In September 2000, Providian introduced its “smart” chip-enabled credit card to the United States. While smart cards are already in use in certain parts of Europe and Asia, they did not catch on in a previous attempt with American consumers. American Express’ “Blue” card was widely distributed, but also widely recognized as a card with little or no smart functionality.  Providian, along with some other issuers and Visa U.S.A. were determined to begin a new effort to gain acceptance of smart cards with consumers and merchants. For Providian, the issue would be finding ways to stand out from the crowd and to gain market share. With significant improvements in the technology and applications associated with the smart card in place, the company was ready for Phase I of the smart card launch. With Phase I’s mission accomplished, it was time for the next phase of the program, through our concerted efforts during this phase, nearly every article being written by journalists about smart cards either focused on or included Providian. 

Phase II of Providian’s public relations campaign (about six months later) re-introduced the card to the public, and included outreach assistance from our public relations firm, Golin/Harris, the company’s agency of record. In addition to press kits mailings, a series of one-on-one interviews with journalists and industry analysts were conducted in key markets, including New York, Boston, San Francisco and San Jose. The results were a series of positive articles about Providian Smart Visa, with a noticeable increase from Phase I. This phase of the campaign also included a matte release, and photowire releases of our card images, which were picked up by several publications.

Challenges and Opportunities:

The strategy was to establish relationships with key journalists prior to the company’s marketing effort. Our aim was to ensure that Providian Smart Visa had resonated with journalists who cover the industry, and those who cover consumer finance. Providian Smart Visa cards were also constructed of clear, colored plastic, allowing us the opportunity to play on the words “clear” and “smart” in our communications efforts.

Providian’s public relations campaign began with the mailing of teaser postcards, showing a pixilated image of our smart card and the words “Things will become clear, September 2000” to nearly 400 journalists, who subsequently were delivered special clear plastic press kits, complete with personalized samples of our new smart card. Significant media coverage ensured – All prior to the actual launch of the product to the public.

Objectives and Execution:

Our primary objectives were straightforward: (1) Position Providian as a leader in the smart card industry, (2) Work to ensure that Smart Visa was the focus of feature coverage about smart cards, and was mentioned in all general industry coverage pieces, and (3) Create a level of excitement and acceptance among consumers for Providian Smart Visa cards, (4) Better educate the public on the potential uses and higher level of security that are inherent in smart chip technology. 
The public relations team, working in conjunction with the Company’s product marketing team, developed the strategy for the launch, designed all the materials, and embarked on an aggressive media and analyst outreach campaign. Key trade, business, technology editors and analysts were contacted and pre-briefed on Providian Smart Visa. Meetings were secured with top-tier research firms and publications for a three-city media tour. Providian executives traveled to meet media and analysts to discuss the card, its features and benefits, and Providian’s roadmap for future Providian Smart Visa technology enhancements and application developments. 

In addition to the tour, four-color, three-dimensional press kits were designed, developed and distributed to analysts, editors and reporters. The kit included a clear water bottle, leveraging the “clear communication” tagline for the smart card. Sample smart cards were also included, to emphasize the clear look and variety of color options (Ruby Red, Forest Green, Ocean Blue, Topaz Yellow, and Moonstone Gray) to choose from.    

Overall, the message driven by the various communication vehicles was that Providian Smart Visa puts enhanced security access and a variety of choices in the hands of consumers with its smart card technology. It gives consumers markedly increased convenience and purchasing power over “traditional” credit cards. Cardholders unlock, tailor and apply information stored on the card chip to enhance their buying experience, both in person and online. In addition, cardholders will soon be able to take advantage of loyalty programs that have instant rewards at the point of payment, with mobility of information at their command.

Summary of Results:

The Providian Smart Visa launch achieved widespread awareness and coverage with more than 40,000,000 impressions as of August 2001. There are currently more than two million smart cards in the hands of Providian customers.  From a media perspective, Providian’s Providian Smart Visa received feature coverage in USA Today, Newsweek, the New York Times, Smart Money, the American Banker, CNET, InformationWeek, and the Los Angeles Times, among many others. In addition, the card was mentioned in dozens of other online publications and daily news outlets, while placements in major monthly trade, personal finance and banking publications are continuing to emerge.

A clear and consistent message carried through media placements distinguished Providian from the competition, as an industry leader in the development of “next generation” smart-chip credit cards in the U.S. The strongest message for the Providian Smart Visa was its multi-application functionality.  This message positioned it as a cut above competitors. Following are highlights of garnered coverage, as well as quotes that communicate Providian’s messaging surrounding the introduction of Providian Smart Visa: 

Initial outreach via email and phone was conducted to 260 analysts, editors and reporters
Three-dimensional press kits were delivered to 240 analysts, editors and reporters
Coverage highlights include: American Banker, CNET, InformationWeek, Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, New York Times, San Francisco Business Times, Smart Money
More than 40,000,000 impressions were secured between June – August 2001, and new coverage continues to emerge.
“Software turns the Providian card into an E-wallet that actually loads purchasing functionality onto the memory chip. It’s more than just a security device,’ says Tower Group analyst Ted Iacobuzio. ‘That’s a big step ahead.” – InformationWeek, June 11, 2001

“The 32K chip comes embedded on the face of the card and lets a customer store her personal data on it, such as browser bookmarks, an electronically stored money value or information for automatically filling out online shopping forms.” – Newsweek, June 25, 2001

The Company also received prominent positioning in analyst reports written about the smart card movement, including from the Yankee Group and Jupiter Communications, Inc., among others, further cementing the company as a leader in the smart card industry.