The Better Business Bureau sees little wrong with American Express Co.'s Visa-bashing advertisements.
The consumer watchdog group said last week that American Express had largely substantiated the claims it made about its charge card and Visa's classic card in print and television commercials and, thus, needed only to modify a few words to meet the bureau's standards.
This most recent battle of the card brands began in July when Visa and two issuing banks-Citicorp Credit Services Inc. and Bank of America-filed complaints about American Express' advertising claims with the national advertising division of the Better Business Bureaus.
Visa and the banks took umbrage at American Express' description of benefits associated with Visa cards, disputing the ads' characterization of Visa's spending limits, mileage programs, emergency legal and medical referrals, purchase protection, and car insurance benefits.
Visa said American Express implied that all the association's bank card products are the same.
"Amex is suggesting that its one charge card product offers superior benefits to the entire cadre of Visa products," said Visa spokesman David Sandor.
The television spots, which debuted in January and were produced by Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, depict a hapless tourist visiting Paris and getting into trouble he supposedly could have remedied had he used American Express. The ads include text that says medical and legal referrals are not available on Visa Classic cards and that mileage points associated with Visa cards expire.
Visa said consumers could logically conclude that none of the benefits cited were available from Visa when, in fact, as Mr. Sandor said, "Millions of Visa cards offer the enhancements Amex claims Visa doesn't have."
The Better Business Bureau's advertising division, however, agreed with only part of Visa's argument. Its investigation found American Express at fault for omitting a word or two to clarify that some Visa classic cards do offer medical and legal referrals and that some Visa classic cards are affiliated with programs whose mileage does not expire.
"We are pleased that we just have to make some minor changes," said American Express spokeswoman Emily Porter. "We see this as a victory."
But Visa plans to appeal the decision to the National Advertising Review Board, a group separate from the BBB's ad division that is made up of five advertising professionals. Visa also has not ruled out a lawsuit.
Visa and American Express have faced off before the Better Business Bureau several times in the last decade-but the nonbank company had been doing the complaining in those instances.
In a separate matter before the bureau, American Express Co. scored another victory against Visa last week, regarding advertisements that ran in several trade publications for travel agents.
The Visa ads said that, according to a survey, American Express cost the travel agency industry $5.1 billion of sales. The ads used the tag line: "Shaking hands with American Express could put a real squeeze on your business."
The BBB's advertising division found that the survey Visa cited could not substantiate its $5.1 billion claim. Visa disagreed with the finding but said the ad campaign had already ended.