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.”

Square and Navy Credit Union win September TV advertising

Television commercials will always have a special place in our hearts. From the Super Bowl to media awards ceremonies like the Oscars and Emmy’s, companies fight to get their ads in front of their target audience, paying a pretty penny along the way. Banks and credit card companies are no different, spending millions of dollars a month on commercial spots.

In the month of September, 33 bank and card brands spent $133.5 million on 132 spots that ran over 30 thousand times. Some of the biggest spenders included JP Morgan, Capital One, and Citi.

The theory goes that the more money you throw at advertising, the more people see your product and buy it. So it would make sense that those who spent the most money or had the most ads got the most impressions, while outliers should be noted.

Here is the list of September’s top 10 impressions for banks and credit card companies, gathered by Fabric Media:


Square and Navy Credit Union stand out in the list of incumbents as small players sitting at the big kids table. Smaller players like Square and Navy Credit Union need to come up with better strategies in order to gain impressions with competitors that can spend tens of millions of dollars a month on ad spending and not blink about it.

Square found itself in the top 10 with more impressions than MasterCard while spending a fifth of the cash. Square’s strategy seems to have been to use the debate to get the most bang for its buck. Around 40% of placements were during primetime, and most ads ran on Fox News, CNN, and Spike.

“It’s definitely unusual for Square to be in the top 10 of impressions; they don’t appear on the leader board at all other than in September,” said Jon Capetta, entertainment specialist for Fabric Media. “In fact, they’ve only spent about $10.5 million all year.”

Square had two ads, each one pitching its new credit card reader, standard fee structure, and faster deposits.

Navy Credit Union was also low in terms of relative spending and had only a total of 47 ad airings during the month. Its marketing campaign was directed at turning solders into real people who can access specialized financial services by using the credit union.

The strategy was similar to Square, optioning to have ads during NFL games. Navy Credit Union may be a niche market provider, but it’s been gaining in impressions over the past few months.
“This is their first time Navy Credit Union was in the top 10 of impressions through the summer, but they have been increasing their ranks steadily so will be interesting to watch for next month for sure,” said Capetta.

Wells Fargo planned to air an ad on special benefits when opening up an account with them, but decided to pull it in the end.

4 best ads for loans during the Summer of 2016

Banking services aren’t in crazy demand during the summer months, but that hasn’t completely stopped banks and fintech companies from cranking out video shorts promoting loans. And who can blame them? Loans are an extremely profitable product for the industry. In Q2 2015, for instance, U.S. lenders earned a record $43 billion in profits.

So are lenders able to compete with big retail brands when it comes to producing creative digital video ads with compelling narratives? We think not. But at the very least, these ads show that banks and their fintech compatriots are trying. Payday lenders didn’t make the cut, because they’re gross, and also because their ads are so very boring.

1) Aussie

Australian home lender and mortgage broker Aussie’s September 2016 ad has a family applying for a loan in an airy, bright room, among dozens of service providers eager to assist and a jovial boss helping Mom and Dad choose the very best home loan option for them.

Too bad Australia is so very far away.

2) State Farm Insurance

State Farm’s June 2016 car loan/insurance commercial cleverly parallels a young woman getting a car and an older businessman discovering that his car has been jacked. Though they each say the exact same sentences, “I cannot believe this” and“what a day”, they each benefit from a different financial service from the insurance provider.

We cracked a smile.

3) Quicken Loans Rocket Mortgage

Quicken Loans and its Rocket Mortgage product are a big deal in the online lending mortgage scene. The company claims that it’s the nation’s largest online retail mortgage lender and the second largest retail mortgage lender in the U.S.

The company’s $5 million Super Bowl ad riled consumers, who believed that Rocket Mortgage spelled the housing apocalypse 2.0. The firm’s 2016 summer ads have avoided any major controversy so far, and tap into the renewed Star Trek franchise, with Vulcans discussing and explaining how Rocket Mortgage works. Frankly, the use of a nearly emotionless creature to promote a mortgage product is a little bit more than puzzling to us.

