Brand: Citi (Citigroup)
Execution: TV and Print
Link: Not Yet Available
Target: Citibank Customers
This is a new campaign called Citi – Very Rewarding.” Citi promotes its rewards program with Citi – Very Rewarding which features two eccentric East European-sounding characters, Roman and Victor showing the many ways they can earn Citi rewards points. In the six TV spots and three print executions, the pair show how easy it is to earn Citi rewards point by doing everything from basic banking to paying their Citimortgage to using the Citi Premier Pass Credit card. The spots are directed by Jared Hess, best known as the director of Napolean Dynamite and Nacho Libre.
The brand strategy is obvious here – Citi wants to let everyone know that they can earn points for basic banking activities as easily as for using Citi Premier Pass credit cards. Given this strategy, Fallon has done a solid job of creating a quirky campaign that is interesting enough to grab our attention. They chose a hot director, Jared Hess and parodied a popular movie (Borat) to come up with a campaign that communicates and should have good recall.
Citigroup has made a strategic error with this campaign. There is nothing wrong with letting people know that you’re introducing new features and benefits to one of your core consumer programs (Citi Rewards). By spending $100 million or more to do this, however, Citi is changing their brand positioning, and not for the better. With the previous Fallon campaign, “Live Richly”, Citi accomplished a minor miracle in banking brand positioning. They had managed to position their bank by defining their core user as someone who cared about more than money and Citi as the bank that enabled people to worry about living rather than money.
Fallon spokesperson Rosemary Abendroth tells us that Citi will indeed have a new branding campaign but that it will be “some time” until we see it. For the time being, the Citi brand will be moved forward with product promotion like the entertaining identity theft campaign and this new effort.
By displacing rather than supplementing the “Live Richly” campaign, however, Citibank is essentially swapping a branding campaign based on the type of user who might be attracted to Citibank (the consumer who understands that life is not just about money) for a “features and benefits” brand positioning. The “Live Richly” brand positioning was clear and defendable. By using television and huge spend levels, Citi is creating new brand positioning with these product spots whether they like it or not.
And like their consumers, Citibank will almost certainly see a quick reward for this behavior. Citibank will almost certainly impress its own consumers and competitive users with the richness of its rewards program which now rewards basic banking. This will undoubtedly boost quarterly profits and send chills down the spines of Wall Street analysts during this critical holiday season when people’s credit card purchasing soars.
Unfortunately, Citi is playing the brand positioning game like a novice chess player, not even looking a single move ahead. When Citi was the bank that understands that its not about money, no other bank could compete to own that position. With Citi now being the bank that offers the richest rewards for banking activity, any bank can compete. In fact to own Citi’s new brand positioning, all Bank of America or JP Morgan Chase would have to do would be to offer richer rewards. Does that sound like an arms race in the making to you?
Tactically we also feel that Citi made a mistake by using Fallon to execute this campaign. It’s a little like asking Matisse to paint your aluminum siding. Fallon’s creative horsepower will be far better used on a campaign that is truly strategic – the upcoming successor to the ‘live richly’ theme. Here they are wasted on this tactical effort which could have been better accomplished with a direct mail brochure.
Branding Bottom Line:
We eagerly await the next $100mm campaign from Citi announcing free toasters with direct deposit.