Standing in the queue at one of the London 2012 kiosks in the Olympic Park, I overheard a discussion between a sales assistant and a Frenchman who was attempting to buy £60 worth of branded items with his Mastercard. “Sorry, we can only accept cash and VISA cards,” the sales assistant tried desperately to explain. The Frenchman looked bemused until another shopper chipped in (using fluent French) to shed light on the situation. Offering a Gallic shrug, the man politely walked away.
The episode led me to think about the impact of the experience on the consumer. More broadly I started to consider the value of a sponsorship that removes consumer choice. After all, at the Olympic Park I can choose an English roast rather than McDonald’s, I can use my Apple or HTC rather than a Samsung, or sip an Innocent smoothie over a bottle of Coke. So why should my choice of payment card be restricted?
Not only did the Frenchman leave with a poor impression of his retail experience at London 2012, he was no doubt given a poor impression of VISA. Sponsorship is supposed to positively associate a brand with an event’s values while reaching consumers when they are in a heightened emotional state. This time, the Olympic ideals of sportsmanship, healthy competition, and unity of nations were nowhere in sight!
The lesson for VISA, and any other sponsor, is that choice must come first. A relationship that holds consumers hostage destroys the positive association with the event and may do more harm than good to your brand.