Borrow with pride like Visa

Post by David Nichols, Group Managing Partner.

VISA’s heartwarming Christmas ad is an interesting example of how to ‘borrow with pride’ when creating marketing ideas. VISA’s #WhereYouShopMatters campaign encourages us to spend at our local stores. There is a clear link to VISAS’s business, in contrast to many Christmas ads which are big on budgets and entertainment, but sometimes light on connection to the actual business. The campaign reached 94% national awareness and featured 117 local businesses in total.

VISA is not the first to do this sort of campaign. American Express ran a similar campaign. ‘Shop Small’ which is still on their website, although they don’t seem to be spending behind it this festive season. But who says every good marketing idea has to be unique? Sometimes taking inspiration from someone else’s idea and doing it your way can be just as effective: you don’t have to be different, but you do need to be distinctive.

We call this approach ‘borrowing with pride’ and it is a legitimate marketing tactic. Below, I suggest how being second to use an idea can still work, as long as you give it a distinctive twist.


1. Keep the good stuff …

The first trick when you borrow with pride is to keep the good stuff from the idea you are using as inspiration. In the case of VISA this included:

  • Don’t just sell to you customers, help them – rather than just pushing payment system features to sell to small business owners, VISA are using their marketing might to help customers grow their own businesses. This suggests they have listened to their research and focused on the real concerns of their customers, ‘How do I grow my business?’, rather than limiting themselves to ‘selling payment systems’. In one video ‘Copycat Lisa’ who runs a menswear shop in Northumberland tells how in the previous year of the campaign she saw a 30% uplift in her business that season, turning a normally tough time of year into a resounding success.
  • Connect B2B with B2C – VISA wants both consumers and business owners to love and use their brand. Rather than do two separate campaigns, finding an idea that engages both audiences saves budget and helps the team internally to galvanize the business around a single idea.

  • Make Your customer the hero – unlike most campaigns where the brand is the hero of the communications, VISA has made the local shopkeeper the focus, literally. These are their customers and the people consumers engage with when they are using the VISA brand.

2. Give it a distinctive twist

The second trick is to then give the idea a distinctive twist, both in terms of product benefits and features (‘sausage’) and emotional values (‘sizzle’):

  • Be more culturally relevant – one small but important twist that VISA have added is to focus not on small businesses, but on local hughstreet businesses. This taps into a cultural trend in the UK which is fears about ‘the death of the high street’ and the resulting negative effect on local communities. The VISA campaign has a more local UK feel, versus AMEX’s Shop Small which feels a bit more global and corporate.
  • Add some specific sizzle – the AMEX campaign feels quite serious and straight (below). In contrast, the VISA campiagn features actual shop owners singing Queen’s ‘Somebody to Love’. It gives it a warmer, more friendly feel. And the fact the shown owners singing is more karaoke than pop star adds to the charm.


  • Social media amplification – VISA seem to have more effectively harnessed the local shop owners to amplify the campaign. Digging into the social media side of the VISA campaign there are lots of individual videos of specific local businesses talking about their shops & cafes. These are engaging and interesting and set up to drive awareness via ‘Likes’ and Tweets across the social media landscape. Tapping into the existing networks of your customers with engaging content is a smart way to amplify reach.
  • Use some cheeky tactics – I smiled when I searched for ‘American Express shop local’ on Google. The VISA team have clearly been using search engine marketing as part of their campaign, as shown by the ad that popped up below! VISA are using the interest in shopping locally that AMEX have created, and then diverting the traffic to their own campaign.

In conclusion,  the VISA #WhereYouShopMatters campaign shows how if at this festive season you’re short on ideas for gifts to give your brand, one option is to borrow an idea from a competitor. As long as you give it a distinctive twist, this can bring joy and prosperity to your business!