Brand: Charles Schwab
Link: Click Here – Watch the four :30 second TV ads on the right
Target: The Average Schlub buying stocks
This campaign features animated spots. In the first spot of the campaign, called ‘Broker’s Kids,’ a middle age man stares into a camera and talks about his relationship with his broker. “So I was talking with my broker the other day. The usual small talk, you know – how’s the kids, how’s the family?” Then the man becomes more serious, his animated, craggy face hardening, “And then it dawned on me – You think about all those years that I payed those big commissions on everything we bought and sold. Were we really discussing my kid’s future or his kid’s future? Then we see the line “Make sure your money’s working hard. For YOU,” followed by the tagline “Talk to Chuck” and the Schwab logo.
The three other ads in this campaign follow similar lines. They all feature average men talking directly to the camera about their anger with the system and how it takes advantage of the little guy.
This campaign features ads that might slip unnoticed through the collective consciousness of consumers and advertising blogs alike except for two startling choices. First, instead of showing an actual consumer, this spot uses cartoons. Well, not cartoons exactly. These spots are shot on film and then colored over using a technology from MIT Media Labs veteran Bob Sabiston. This tracing technology was featured in the movie ‘Waking Life’ and lends a visually distinctive edge to these spots that helps attract our attention.
The second surprising choice is the new slogan, “Talk to Chuck.” Charles Schwab has suddenly become ‘Chuck,’ somehow pulling a Mr. Rogers on us by putting on the loafers and the blue sweater. It is a signal that Schwab has reappraised the customer and the market and come to some striking conclusions about the state of the average consumer.
It is not unusual for single spokeperson spots to feature an angry, dissatisfied consumer. Combined with the unusual visual style of these commercials and the slightly cheeky music and “Talk to Chuck,” it adds up to something memorable.
So what is Schwab doing here? They’re doing what good advertisers do – acknowledging a universal truth that is much felt but little expressed in advertising today – that the little guy gets screwed by Wall Street. We believe that Schwab has made a good read of the prevailing winds in our culture. This advertising blog cannot pick up a newspaper without reading how Harvard’s fund managers can’t recruit good help for under a few million a year, how CEO’s get cushy insider IPO shares or how hedge funds rake in the dough for fatcat investors.
So in order to reestablish its preeminent position as the discount broker, Schwab reminds us why we hate those traditional brokers.
It is a clever strategy. It conveniently ignores web-based Internet brokers like Ameritrade (or dismisses them saying that they give you a great trading price if you “make like a gazillion trades a year”) and focuses on the greater evil of traditional brokers. Schwab already has lots of brand equity as the giant killer among these stalwarts so this campaign effectively reinforces the long-standing positioning that did so much for Schwab early on.
Schwab’s strategy meets our three tests for brand positioning – it is ownable (because Schwab invented the discount brokerage and has consistenly been identified with the concept), it is unique (primarily the execution) and it is consistent (carrying on a long running them for the broker in much plainer terms).
Two bad things can happen when you use a visual device to attract attention to your spot. Either you can distract consumers and fail to get your message across, or you can be so successful that everyone copies you and suddenly your breakthrough ad is lost in the clutter again.
We think Schwab has a bigger message here and that message helps balance the execution of this spot with branding that will stick. Ideally, Schwab could transition smoothly to another executional style without confusing consumers if the “Waking Life” traced style used here becomes too common. Still, it represents a risk, albeit one that Schwab was wise to take.
This advertising blog admits to have been secretly horrified when we first saw the “Talk to Chuck” tagline. Chuck Schwab?? Isn’t this just one more example of the vulgarization of the language and the dumbing-down of the culture, we asked? Almost as bad as hearing creepy name-droppers casual-izing celebrities: “Yeah, I know Bobby DeNiro and he is a great guy.” Upon reflection, however, we understand why Schwab believes that the hero of the middle-class little guy can hardly be called “Charles.”
Branding Bottom Line:
We’re on a first-name basis with Schwab and we like him.