The best marketing and advertisements stay with you. They speak to the zeitgeist in the world at a specific time with the right words, the right imagery, the right message.
Creative agency StrawberryFrog has worked with Truist, the combined BB&T and SunTrust bank, on its rebranding. When Covid hit early in 2020, the team pivoted, launching a series of campaigns that spoke of hope and combined destiny, that together, we’ll make it through.
StrawberryFrog’s CEO and founder Scott Goodson and head of strategy, Chip Walker join us on the podcast to take us behind the scenes of the Live United campaign, that combines Truist, the United Way, and youth poet laureate Amanda Gorman, who delivers an inspirational message at a time it was needed most.
StrawberryFrog won Tearsheet’s Agency of the Year Award for 2021.
2020 as a year of change
Scott Goodson: I actually think that we’ve been thinking about this world we’re living in and acting for this world we’re living in well before [Covid] happened. Chip and I have both worked many years internationally. Chip worked in Central Europe. I worked in Scandinavia, and very early on in the 90s, companies were already developing purpose strategies at the core of their companies to drive positive change in society.
So I think we grew out of that experience. And we develop strategies for companies on the basis of that. So for example, this last year and a half, we’ve been working on the merger between SunTrust and BB&T, which I think, is the largest financial merger in the US, if not the world, to create Truist.
But in 2017, we did the merger of the National Bank of Abu Dhabi and First Gulf Bank, which at the time was the largest merger in the world, to create First Abu Dhabi Bank, which is otherwise known as FAB. So we went from and BAD to FAB in 2017. But, that whole process developed a purpose strategy, and then activated that with a movement at the time called Grow Stronger. We worked with financial brands, and with this idea of working with leaders inside financial companies to develop purpose strategies, but more importantly, activating those purpose strategies inside the company, to the employees, and then externally, in a tangible way. Because that’s really what matters these days: not just what you talk about, but how you’re actually helping to drive positive change.
Cultural movements and activation
Chip Walker: Just to build on that, in terms of purpose, we’ve kind of been the cultural movements agency, and a lot of that was about purpose, and what is the brand’s higher role in the world? So it’s not just what are you doing in your category, but how are you making the world better? So we’ve had that orientation for years. And then, as COVID hit, it became very clear that for our client companies, not only the bank, but we represent a hospital system, a lot of other clients, there was a burning need to get in there and make a difference. Our philosophy was a natural fit for what our clients needed at that point. I think we were pretty well poised to deal with the issues around the pandemic.
Scott Goodson: And this is really difficult. A lot of leaders develop purpose strategies, but they end up being either toothless or not acted upon. Many companies don’t really activate them. And that’s a problem, isn’t it? Especially when you’ve got real devastating challenges happening all around you, such as physical, emotional, and financial devastation. So how do companies help to change that trajectory for their own people and also for their customers? It’s a tough question. And that’s something that Chip and I have been working on for 22 years.
And the other really big thing was the the need during the pandemic to move super fast. And as a more agile and nimble agency, working with Truist, they had PPP loans that they needed to turn around immediately with communications going with it. And we had to be able to turn around on a dime during the pandemic. And luckily, given our kind of size and orientation, we were able to do that.
Working with Truist
Scott Goodson: We were very fortunate to work with the leadership of Truist. Kelly King was the CEO. Bill Rogers, who’s the COO, and will soon become CEO, and other leaders developed a purpose right from the very beginning of the merger called inspiring and building better lives and communities.
One of the first things that they did was to develop a purpose for this new entity, this new financial organization, which was extraordinary. For the most part, Chip and I tend to work with companies where if purpose is on the laundry list of the Top 10 priorities, it’s number 12. Here you have the leadership of the organization sitting down and actually working through this, which has a lot of benefits. First of all, it gives you a reason to be beyond just the financial, transactional side of things. But more importantly, it really is a strong way of gelling the management team, bringing them together to build a common point of view. We started with that.
And when COVID hit, I think we were the first, or at least one of the first, financial institutions in the world to come out with a program. It’s called Truist Cares. It is a strategy developed by the leadership, which was about helping communities. And we activated that Truist Cares strategy in a number of campaigns. One which has generated tremendous awareness and engagement is a program we did together with Amanda Gorman, who became the first US Youth Poet Laureate.
And coincidentally, we did this program last summer. And she was selected by Joe Biden to be the inaugural poet for his inauguration. When that happened, we had discovered her and thought she was extraordinary, as a new voice of a new generation. And we did a whole campaign with her. When she became the inaugural poet, she just went through the roof, she became the hottest celebrity — the hottest, young, inspiring voice in this country. I think her poem and her speech traveled around the world. It was extraordinary and riveting, and we were just incredibly fortunate to have foreseen the power that she had, and to enlist her in this program that we did together with Truist and the United Way in the US.
