Ally Bank Pokes Rivals’ Negative Online Reviews in Fun Campaign

Ally Bank wants to shake consumers out of their complacency, so they have launched a promotion encouraging people to evaluate their banking provider the same way they'd choose a restaurant: by looking at online reviews and ratings. The campaign uses a combination of humor and digital channels, including funny videos, faux commercials, interactive ads, and podcasts.

Americans consult online ratings and reviews for just about everything. Except, apparently, who to bank with.

That’s the conclusion Ally reached following a study the bank commissioned examining how people select their banking provider.

The scrappy online bank has launched a multi-media marketing push predicated on the findings of its research. Ally is provoking a change in people’s how people shop for financial services with a campaign that emphasizes humor and consumer choice, encourage people to do a more thorough job evaluating their options when it comes to banking providers.

“As a modern digital society we have become obsessed with the idea of ratings and reviews,” explains Andrea Brimmer, Chief Marketing and Public Affairs Officer at Ally. ” We would never book a vacation or go to a restaurant without consulting them.”

This got Ally and its advertising partners thinking. If people bothered to check the actual ratings and reviews for their banking institution, few would be satisfied giving them their money; there are a lot of reviews that are often very poor.

“What would prompt people to trust one of the most important things in their lives — their money — with an institution that has a low rating when they wouldn’t go to a taco stand that had less than a four- or five-star rating?” Brimmer wonders.

The Ally campaign prods people to poke around and see what others are saying — read the reviews, check out the online ratings, see what kind of feedback peers are offering.

Of course, this is done with confidence that those who do the research will eventually choose Ally, an outcome in which Brimmer has confidence. She’s seen the research and heard the testimonials from Ally’s customers, so they know where they stand and how they score.

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Why Don’t People Vet Banks?

In Ally’s research, only 23% of Americans have ever used online ratings and reviews when picking a banking provider. The figures are noticeably higher for 18-34 year olds — 35%.

However, the research also found that 78% of those surveyed say they trust online reviews as much as they do personal recommendations, and 87% say reading online reviews and ratings of products and services is at least “somewhat important.”

While there could be many reasons for that, Ally takes pride in being at the top of multiple rankings and ratings of banking brands, and disliked the disconnect.

“When it comes to managing their financial relationships, people still generally accept the status quo,” says Brimmer, one of the featured speakers at The Financial Brand Forum 2019. “There’s a belief that all banks are the same. People think, ‘I can’t do anything about it. Why bother checking the ratings? I’m sure they’re all low. I’ll just go where it’s most convenient’.”

Past research by Ally and others has found that geographic proximity and parental recommendations heavily influence people’s banking choices. And Ally cites data suggesting that three out of every four consumers have never even considered moving to another financial institution.

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Harnessing Laughter to Make a Financial Marketing Point

Working together with agency partners Anomaly, R/GA and MediaCom, Ally began rolling the campaign out in early February 2019, which will continue in various forms throughout the year.

The thrust of the campaign is captured nicely in a 60-second “anthem” spot that begins with vignettes of three common businesses.

“You wouldn’t trust a two-star sushi restaurant…” in which a sneezing sushi chef handles raw fish without washing his hands.

You wouldn’t trust a pre-teen babysitter with only one star either.

“You don’t call the first plumber on the list, do you?” asks a messy plumber rhetorically.

“So why do you stick with a bank that treats you like this?” ask a pair of bored, 60s-era tellers in a dimly lit, ancient branch, while a long line of people stare at signs reading “Back in 20 Minutes”.

What are people supposed to do? “Ask the internet. Ask your friends. Ask your co-workers,” the spot tells viewers. “We’re pretty sure they’ll send you over to us, because we’re not just a bank, we’re an Ally.”

The spot ends with a graphic of the Ally logo — accompanied by five stars, naturally.

Several related 30-second videos serve up variations, including a bad car mechanic and sketchy cab driver, and a scary-looking dentist.

These spots will be seen on television during prime time and sports programming, as well as on online video channels and in social media.

