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Visa making most of Michael Phelps’ pursuit of Olympic history

Matt Schulz

Michael Phelps is racking up gold medals and world records at the Beijing Olympics as fast as some people rack up credit card debt, and along the way, Visa is doing everything it can to tie itself to the
23-year-old American swimmer some are calling the greatest Olympian ever.

The credit card company launched its latest 30-second ad spot — called “Congratulations Phelps” — in the commercial break immediately following Phelps’ performance in the 200-meter butterfly, according to Sports Business Daily. That win made him the first person ever to win 10 Olympic gold medals, and Visa didn’t want to waste any time patting him on the back.

The clip, like others in Visa’s Go World ad campaign, is striking both in its use of sepia tones and its
use of actor Morgan Freeman as the voice of the ad. The combination of the two gives the ad a classic feel, different from, for example, the cheesy but also congratulatory “I’m going to Disney World!” ads that once featured the winning team immediately after the Super Bowl. Still, the idea is the same — tying a company to a new American sports hero moments after his or her great accomplishment.

Visa is one of 12 companies that paid a combined estimated total of $900 million dollars to be a worldwide Olympic sponsor, precisely to capitalize on historic, memorable events such as Phelps’ pursuit of Olympic immortality. Kevin Burke, Visa’s head of global consumer marketing, drives that point home in a press release that followed the ad’s release. He says, “Michael Phelps truly embodies the
spirit of our ‘Go World’ campaign that celebrates memorable Olympic moments and
the extraordinary athletes who achieve them. We congratulate Michael on this
momentous achievement and wish him the best as he continues his march towards
Olympic history.”

That march is toward becoming the first person ever to win
eight gold medals in a single Olympics. Swimmer Mark Spitz won seven in 1972, and his feat has never been matched.

As of today, Phelps has won five golds, with three events remaining — all
of which he’ll probably be favored to win. Because of that, Visa likely isn’t done
honoring Phelps either. If he tops Spitz’s record, it’s a good bet that another
new Visa ad will make its debut shortly thereafter.

Meanwhile, as the world waits to see if he will win those
eight golds, take a look at an Phelps Visa ad from the 2004 Games in Athens and
a 2-minute clip that Phelps made for Visa Mobile.

Visa 2004 Olympics ad:


Visa Mobile ad:


UPDATE (8/15/08): On Thursday, it was another night, another gold for Phelps and another run of Visa’s “Congratulations Phelps” ad. If he does equal or even eclipse Spitz’s record, it’ll be interesting to see what Visa comes up with.

See related: Going to Beijing? Better carry cash

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  • rachel

    love phelps and the adds good except when he left the shop he didnt leave with his dog