Chip Walker: One of the reasons that it hits such a chord is that you notice that the purpose itself — inspiring and building better lives and communities — and the creative that we did with Amanda, is not about banking. It’s not even really about financial services. It’s sort of like what banking and financial services could do for the world, if done properly. It’s really about improving communities.
Leading with purpose
Scott Goodson: Truist’s team not only has a strong understanding of their purpose to engage in ways that demonstrate how they’re working in the community. But they have a tactile sense of the kind of content that is culturally on point. And so when you start with that type of relationship, it’s easier to identify these types of opportunities.
I had seen a clip of Amanda that a very good friend of mine sent me. I actually just reached out to her. At the time, she was a student at Harvard. And I just said, Hey, you know, I’m very impressed with how you hold yourself, and how you present yourself. It’s so fresh and so genuine, incredibly wonderful and inspiring. I’d love to work with you on a project. And then when the Truist opportunity came around, we presented her as an option. Our friends at Truist were incredibly receptive, and basically agreed and decided that day. They said she is extraordinary. Yes, let’s do it.
Producing the clip
And then we went from idea into planning the work, and how that would end up turning into a tangible campaign. It all posed a lot of challenges. In the late spring, the surge had happened in New York. But of course, the surge was just on the rise across the rest of the country, including California, where she was living in LA. It was such a difficult time. She’s an extraordinary person. She has a twin sister and they live in a small apartment in LA with their mother, who had some medical concerns. So they didn’t want to leave the apartment to shoot anything. So we had to work through a lot of those challenges. And Amanda is just such an incredibly collaborative, thoughtful, creative individual.
We ended up sending a camera to her and her sister actually filmed her in her house. Edited with other scenes that we shot elsewhere, we turned that into part of the campaign. Obviously, we were fortunate to identify with her. It’s really important — in today’s world, people are looking for new ideas, new leaders, a new generation, and she really is such an extraordinary, thoughtful, genuine voice at this time.
Chip Walker: I think another reason that it also worked so well was given that Truist is a brand new brand, so people didn’t know much about it. But we were also partnering with the United Way that Truist, and before it SunTrust and BB&T, had had strong relationships with the United Way. So it was something that had teeth to it. It wasn’t just a nice message. I think that those were two more things that made it particularly effective.
Using video to tell a story
Scott Goodson: It’s really challenging to tell a story in 60 seconds or 30 seconds and introduce her to the world. Most people didn’t know who she was, so we had to put it at the end of the film. Her voice and her words were so captivating that I think those captured people’s imagination before we had introduced who she was. But then, how do you tell that story? How do you do it?
In today’s world, it’s really difficult to keep people interested for 30 seconds or 60 seconds. We launched the 60 Second National Film in the United States. So to tell that story, we wanted her voice. And the film is almost like a two hour play, Les Miserables but done in 60 seconds. We wanted to build this momentum and drama. And so every scene is someone living their life in the middle of this pandemic. And they hear her words, and they stop. And they listen, and they lean in, and they listen more deeply. And that was the way we decided to solve this problem, we wanted to illustrate the idea that her words were incredibly weighty, they were saying something of great relevance and importance. And we wanted to magnify and dramatize that with the film.
Each of the sequences was intended to magnify and amplify her words in such dramatic way. So that when we delivered her at the end — we revealed her — you were like, wow. It gives you goosebumps with great color. And just incredible force. It just made the film so powerful.
Understanding what’s going on
Chip Walker: One of the things that we worked on with Truist right as the pandemic hit was to have our ear to the ground culturally on a daily basis to try and figure out how are people feeling. How are our clients feeling?How are our customers feeling? What is the mood of the nation, because, worse than not really saying anything at that time, was to go out with something that’s tone deaf, and just didn’t connect with what people were feeling in this kind of extraordinary time.
So StrawberryFrog worked with Truist to do pulse surveys, conversations with customers and clients — just monitor social and everything we could figure out how people were feeling. I think the conclusion that we came to was that, despite the fact that things were looking so dire, that there was just a real need and a desire for a message of inspiration and hopefulness — if not optimism, at least inspiration and hopefulness. And it was for this reason that when we started to look at the creative around Amanda Gorman that the clients were immediately like, yeah, this is it. This is the approach that we think will just hit the right tone.
Book on its way
Scott Goodson: If there’s a silver lining to COVID, it is the fact that Chip and I were able to write a book that put everything we just talked about into a practical guide 00 from how you move from a purpose strategy to actually activating it inside your company and also among your consumers.
Chip Walker: The book is called Activate Brand Purpose: Harnessing the Power of Movements to Transform your Company. It’s really based on our practical experience of working with clients developing a purpose. There are tons of books out there about finding purpose, but there weren’t any really about what you do with it. How do you make it real? How do you activate it? And so this book is basically the remedy for that. It’s in pre ordering right now on Amazon. It’ll be officially available March 31.