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Inside Citi’s nostalgia marketing strategy

  • As technology makes banking more online and mobile, marketers have to make customer relationships more personal -- and not just by collecting and reading data
  • Citi is using music and the power of nostalgia to attach its brand to people's everyday memories and show it can offer more than just banking services
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Inside Citi’s nostalgia marketing strategy

Citi is trying to win over customers by making a push into music.

Its latest ad campaign, which began airing this week, includes three 30-second television commercials written to make customers feel all the feels. They’re all set to universally recognizable songs, no matter how old you are. One commercial features a little girl playing in a sprinkler with “Singin’ in the Rain” by Gene Kelly playing in the background; another, set to “Into the Mystic” by Van Morrison, features a group of young adults laughing on a beach boardwalk at sunset; the other portrays an older man joyriding a shopping cart to “Here Comes Your Man” by the Pixies.

It was Citi’s intention to mix up the ages of the people portrayed in these images, said Jennifer Breithaup, chief marketing officer of Citi’s global consumer bank during a fireside chat at this year’s Advertising Week in New York — as well as the music selection.

Each of the commercials ends with the slogan: “What if a bank could help you feel a little more of this?”

“Think about the soundtrack of your life… [it] creates an enormous amount of potential from the brand standpoint when you think about commercials and experiences like we had this weekend,” Breithaup said, referencing the Global Citizen Festival, the music festival founded as part of a movement to end extreme poverty, which takes place in New York and of which Citi is a partner.

Music is “part of Citi’s DNA,” Breithaupt said. Citi has built a ticketing platform, effectively, called Citi Private Pass, where customers can access 1,300 Citi-sponsored music, sports and theatre events in the U.S. It also has a longstanding partnership with NBC and the Today Show where it present a concert series on Today — and is moving to testing virtuality live streaming of those events.

“Allowing ourselves the permission to be an experiential brand and not just about the banking and the financial services we offer — what else does our brand unlock for consumers? Entertainment access … makes us look more human. If we can be part of those memories, that’s something you want your brand attached to.”

Citi is far from the first brand to use nostalgia in its marketing efforts but it’s a significant approach for a bank. Marketing financial services in the digital age has largely been about new online and mobile channels, finding ways to connect with customers and potential customers in those places and using people’s data if possible to tailor what financial products banks can potentially push them.

“Millennials are coming of age in an age of economic turmoil — a difficult job market,” Cassandra Mcintosh, senior insights analyst at Exponential, told Digiday. “They end up romanticizing simpler times much more – even those times they weren’t around for.”

That’s more true now than ever in the U.S., which is so politically divided that everyone — particularly millennials — wants to do business with a brand they identify with or whose value appear to align with theirs.

However, Citi is often ahead of the curve when it comes to keeping up with innovation. At the beginning of the digital shift it consolidated more branches than its peers and upgraded remaining ones to smaller and more digitally oriented ones first; it was the first bank to build an entirely mobile-first banking experience, for a certain set of clients, and get it to market quickly; and it’s one of a handful of banks that has made its application programming interfaces available to third parties to use.

But for many financial brands, technology isn’t just making interfaces prettier and faster. It’s turning banks into the “dumb pipes” of banking as institutions become the platform through which other financial applications operate, which means banks’ marketing armies need to, as Breithaupt told Tearsheet earlier this year, join the front lines of banking (which historically are in the hands of branch tellers.

So now, Citi is “leaning in a little harder on our advertising,” Breithaupt said. It has long used music and live music events to differentiate its brand from its industry peers. Now it wants to show customers it can connect with them in their everyday lives — not just when they need help with their money.

“Music has that emotive power,” Breithaupt said. “It is the universal language and allows a brand like Citi to reach and connect and reach a broad range of consumers regardless of where they are in the world, what life stage they’re in. Music has been an important tool to bring us that emotion we’re looking for.”

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