Olympic Athletes Wash Their Hands and Social Distance in PSAs from Visa

The financial giant turned around the videos in a week

Sky Brown, a British skateboarder, stars in one Visa's coronavirus-focused PSAs. - Credit by Visa
Headshot of Diana Pearl

Key Insights:

As of last week, Visa—a sponsor of the Olympic Games for over 30 years—had 80% of its Olympics-centric creative completed, and with just four months until the opening ceremony in Tokyo was planning to begin its rollout this spring.

Those plans, of course, came to a screeching halt after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced that due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the Summer Games would be postponed for a year, until 2021.

While that creative is on hold, in the meantime, the company put out a call to its Team Visa athletes—the athletes it sponsors ahead of and during the games—to fuel a different sort of creative. Chris Curtin, Visa’s chief brand and innovation marketing officer, said Olympians were asked to film themselves engaging in one of the practices that we’re all being instructed to follow right now to prevent the spread of COVID-19: hand-washing, using hand sanitizer and social distancing.

These videos have been turned into a series of PSAs, starring athletes including British skateboarder Sky Brown; Kenneth Tencio, a BMX freestyle biker from Costa Rica; and Greek pole vaulter Katerina Stefanidi.


After the news of the Olympic postponement broke, the Visa team began brainstorming “what can we do to help encourage the world that, you know, we are in this together?” Curtin said.

The athletes were asked to film themselves doing an athletic feat, or with their sports equipment, and then washing their hands, cleaning their home or using hand sanitizer, all practices currently encouraged by the World Health Organization to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

“It was a big deal to postpone the games, but they make us realize that there are bigger things at hand right now and that’s what needs to command the most attention and focus,” Curtin said. “I think it’ll make people feel good, the fact that we have something in common with them, even if I can’t do one of the athletic feats that is described in the video.”

The turnaround for the project was fast: less than a week from when the idea was first formed to when the videos were published. The videos, filmed on smartphones at home, have a simple, DIY feel to them. Curtin said that was intentional, given the current state of affairs in the world, as Visa didn’t want the videos to appear “hyper polished.”


They’re anything but. The videos give viewers a peek at the spaces where these athletes are spending their quarantine, such as their living rooms and bathrooms. Each of the videos ends with a quick phrase appearing on screen: “Wash your hands like an Olympian” or “Sanitize like an Olympian.”

“It’s pretty remarkable to see this universal thread of humanity and how people are coping,” he said. “There’s just an optimism with each of these athletes in their own way that uplifts our spirit.”

Visa is not putting paid advertising behind the PSAs and instead is posting them to its social channels, encouraging athletes to do the same, in the hope that organic sharing will push them out into the world and in front of people’s eyes.


In light of the Olympics’ delay, Visa is also having to rethink its marketing strategy around the games. The company is offering all of its athlete partners the opportunity to extend their partnership into 2021, so their roster is likely to remain relatively unchanged.

And all that original creative, which was ready to go for 2020, will likely still see the light of day, according to Curtin. He predicted that much of their creative will remain in the pipeline for next year.

“For the most part, we’ve captured really a lot of creative that I think speaks to who we are as a business, and could work in certain instances, on everything,” he said.

But new creative may be added to that lineup, in particular creative that reflects the “unprecedented challenge” that the world has faced.

“There’s no doubt that we’re going to want to make sure that the message is developed in conjunction with the times,” he said. “We’re gonna have a message that we think represents the best of Visa, a message that we would want to send to the world. Under any scenario, we will have come out of an unprecedented challenge and I’m certain that our creative will reflect that in some way, shape or form.”


Don't miss Brandweek Masters Live, Sept. 14-17, a fully reimagined virtual experience assembling the foremost brand marketers for 4 days of main stage insights, Masterclasses and more. Secure your pass before rates increase on 9/2.

@dianapearl_ diana.pearl@adweek.com Diana is the deputy brands editor at Adweek and managing editor of Brandweek.