Visa to help tout downtown Sponsor: Visa U.S.A. has joined the "See Ya 'Round Downtown" campaign. Participating businesses will give discounts to customers who pay with a Visa card.

April 05, 1996|By Gary Gately | Gary Gately,SUN STAFF

Visa U.S.A. Inc. wants you to come downtown to dine, to shop, to play -- and, preferably, pay with plastic, not cash.

The credit card giant has teamed with the Downtown Partnership to promote Baltimore, as a key sponsor in the new ads in the "See Ya 'Round Downtown" campaign.

As a sponsor -- contributing more than $100,000 -- Visa's logo will appear in TV and print ads for about a year, and about 175 participating businesses will offer discounts to those using Visa cards.

Visa, which recently began similar marketing efforts in a handful of other American cities, becomes the biggest single sponsor of the partnership, a nonprofit group devoted to promoting downtown and fighting crime and grime.

Signing such a high-profile corporate sponsor represents a coup for the two-year-old partnership, which has received national attention and garnered awards for its campaigns.

Noting that the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association receives about one-third to half of what competitors spend to lure visitors, Downtown Partnership President Laurie Schwartz called such private-sector support critical to promotion.

"If we're going to be competitive in the marketplace and keep downtown as a destination of choice, we've got to play the same game as competitors," she said.

Visa saw an opportunity to boost credit card use considerably, gain high-profile exposure in targeted markets where results can be measured easily and promote destina- tions that the company depends upon for heavy credit card use.

"Visa is aggressively pursuing opportunities to partner with downtown communities throughout the country," said Thomas Edwards, senior vice president for travel and entertainment marketing. "Downtown Baltimore was the perfect fit, as they had a campaign that was up and running and had proven success."

Visa became the official credit card of the Olympics city when it signed deals to support the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau, the International Olympic Committee and the U.S. Olympic team.

In Atlanta, its logo is nearly omnipresent; it is found in ads, restaurant menus, kiosks around the city and millions of mailings.

Visa began a new marketing partnership in Philadelphia in February, and already has 400 merchants participating and reporting increased Visa card sales of more than 5 percent, Mr. Edwards said.

Visa, which has more than 460 million cardholders worldwide, will be featured prominently in Baltimore in displays and promotional materials as part of a program dubbed " 'Round Downtown Baltimore Prefers Visa."

The ad campaign, valued at $1.5 million in cash and donated services, will begin this weekend, promoting the "Really Big Show," a series of events downtown, April 11-14.

Along with extensive print ads, done free by the Gray Kirk/VanSant ad agency, the campaign features a 30-second TV spot, a humorous send-up on the Ed Sullivan Show. It opens in black-and-white with the host, in front of a 1960s audience, saying, "Today, we have a really big show. Here's last year's show."

Behind the host, color footage of highlights from last year's downtown show is shown.

Pub Date: 4/05/96

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