Next time someone tells you that your idea ‘isn’t very us’ tell them to watch an advert for a bank

Yet another high street bank has smashed it out of the park with their latest cute piece of advertising. Santander’s ‘Piggy’ ad is so perfect that I immediately googled ‘how do I get a Santander piggy bank’ and was all too happy to share the video far and wide.

If you didn’t hold up your hands in horror at 0:23 then you’re not human. I tested it on my partner (who is usually ironclad with this sort of stuff) but even she started crying around 15 seconds in.

This got me thinking, why do we identify with this lost pig? Why do we care? Is it the sad human-like eyes; the superb anthropomorphic animation against a backdrop of heart-wrenchingly sad music; or is it something deeper – a human need to protect the weak and be the hero of the story? Whatever it is, this piece of advertising is a masterclass in pathetic fallacy and manufacturing empathy. I want to jump in, give the kids at 0:20 a stern talking to and welcome that pig into a loving home.

You wouldn’t think this advert comes from an organisation where  ‘consistent and growing profitability, as well as a strong balance sheet’ are top of the strategic agenda. If anything, the ad pushes against this, opting for a deeper emotional connection – we’re here for you, trust us, we’ve got this.

Banks: Where creative advertising lives

Every time someone tells me that an idea ‘doesn’t fit with our image’ or isn’t ‘the Company X way of things’ I immediately point them to a bank’s YouTube channel.

Since the 2008 financial crash, I’ve seen some brilliant and risky positioning by banks to rebuild trust and loyalty with customers. More recently, I’ve seen banks like Halifax – previously famous for the awful ‘who gives you extra’ – do an about face and target the younger generation, who now, despite all odds, are trying to get on the housing ladder.

Can you imagine the reaction to this video when the concept was first unveiled in the boardroom:

“We’re going to use Top Cat as the new face of Halifax – Tip Top! We’re going for millennial home buyers who want extra!”
*A man in a suit faints*
“It’ll be fine. We’ve got Scooby Doo and Wizard of Oz lined up for next quarter.”

It doesn’t stop there. Halifax are also using recognisable shows like the Flintstones and Thunderbirds to sell savings accounts. It’s awesome and fun. I don’t believe it’s simply a publicity stunt, the depth and breadth of the creativity points to a slight repositioning of the bank – the tone of these cheeky assets running through the top pages of its website, and down into sub-content on ‘saving tips’ presented by Brains himself.

The irreverence and playfulness of the ideas will attract new customers. Turning your homepage into a cartoon is risky business – not very bank-like? – yet these assets will continue to resonate with their target audience, the bank trading on the nostalgia factor for years to come.

Think of the audience, not your history

Universities are terrible at taking risks. Watch a university ad and it won’t take long for you to see a ‘green campus’ at the heart of a ‘culturally diverse’ city. Yawn. The bulk of universities are youth brands. Surely this permits greater risk-taking than that of Halifax or Santander?

The challenge is communicating to senior stakeholders that a departure from standard positioning, isn’t a departure from core values.

Top Cat may be talking ‘mular’, but the advisor is still determined to ‘give him extra’ where other banks perhaps won’t. It’s the same with Santander’s Piggy – not what you would expect from a global investment bank, but a perfect use of emotional marketing to make the target audience sit up and listen.

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