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Visa Has an Idea to Attract Twentysomethings

Visa USA has hit on a new online marketing concept to understand the attitudes of adults ages 18 to 29, an audience that is hard to pin down for most marketers.

A contest on IdeasHappen.com has attracted 1 million unique visitors since the start of April. Of them, 8,500 people have submitted ideas toward a $25,000 prize to put their concepts into action.

“We want to be their brand of choice, and by doing this program, they learn more about us, we learn more about them, what's important to them, what's on their mind, what's going on in their lives,” said Nancy Friedman, vice president of advertising at Visa USA, San Francisco.

“Ideas Happen” is a Visa USA effort in collaboration with Microsoft Corp.'s MSN online service. MSN developed the site and database, dealing with issues such as hosting and loading of video submissions. In return, all contestants need to sign up with MSN's .NET passport account.

The notion behind “Ideas Happen” is to invite adults 18 to 29 to pitch their entrepreneurial, community-related or personal dreams online.

“That's principally because that's the time spent in your life when you have lots of ideas and lots of passion and energy to pursue them,” Friedman said.

The entrepreneurial ideas should focus on starting a business or marketing an invention. Community ideas are meant to benefit society at large. Self-expression is for ideas that are more personal in nature.

Some of the most popular ideas posted online include a remote-controlled fishing lure, funding a cure for a rare form of albinism, an African village health post, saving a young mother and a network to provide liberal education to Muslims worldwide.

It is no coincidence that the younger end of this 18 to 29 target audience is learning how to use credit and debit cards. At the older end, they already have cards, and the goal is to entice them to switch from rival franchises like MasterCard, Discover or American Express.

But the switch effort is not meant to be overt.

“The goal of this is not acquisition,” Friedman said, whose assertion is supported by the site design. “We really wanted this to be a forum for people to talk about what they cared about and for other people to see what people cared about.”

That said, Visa and MSN icons are at the bottom of every IdeasHappen.com page that link visitors to those brands' sites.

Entry forms are available on IdeasHappen.com, where the submissions can be viewed. Three judges will winnow the list to 10 finalists in each of the three categories. Online visitors vote June 9-30 to pick four winners in each category who will get $25,000 apiece to make their dream a reality.

The judges are composer Quincy Jones, craigslist.com founder Craig Newmark and Brian Jones, the first person to circumnavigate the globe in a balloon.

Visa USA recommends that ideas requiring copyright or patent protection get such coverage before submission.

In its short shelf life — the site will be pulled down after the results are announced — IdeasHappen.com is intended to be a resource for dreamers, inventors and entrepreneurs, Visa USA said.

Not only can site visitors vote on whether a posted idea is hot or not, they can access features ranging from advice on how to launch an idea to Practical Money Skills for Life, a financial management tool from Visa USA.

Visa USA is using ads in publications like Rolling Stone, The Source, college newspapers and glossies like Cosmopolitan. Online, it is running ads on MSN and Bolt.com to encourage sharing of ideas for the prize. Local radio spots support.

In a test limited to San Francisco and Austin, TX, Visa USA is experimenting with guerilla marketing, posters, coasters, matchboxes and cocktail napkins. Words inscribed on the matchbox say, “Ideas this small can be huge.”

Visa USA expects about 20,000 submissions. That is the limit of entries it can post on the site, so the cap is technical. A disclaimer on the site likely will go up if the quota is exceeded. Friedman said Visa has no plans to do anything with the submissions that do not win.

So how will Visa USA know its campaign paid off? It will conduct research at the end of the effort to understand what consumers think about its brand. That will be correlated with the number of submissions received, whether goals were met and if the target was reached in a meaningful way to gauge whether contestants remembered the sponsor.

So some of it will be objective, and the other measurement more specific, Friedman said.

“It's a window into young people's minds,” she said of “Ideas Happen.”

CAPTION: Visa expects 20,000 entries.

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