Visa U.S.A. is kicking off its fall advertising season with three television commercials starring famous people.
The card association is seeking to build on past successes with celebrity endorsements. Since its first national campaign for the Visa check card in 1996, consumer awareness of the debit product has risen from 45% to 80%, the company said.
Visa will now have superstars promoting both debit and credit. The first two spots, which were shown for the first time Sunday on the Fox network during a National Football League preseason game, feature San Francisco 49ers teammates Steve Young and Jerry Rice in a credit card pitch.
The commercials, created by BBDO New York, take advantage of Visa's five-year marketing and sponsorship contract with the National Football League. The contract is in its fourth year.
"We chose the NFL because it's the biggest sports property in the United States and has the largest fan base," said Matthew Biespiel, director of advertising for Visa U.S.A. "Ratings for NFL games are better than the National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball combined."
MasterCard International struck a sponsorship deal with Major League Baseball last year.
Visa's football spots poke fun at the close friendship between Mr. Young, a quarterback, and Mr. Rice, his star wide receiver. In one, Mr. Rice tags along on Mr. Young's date, popping up during dinner, the theater, and a carriage ride, all to the date's dismay.
The other ad shows a plaintive Mr. Young trying to woo Mr. Rice back to the team after he was sidelined for a season, with the sentimental song "I Will Wait for You" playing in the background. Mr. Young goes so far as to send Mr. Rice flowers, using his Visa card. When Mr. Rice announces his return, Mr. Young asks him not to "tell the guys about the flowers."
The spots are to be aired during every NFL game this season and on other prime time and daytime television shows.
"We chose Young and Rice because they are famous enough for the mainstream to recognize them," said Lorne Fisher, spokesman for Visa U.S.A.
"Even though this is the NFL, it still" must affect "the mainstream consumer."
The supermodel Linda Evangelista appears in the third new commercial, the latest in Visa's award-winning celebrity check card campaign created by BBDO New York.
The 30-second spot, which is to premiere next week, portrays Ms. Evangelista trying to make a check purchase without identification at a perfume counter. Ms. Evangelista must convince an angry cashier of her supermodel status.
"We were searching for a new celebrity for the check card campaign and felt her face would be recognized by millions of U.S. viewers," Mr. Biespiel said. "We've done a slew of celebrities from a variety of industries, and Linda was a natural extension to that."
Previous Visa luminaries have included Tony Bennett, Bob Dole, Pierce Brosnan as James Bond, Shirley MacLaine, and Daffy Duck.
"Visa has had tremendous success with its strategy of using celebrities," said Steven Smith, president of S.J. Smith & Associates, a Scarsdale, N.Y., consulting firm.
Using celebrities can be risky, he said, if the person dominates the message. But "Visa has executed their commercials in a way where the celebrity raises the profile of the product."
MasterCard has shied from celebrity spots lately, opting for the more emotion-provoking "Priceless Moments" campaign.
According to Russ Schoper, president of Business Developments International, a card consulting firm in Alpharetta, Ga., MasterCard chose "a different tack" because Visa has been focusing heavily on celebrity advertising.
"Celebrities are fun, they're lighter," Mr. Schoper said. "But with the focus on family today, MasterCard has good timing."