Member Exclusive, Modern Marketing

‘This educational approach is the right one’: Zelle’s Pay it Safe campaign tackles a tough discussion around scams

  • Zelle’s Payback ad campaign focuses on teaching consumers about scammers and fraud attempts with P2P payments.
  • Zelle’s vp of marketing and brand strategy, Melissa Lowry spoke at Tearsheet’s Acquire Conference about consumer education on safe P2P payments.

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‘This educational approach is the right one’: Zelle’s Pay it Safe campaign tackles a tough discussion around scams

It is rare to see an ad campaign depart from typical formulas of positive consumer messaging when it comes to selling a product. Payments company Zelle stepped outside its comfort zone with its Pay it Safe - Payback ad. The ad highlights potential scamming threats when it comes to P2P payments. 

“We approached it in a couple of ways to try to get over the hesitation and fear of ‘will we actually end up scaring people off?’ And data was really the key to that,” said Melissa Lowry, Zelle’s vice president of marketing and brand strategy, speaking at Tearsheet’s 2021 Acquire Conference. 

“We looked at our creative platform and thought about how we can communicate this message in a way that isn't scary, that educates clearly, but hopefully entertains as well. So you really connect with the characters and feel good about what you're learning.”

The ad which focuses on an 18 to 34 year old demographic harnesses an action-themed cinematic energy to educate and humor its target audience. It starts off with dramatic background music, as the main character walks purposefully across a dark lit warehouse, kicking open a door.

Contrary to expectations of a revenge fantasy beatdown, the protagonist starts doling out the payments she owes other characters for favors such as dog sitting. She ultimately comes across a scammer asking for a similar payback which she declines, citing, “When I pay people with Zelle, it's like I’m putting money directly in their pockets and I don’t know you or your pockets.” 

The Payback ad which currently has over a million views on YouTube fared well with Zelle’s target audience comprising 18 to 34 year olds, especially among those who are new to opening a bank account. 

“There was a big jump between those that were exposed versus those who were not exposed, who felt confident in saying that they knew how to safely use Zelle,” said Lowry. 


“We also saw a seven percentage point increase in trust in the brand, which for us was also really huge because we didn't want people to leave it feeling scared, or like ‘this feels risky’. And instead, people felt empowered  that we were on their side and they could trust us, which was awesome.”

With an uptick in scamming-related activity since the start of the pandemic, Zelle’s consumer education ad has been especially relevant to consumers who struggle with a lack of understanding on extortion attempts on payment platforms. 

In mid April of last year, the Federal Trade Commission said that they received more than 18,000 Covid-19 scam related reports. People also reported losing $13.44 million dollars to fraud. 

According to an AARP survey, many American consumers lack basic knowledge on how to use P2P platforms despite 70 percent of them employing them for their payment needs. The survey demonstrates that more than half of Americans believe they can reclaim money sent in error and many also send money to people they do not know. 

With a combined rise in digital payments and Covid related scams, consumer education grew increasingly significant for the Zelle brand. 

“We saw a very significant spike in new enrollments across ages in the first half of 2020. So you've got a lot of new people trying this out for the first time,” said Lowry, “Then you combine that with the general uncertainty and emotional things that were going on with the pandemic, and it was this perfect storm for scammers to prey on people's emotions, their empathy, their willingness and the desire to help others.”

“It really validated for us that this educational approach was the right one, and we needed to keep doing it and keep putting money against it because it was even more important in 2020 than it ever had been before,” said Lowry.

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