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Visa for Life

posted by Bob Lawless

The Game of Life now comes with a Visa card. Hasbro, Inc., has announced a new version of the old family favorite called The Game of Life: Twists and Turns Edition. Instead of paper money, this version will use a Visa-branded credit card to keep track of players' financial standing in the game. The credit card will be inserted into an electronic gizmo called the LIFEPod which apparently will read the information on the card and somehow keep track of player's progress in the game. Brandweek magazine quoted Susanne Lyon, the chief marketing officer for Visa, as saying the game is a "way to get the brand in front of parents and kids." Ms. Lyon continues, "This is like that old commercial for Reese's Peanut Butter cups. Two great tastes that taste great together."

Hey, I like peanut butter and chocolate as much as the next person. Hmmm . . . peanut butter and chocolate. But I want to play board games with my kids without having product placements shoved down our throats. Why does Visa have to get its brand in front of kids? Do they have plans to market credit cards to children? Surely not.

Visa and Hasbro promote the new game as teaching kids about financial literacy. Who can be against that? Is the game really about financial literacy? Sure, in the same sentence where Visa's marketing officer says the the game will get the brand in front of kids, she says it also will promote Visa's financial literacy program, Practical Money Skills for Life. Great, let's promote financial literacy. Of course, Visa and Hasbro could have promoted financial literacy without including the Visa brand in the game. I suppose it would not have sounded as good to say that the game was about getting a brand name in front of impressionable youngsters without including the financial literacy angle.

What sort of financial literacy is being promoted anyway? At this point, all I have to describe this new game is Hasbro's press release and the article in Brandweek. As mentioned above, players will insert their Visa brand card into the LIFEPod, which will then tell the player how many spaces to move, where the player stands in the game, and how much money the player has. The lesson appears to be to trust Visa; they know best. Moreover, Hasbro assures us that the most significant change in the game is that "the winner is no longer the person who accumulates the most money, but rather earns the most 'life points,' which is a combination of wealth and life experiences." Visa will keep track of your wealth AND your life experiences. Phew. The future is so bright I have to wear shades. I challenge Visa and Hasbro to fix these problems simply by removing Visa's trademark from the game.

At the Lawless household, I think we'll stick with the old-fashioned Game of Life. It's a lot more fun with paper money and that darn plastic spinner that keeps coming loose from its mooring. Besides, the kids learn valuable math skills by making change and keeping track of their own money. (How about that for a valuable financial literacy lesson.) The best part of our family games will continue to be the debates about whether they have to add a plastic spouse and plastic children to their plastic cars just because the game instructions says they do. When you grow with a parent who is a law professor, you play by the rules. Maybe we'll play Monopoly instead (another Hasbro product).

Hat tips to CreditBloggers and my research assistant, Jeff Paulsen for pointing the way to this story.


Bob, as luck (or P.R.) would have it, the latest issue of the New Yorker (May 21) has a profile of Milton Bradley, his board game company founded in 1860, and the history of his "The Checkered Game of Life," by Jill Lepore. One theme in the story is the changing social mores reflected in the original 19th century game and its various revisions over the years. In the original version, life was about vice, virtue, and the pursuit of happiness, with Happy Old Age being the ultimate goal. The 21st century version sounds like something of a reflection of current social realities as well. Especially the Visa card--everywhere you want to be, right?

An abstract of the New Yorker piece is here: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2007/05/21/070521fa_fact_lepore

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