When “venmoing” may be a verb, banks are hoping the ease of the Zelle customer journey will win some hearts and minds. And they’re throwing some money into marketing it to help it along.
Starting this week, Zelle will be featured in digital ads, including banners, audio and video segments, and paid placements on Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter and Instagram. According to Early Warning, the bank-owned consortium that runs the Zelle network, it’s a multi-million dollar investment in getting the name out.
“This is going to be the first time we will actually promote the Zelle product as a category,” said Rose Corvo, chief administrative officer at Early Warning. “The competition is cash and check; we’re helping consumers understand that there’s an alternative that’s fast, safe and easy.”
Zelle ads will feature on Hulu, Vevo, Buzzfeed, Vox, YouTube and Pandora.
While the ad push will begin as a digital-only effort for the remainder of the year, from January 2018 onwards, Zelle ads will find their way into print media, broadcast, out of home and sponsorships in 14 markets across the U.S. At that time, Zelle will also use a notable spokesperson as its brand ambassador — Hamilton actor Daveed Diggs.
“We chose him not just because he’s an ambassador of the spoken word art form, but in the same way Zelle is a disrupting category, we went for an emerging artist rather than an established one,” Corvo said.
Early Warning worked with ad agency Huge on the creative elements. The marketing messages in ads and videos were developed to the tone of rhyming couplets to illustrate the speed, security and ease of the experience that the banks hope will appeal to new customers.
“The whole idea is around rhythm and flow — what we grab onto in terms of flow was the notion of rhyming,” said Huge CMO and President Jeff Brooks. “We found that to be a powerful, playful and fun way to get creative, and that drives a lot of recall and we saw that in the research we did.”
Some examples of the rhymes include “Pay your trainer, no brainer,” and “Your friend has a different bank, no sweat! Zelle makes it easier to pay your debt.”
Instead of going head to head with non-bank competitors like Venmo or Square Cash, Early Warning emphasizes that it’s aiming for a piece of the bigger customer pie, especially given the overall adoption of peer-to-peer payments in the U.S. is low. According to an Aite Group study, 15 percent of customers in the U.S. use peer-to-peer payments and 35 percent use mobile banking. Early Warning said its target is the broad swathe of age categories, including older users who may like the security of a bank brand. But millennials are still in their sights.
“The millennial population is not actually wedded to one brand, and the one thing they’re being educated on is security,” Corvo said.
Reaching millennials who use Venmo, however, may be a challenge given that many think it works fine as is. A recent LendEDU poll of Venmo users, for example, found that 94 percent had never heard of Zelle, and only 37 percent said they would give it a try. Still, perceptions of bank-backed security may have some sway, given that 57 percent said they would “feel more secure using Zelle over Venmo.”
The banks report that Zelle is gaining traction, with over 60 million transactions processed valued at $17.5 billion in the third quarter. Compare that to Venmo, which processed $9.4 billion in transaction volume in the third quarter. But despite Zelle’s seemingly large uptake, industry analyst Ron Shevlin told Tearsheet last week that he questions whether putting Zelle’s numbers alongside Venmo’s is a fair comparison. He suspects the Zelle numbers are lumping in account-to-account transactions happening within the same institution with new peer-to-peer payments from customers at different institutions.
At the core of the marketing challenge for Early Warning is to get users to change their behavior and switch to something new.
“Payments are to do with habits,” said Gareth Lodge, senior analyst at Celent’s payments group. “[The experience] has to be better and easier and that’s the challenge, and that’s not unique to Zelle, but all payment methods — consumers go with what they know and what they trust.”