Quicken Loans client Vulcan is the “happiest humanoid in the galaxy”, thanks to Rocket Mortgage.

4) Sainsbury’s Bank

Ok, so this video was actually posted back in May, before summer kicked off, but it snuck onto the list thanks to its really funky cinematography, which intersperses the loan applicants’ narrative with wacky short clips that enact what the family is talking about. The bank has a number of 2016 YouTube shorts that follow the same template, advertising other products, like travel money and credit cards.

The UK Brady Brunch Fiona and Ashley need a loan to expand their house so that their combined family doesn’t “boil over”.

Inside Forbes’ plan to scale its native ad business across Europe

forbes expands advertising to europe

Forbes’ native ad program BrandVoice is well-established in the U.S., though it’s got a way to go before it can boast the same scale internationally.

That’s the mission of the publisher’s London-based commercial team, led by European director Paul Mikailhoff, who stepped into the newly created role after former managing director of international Charles Yardley left for City AM four months ago. Seven clients from Europe are now signed up for BrandVoice, among them Philips, and another two are on the verge of being signed, though they didn’t want to be named. Digital ad revenue has grown 20 percent year-on-year in the U.K, while 80 percent of the publisher’s global revenue is from digital ad deals — both native and regular digital.

The publisher has scaled its U.S. native ad platform through a mix of methods, including letting ad clients run content featured on rival sites. BrandVoice now has 115 brand partners, all of which can publish branded content directly through the Forbes platform. But to expand its partners internationally Mikhailoff recognizes it must share more of its data with clients.

“We’ve noticed for a while now that BrandVoice has been all about scale, and increasingly marketers are interested in the right people being exposed,” said Mikailhoff. “That’s a big thing that keeps coming up.”

Agencies agree that Forbes needs to sweat its audience data harder — for both regular and branded content campaigns that run via BrandVoice. Erfan Djazmi, head of planning and mobile at Essence, said Forbes has decent international scale (4.5 million monthly U.K. visitors compared to 46 million in the U.S., according to comScore). But he added, “Where we’re a bit frustrated is how they use that scale. They don’t use their audience data in clever-enough ways to target that audience. Important data signals like how mobile location data can be used to tie to an audience’s passion points for example are the kinds of things we look for.”

Forbes’ branded content model, which lets advertisers pay to publish directly to the platform, has done well in the U.S. but is not necessarily the perfect formula for overseas, some agencies have said. “Sometimes with these kinds of products — when it’s clear the brand is speaking — it feels more like advertorial. We’re trying to get away from that. In some cases, that can work, but we favor native products when it’s clear the editorial and marketing functions have worked more closely to create a more meaningful experience for the client,” said Djazmi.

Forbes is freeing up more data-driven, quality content opportunities on BrandVoice, at least for Premium package partners, which pay a minimum $600,000 for a six-month period. This gives them access to key “influencers” defined as journalists, bloggers or any other content creator publishing on a specific topic (like cloud computing, for example) on pre-determined categories, courtesy of Forbes’ partnership with social media analytics firm Traackr.

Traackr mines 20,000 social platforms and websites to identify these influencers, who are themselves prolific content producers in their areas of expertise. Forbes will then approach them to see if they would publish on the client’s BrandVoice content series. Forbes has one major brand signed up, a deal being led from the U.S. office.

David Goodall, managing director of Havas Media International, said that expanding the influencer program to a European audience is a good move, though it will be a tough sell due to the publisher’s reliance on U.S.-based clients.

“It’s interesting and a smart package, well-targeted at advertisers, but in all honesty, we can already do this at scale with other tools and technology, so they’ll find it tough outside the U.S.,” said Goodall. “The interesting piece will be if they can somehow get deeper understanding of audience behavior.”

This article originally appeared on Digiday.