at Fortune) that Visa is leaning heavily into fintech, taking big steps in cryptocurrency, helping move money, and identifying consumers and business owners as payees and payers at various points in any given digital transaction cycle. “We’re launching a multi-year company effort to evolve our brand,” says Visa CMO Lynne Biggar of the campaign. “We want to make sure we’re seen in the world for the expansive work we do. We are known for consumer payments with 3.6 billion credentials out in the world, but we do so much more. We are really this broader trusted engine of commerce that provides access to everyone everywhere.” Biggar says the need for a shift became clear before the pandemic hit and Visa had started to operate in fintech more than just credit services, but when the world leaned even further into a digital space and consumers and business owners had to rely entirely on operating at a distance, the need for a new message felt even more urgent. In other words, the pandemic really fine-tuned the need to revisit everything from messaging, to logo, to brand.

For the folks at Wieden, even just beginning to eat that elephant required micro bites. First, says Moffitt, the tone had to be just so. Visa is a huge organization and running a new brand identity up the flagpole is no small feat. “Visa is this big company, but there’s all these people behind it,” says Moffitt. “We needed to do something really warm, to make sure the content is accessible and approachable. We wanted people to feel that the way Visa shows up is as human as possible.” Then, the collaborative process to meet that goal, says Luna, was a joint effort from Visa’s in-house team, a group of 85 individuals at W+K, and two other creative teams at Mucho, a brand design firm with offices across the globe from New York to Barcelona to Melbourne, and Pantera, a collective of three award-winning Argentinian directors. The result, among other things, is a campaign called “Meet Visa,” a new brand identity (Mucho) and a series of short films (W+K, Pantera) telling the story of how Visa operates in the world to benefit and elevate all sorts of customers: business owners, gig workers, consumers, corporations, governments and more.

Visa, of course, is already out in the world, says Moffitt, noting that tone and voice were especially important to see through in voice overs, imagery, and casting across the short films. The idea, Moffitt says, wasn’t to create visibility (something Visa already has), but to reposition the brand in a way that helps people fully see what the company does. Luna says they weren’t interested in totally changing the way the brand feels, but leveraging its current power to imagine how it could evolve and articulate honestly where it will live in the coming years. “When we first got the brief from Visa, we did a lot of research looking into the history of the brand,” says Luna. “Who are they and how do they speak? What part of the collective imagery is seen? This is again like judo, a sport that takes momentum and uses energy to keep it moving forward. At the end of the day, it’s one of the largest and biggest brands in the world and we wanted it to move forward, to make an iconic brand even more iconic.”

Chris Colborn serves as Global Head of Design at Visa. His team was, of course, also part of the “Meet Visa” effort alongside W+K and others. “In a world where experience shapes perception, aligning what we say with what we do drives everything,” says Colborn. “From why we develop the products we do, to how we market them, purposefully and by design.” The creative process was vast and with that also came managing simple logistics in a time when no one could meet in person. First meetings, brainstorms, and even shoots were accomplished virtually and across time zones: Portland, San Francisco, New York, Morocco, Europe, Singapore. “It’s been a real labor of love,” says Biggar, noting wonky sleep schedules and tons of screen time. “This work has been underpinned by more listening and insights research than anything I’ve ever been involved in. We have spoken with more than 10,000 individuals through all five regions and many markets and all sorts of audiences: consumers to fintech to clients to potential clients to government officials to influencers to small and large business owners. The world is a big and very nuanced place.”

In balancing those insights, there’s great benefit in hiring an outside agency to leverage perspective. “We so rarely see the label from the inside of the jar,” says Sunny Bonnell, founder and CEO at Motto, a strategic leadership and branding firm based in New York City and Dallas. “We’ve often heard our own story so much we are blinded by its important points.” Bonnell, whose company has worked with big brands like Microsoft and Hershey’s, says the advantages of agency collaboration allow brands to cut through red tape, side step internal politics, and spend some time getting uncomfortable. That is where, she says, “you feel most alive as a brand.” In Visa’s case, Bonnell notes, the work is about creating a rallying cry around what they can own, allowing the brand to act as a nucleus or linchpin for everything the company does to hang around. “I think Wieden + Kennedy did a great job,” she says. “It was really fresh. But other fintechs who are startup and scrappy, who have nothing to lose, aim to be game changing. What will this ultimately do for Visa’s brand?”

Biggar and Colborn are hoping quite a lot. While the campaign dropped during the Tokyo Summer Olympics opening ceremonies, the team at W+K is quick to note that Visa’s effort is just beginning. For now, though, Moffitt and Luna are hoping for some actual face time, in the same room, with their Visa counterparts. Says Luna, “I literally cannot wait to meet the people I’ve been working with daily. This was a huge team and we are proud of achieving this level of collaboration. It feels like we all own this campaign to set up a new chapter.”

Nicole Gull McElroy

nicolegull@gmail.com


NEWS IN DESIGN

Required reading

Former CDO at 3M Eric Quint wants to inspire the next generation of design leaders to be better and more fearless. His book, Design Leadership Ignited, will drop in February 2022 from Stanford University Press and was written in collaboration with Gerda Gemser at University of Melbourne in Australia and Giulia Calabretta at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. The book leverages decades of collective experience working in, researching, and teaching design along with interviews with design leaders at many Fortune 500 companies to share best practices and strategy behind organizational structure of some of the world’s greatest design-minded leaders.

 

Royal Design

Prince Charles and former Apple CDO Sir Johnny Ive have joined forces to open the Terra Carta Design Lab to address climate change. Students studying architecture, arts, humanities, communications, and design from the Royal College of Art in London are invited to dream up solutions to creatively address climate change, to be paired down in a short list shared at the UN’s annual climate change event COP26 in November. The call for submissions is part of Prince Charles’ recently launched Sustainable Markets Initiative and is focused on ideas that can be low cost, but still powerful in addressing environmental issues around a more sustainable future.

 

Supermarket icon, re-designed

Campbell’s Soup released a newly designed soup can for the first time in 50 years last week. The original font used on the can’s label was based on founder Joseph A. Campbell’s signature will be updated from its 1898 derivation. A few nods will remain from the early label, including a slanted “o” in, as well as the fleur-de-lis next to the word soup along the bottom of the can. To mark the change, the company also dropped its first ever NFT (non-fungible token) July 27, designed by street artist and illustrator Sophia Chang. Proceeds from the NFT will benefit Feeding America, an organization working to end food insecurity.  

 

THE MUSE

Charity Pourhabib, courtesy of Wieden + Kennedy

Charity Pourhabib, courtesy of Wieden + Kennedy

"While we were bringing the Visa campaign to life, one of our colleagues Charity Pourhabib invited us to help out on this program called AdMagic. The whole point of it was to introduce more people to this industry," says Moffitt. "We worked on a real client brief with historically black college and university (HBCU) students who in some cases might not have ever had a close look at how things work inside agencies. We loved teaming up with the students, and since the Visa work was so entrenched in the idea of increasing participation and access, AdMagic definitely inspired us to bring more of that energy into what we were doing for the brand relaunch."

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