USA Today

Marketing play: Game of Life really does take Visa

Bruce Horovitz, March 7, 2007

Life takes Visa — literally.

In a move already being condemned by children's advocates and credit counseling experts, Visa and Hasbro (HAS) on Thursday will announce plans to make the Visa card an integral part of Hasbro's newest version of the board game, The Game of Life: Twist & Turns Edition.

This summer, "plastic" will replace cash in the new edition of the nation's second-most-popular board game. Last year, in Europe, Visa replaced money in a Monopoly game.

Behind the move: the supercharged growth of co-branding. Marketers get big bang for their ad bucks by hitching their names to other big brands. Co-branding can be very effective with children's products, so credit card firms have put their names on things from video games to "Barbie" cash registers.

Under the two-year deal, no cash — just public relations — is involved.

"This is a way to help families talk about the ways people pay," says Susanne Lyons, chief marketing officer at Visa USA. "Rather than hiding the fact that kids are exposed to money at a very early age, the right exposure at the right age is very important."

Critics are howling. "The credit card companies have already saturated the teen market, so they're going younger," says Susan Linn, co-founder of Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.

"Children need an understanding that five ones is a five," says Robert Manning, author of Credit Card Nation. "The credit card confounds everything."

Visa and Hasbro say the game is educational and the combo a perfect branding fit, considering the credit card's slogan: Life takes Visa. "Visa is an opportunity for Mom or Dad to talk to kids about managing money, and that debt isn't a positive thing," says Hasbro marketing chief Matt Collins.

In the new version, the winner is not the person with the most money, but the one who earns the most "life points" — a mix of wealth and life experiences, he says. Instead of cash, each player holds a colored Visa card. They're the size of real cards, but numbers and letters are printed, not embossed. Cards aren't swiped, but placed in an electronic device that stores player data. Players can go into debt on the card.

The customer name on each card: "Milton Bradley," the company (now part of Hasbro) that created the game 47 years ago. A disclaimer on each card notes: "For amusement only."

The new game sells for up to $34.99. The original goes for about $14.99.

If this game with Visa is a hit, others likely will follow, says Jim Silver, editor in chief of Toy Wishes, a consumer magazine. "Certain kids will love the fact that they can get a credit card."

But, he muses, "I wonder if it will make cheating harder — or easier?"


This story ran on USA Today on March 7, 2007.