Ally is placing pre-roll videos on YouTube that appear to come from sketchy businesses. It’s not obvious the ads are for Ally until the closing moments.

These “Mediocre Ads for Mediocre Things” look like were shot on the cheap. “Sam Smiley, Dentist,” brags about having a two and a half star rating — “Swing by, I’m not busy!” The owner of “Mike’s Mekanic” proclaims he’s “the best two-star mechanic in the downtown area.”

“We’re not preaching and we’re not trying to tell people what to do,” says Brimmer. It’s a matter of giving the audience pause to wonder why they don’t check out their financial providers.

“What we’re saying is, if you put in the time, we’re pretty sure that you are going to find that something better is out there and that we think you’ll find us,” says Brimmer. “A lot of banks have a long way to go.”

Brimmer says she isn’t worried about raising awareness of other financial institutions because Ally consistently performs at or near the top of any given category.

She says she hopes people’s reaction will be, “‘What the hell, this is so dumb. I would never go to a two-star dentist.’ And then they realize, ‘Oops, I am going to a two-star bank’.”

Going Beyond Videos to Podcasts And Sponsored Webcasts

One element of Ally Bank’s campaign is to run interactive banners on websites where consumers go to obtain ratings on other kinds of products and services. On a dining site, for example, the ads will pose a question, like “You wouldn’t go to a two-star brunch, so why do you go to a two-star bank?”

The campaign will make extensive use of Ally’s channel on Cheddar, the Millennial-oriented web news site. In one story, Cheddar newscasters interview Jennifer Brockington, Senior Director, Consumer Marketing at Ally, and Damien Reid, Group Business Director at Anomaly, about the importance of online ratings and reviews to consumers’ purchase decisions.

A brand-new outreach for Ally with this campaign is exposure through podcasts. “We’re aligning with about 50 different podcasts in a myriad of different areas on different channels,” Brimmer explains. “The podcast broadcasters will be talking about the whole concept of ratings and then drawing things back to Ally.” The bank will also run ads on streaming video services, such as Hulu, Roku, and Amazon Fire TV, and ramp up supportive efforts on social media platforms and such sites as Glassdoor.

“It’s going to be a full-funnel approach,” says Brimmer. Ally strives to bring a nontraditional, disruptive flavor to its marketing, attacking old-style players.

“We feel like we’ve really hit a higher groove in terms of the marketing messaging — we’re seeing the highest level of awareness for our brand,” Brimmer says. “I think we’ve struck a chord with people.”

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Use of Ratings For Financial Institutions Will Rise

Online ratings expert Daniel Lemin is pretty sure Ally Bank understands that there is a big difference between switching financial institutions and taco trucks. As the author of Manipurated: How Business Owners Can Fight Fraudulent Online Ratings and Reviews and co-author of Talk Triggers: The Complete Guide to Creating Customers With Word of Mouth, observes, “It can require a lot of time on the consumer’s part to change accounts. There is also little perceived benefit to switching banks, even if service levels aren’t optimal. That’s probably why, as they cite, 75% of consumers have not considered switching accounts.”

Lemin also points out that “proximity to purchase” plays a role in use of ratings and reviews. The sooner a decision must be made, the more likely consumers will seek guidance. “A banking decision does not have as much urgency or immediacy associated with it,” Lemin adds. “Compare that with someone planning a vacation, a meal out or facing a plumbing emergency, and it’s easy to see how reviews have more sway in the decision-making process.”

All that said, Lemin believes financial marketers must pay increasing attention to ratings and reviews because, as shown by Ally’s figures for 18-34 year olds, interest in these metrics grows with younger generations.

“Younger consumers, across the board, find reviews more trustworthy and therefore more relevant than other forms of recommendations,” says Lemin.

Lemin believes that “all businesses need to be thinking more proactively about customer feedback — 50% of all purchases, even in B2B, are due to word of mouth recommendations, reviews and referrals.”

“That’s not a problem that a full page ad in the local newspaper can solve, nor a flashy new PR and marketing campaign,” says Lemin. “The only way for any business to capitalize on that opportunity is to give customers a consistent story to tell.”

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