A Great Campaign That Raises a Question of Social Media Ethics

Anyone with a dry sense of humor will love the “I Love Fees” campaign from Coast Capital Savings up in British Columbia. The tongue-in-cheek promotion makes fun of Canada’s big five banks for charging billions in fees every year.

The campaign mocks a genre of ads that feature cheesy, cliché, slice-of-life moments. You know the ones — chock full of feel-good testimonials that are all nauseatingly contrived. The overall tone is wry, sardonic and dripping with sarcasm. And it’s all terribly funny. The truth always serves as the best source of humor.

The campaign includes TV commercials, print ads, out-of-home advertising and a microsite (all shown below). The microsite features videos, a simple calculator and even a store where you can buy cheeky “I Love Fees” schwag.

The Financial Brand wrote earlier about this campaign when it kicked off with a giant, 8×10 foot greeting card to banks “thanking” them for the billions in fees they charge to Canadians every year.

What makes this a particularly smart strategy is how Coast Capital is laying claim to the “fee” issue in Canada. They are trying to “own” the subject of “fees” by pushing a competitive advantage and promoting their “Free Chequing, Free Debit and More” account. They are aligning themselves with a critical consumer issue, and taking a stand for one thing: fees. It’s smart marketing… and good branding.

An interesting question concerning social media ethics

One component of the promotion raises an interesting ethical question, one that many online marketers have certainly wrestled with before. At the campaign’s microsite, members of the public are encouraged to upload their own videos explaining why they (sarcastically) “love fees.” Of the 20 videos uploaded, more than half come from employees of Coast Capital’s ad agency, Rethink Communications. Here are three examples (sorry, you have to go to the microsite to see the actual videos):

Testimonial Videos by Rethink Employees
These are three
Rethink Communications employees who uploaded submissions.
The black-and-white action figures come from Rethink’s company website.

Rethink invited any of its 60+ employees to consider uploading a submission to the “I Love Fees” site. Around a dozen employees grabbed their cameras and went to work. The agency didn’t script or professionally produce any of the videos. There was no bigtime copywriter or film crew helping these folks out behind the scenes.

According to Rethink, the employee submissions reflect the genuine feelings and creativity of each individual, and no one was pressured into participating.

“These are people who voluntarily chose to express themselves,” Ailsa Brown, Coast Capital’s Account Director at Rethink told The Financial Brand. “They are consumers of financial services like the rest of us. They’re upset about all the fees charged by Canada’s big banks, and they felt like this was a fun, lighthearted way to voice their opinions.”

It’s understandable why an agency/client would want to “seed” their microsite with a few pre-populated videos. The motives are pretty obvious. No one wants to have an online marketing campaign that looks bare and “uncool” when it’s launched. And providing a few sample videos can be helpful and instructive for those considering uploading something of their own [video, picture, essay, whatever].

The hitch is that Coast Capital doesn’t disclose the relationship between their credit union and the people offering their tongue-in-cheek “testimonials.” There are some social media purists who would argue that this violates core principles of the Web 2.0 world — namely “authenticity” and “transparency.”

Rethink’s Brown said neither the agency or Coast Capital had any reservations about using agency personnel to jump start the microsite’s video library. Rethink says there was no cause for concern because the employee submissions were voluntary, unscripted and reflected the perspectives of real financial consumers.

What do you think? Is this okay? Or does it cross the vague and oft-unwritten ethical boundaries of online/social media marketing?

“I Love Fees” Store

Print Advertising

“Eyes Wide Open”
SCRIPT – Woman #1: “Banking fees are like nice little surprises on every statement. And who doesn’t like surprises.” Woman #2 “I get a lot for my banking fees. Like deposit envelopes.” Woman #3: “The banking fees are here!” Mom: “Fees are great. Because when I buy something, I want to pay full price, plus a little bit more.” Son: “I want to pay fees too.” Coast Capital Teller: “Nobody really likes fees. So stop paying them. With The Free Chequing, Free Debit and More account. Only at Coast Capital Savings.”

“Whistling Kisses”
SCRIPT – Woman: “Yeah, I’m okay with banking fees. I mean, you tip your waiter. Why not tip your bank?” Man: “Fees are like paying rent on my own money. I like that.” Wife: “We love fees.” Husband: “They’re a constant reminder that we have less money than we think.” Retiree: “Finding all those bank fees on my statement keeps my mind active. And at my age, that’s important.” Coast Capital Teller: “Nobody really likes fees. So stop paying them. With The Free Chequing, Free and More account. Only at Coast Capital Savings.”

Out-of-Home Advertising

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This article was originally published on May 18, 2009. All content © 2018 by The Financial Brand and may not be reproduced by any means without permission.


  1. I am sorry but this is borderline Astroturfing and it is an unethical practice in Social Media / Social Influence Marketing.

    Why on earth agencies are still doing this in 2009 and clients still choose to use agencies who practice it is beyond me.

    Very sad and it always comes out so why do something that is counterproductive?

  2. I guess the agency watched the long-running campaign by the Nationwide Building Society in the UK.

    If I recall correctly, the fictional bank manager in a recent Nationwide ad also mentions tipping waiters.

    I found most of Nationwide’s commercials funny.

  3. In this case, the videos are just fine – Why? Because NO ONE likes fees – so NO ONE is really “acting” although it would be hilarious and probably have more impact if you actually said “Paid Actor”

    This reminds me of an ethical question I asked some time ago about Yelp.com. Was it okay for an employee to “cast a vote” for their credit union? For those that responded, the consensus was that it was fine. This particular employee was trying to get people to use Yelp in their market, was a big part of the Yelp community and therefore trusted AND identified herself as being an employee.

    Hey – it’s marketing – it doesn’t HAVE to be true. Marketing is “creating the illusion we care,” right? LOL….insert smiley face.

    Why does Free Checking look so much more elegant as “Free Chequing?” Now THAT’S marketing!

  4. As long as an employee of the company in question identifies themselves, and their motives, it is fine. If they genuinely are participating of their own accord and speaking about something they actually like/dislike the authenticity will come through.

    However, I believe that a better idea for pre-population of a site is to run a closed beta of the site. Invite people who are willing to participate, but are not directly connected with the company producing/funding/maintaining the site. There are certainly better options for pre-population than to have agency and company employees fill the pages.

  5. Paul Stull says:

    I am on a “salt” free diet. While I crave “salt” I know its not good for me so in this case I will have to regretfully give the idea of “salting” the mine a no go. Its all very creative, but something inside me says I should follow a higher calling.

  6. Great suggestion Andy.

  7. Disclosure and beta runs are so easy and simple it makes no sense to not use one or the other. This campaign hits so close to home to so many and is so strong, this question is academic FOR THIS CAMPAIGN. It would be a very different story on most typical campaigns.

  8. Good point Victor. It would have been pretty easy to solicit “starter samples” from the general public with this topic/campaign.

  9. Mark England says:

    In this ad’s case it does not mater whether it is the bank or the agency making the ads, they are not testimonials. They are just a means to get the public engaged. We are so saturated with marketing messages that most of them are just white noise. This is just one new strategy to engage the public. Ethical advertising is there such a thing?

  10. I like the campaign concept very much. But is the client and marketing firm doing enough to stimulate member and consumer participation?

  11. The CU Times has another nice write-up on Coast Capital’s campaign.

  12. I agree, this is a good campaign!

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