Ally Bank Pushes Phony Products in Funny Social Media Campaign

The online-only bank launches another volley in its ongoing effort to convince Americans they should be more careful when vetting the banking provider they entrust their money to. Ratings, rankings and reviews dominate consumer shopping for most categories except banking services. Says Ally CMO Andrea Brimmer: 'It's kind of crazy behavior.'

A consumer is cruising the web in a quest for the ultimate set of linens. As he frantically jumps from site to site, a couple in bed on the screen looks right at him and says “You spend days researching bed sheets.”

Then he’s searching for the perfect dog bed while in the bathtub, and a dog owner on his tablet continues, “… and weeks picking a dog bed.”

Then finally a live neighbor asks, “So why would you settle for just any bank?”

The name of the Ally Bank spot just described — “Rabbit Hole,” shown below — is apt. We’ve all spent hours on Amazon and other sites trying to find the perfect five-star product at the best price. We compare features, read reviews, check rankings, and view the product from every angle the site provides. (“Just one more site. I want the very best deal …”)

By contrast, we frequently pick financial institutions on hearsay, the advice of friends and family, a promoted special, or perceived convenience. When you think about it, picking a bank or credit union because it’s within a block of your office makes as much sense as buying pizza across the street that’s known to be cold and tasteless because the best pizzeria in town is four more blocks away.

But often that’s about how much thought many consumers give to choosing a financial institution, according to Andrea Brimmer, Chief Marketing and Public Affairs Officer at Ally. In fact, she likes to say that people put more research into who makes the best taco in town than on which financial institution to bank with.

“It’s kind of crazy behavior,” she says. Research done for Ally indicates only 23% of all adults use online reviews when choosing a financial product or institution, and only one in three 18-34 year olds do.

‘I Want to Buy a 1-Star GPS,’ Said Nobody Ever

Ally began pressing this theme with a campaign that debuted in early 2019. The first wave talked about lowly rated businesses no one would ever frequent, like a two-star dentist, a two-star sushi restaurant, or a babysitter who shows off her tattoos to your elementary schooler and suggests the little girl get one herself.

“The campaign is driving very high levels of engagement and traffic for Ally,” says Brimmer. “Our search volume has increased by 30%, and prospect volume has doubled.”

Brimmer continues: “Given that money is such an important part of our lives, something that we work so hard for, and obviously want to keep it and grow it, to not even understand who we’re trusting with our money seems like an odd consumer behavior. And that message has resonated with consumers.”

Brimmer says that the scores for the first part of the campaign were so strong that “it’s been kind of begging for more.” Now Ally, which stresses service quality, honesty, and the convenience of an online-only bank, is continuing the campaign with some fresh angles.

The “Rabbit Hole” commercial recounted above is one example. Another key leg of the unrolling campaign is social media posts showing made-up products that are so dim-witted and deserving of one-star ratings that you have to laugh. Examples include:

  • A combination knife and fork — a double-ended affair. You can use the fork and slice your hand. Or you can use the use the knife and perforate your hand. Either way, you can’t eat with it.
  • A so-called “GPS” that’s actually a heavy globe with a pointer that you can connect to your dashboard with a large alligator clip. For anyone you’ve promised the world to…
  • A combination lock with one set of tumblers. That means it offers the user ten potential one-digit codes. Just a tad more secure than a paper clip.
  • A plug-in flashlight (shown below) with a power cord that’s a generous six inches, and no battery compartment. Great for short hikes at night.

Ally Bank 1-star rating flashlight social ad

Ally Bank campaign 1-star ratings

    • A video-game controller, with one button that’s completely out of reach of either handhold.
    • Non-noise-cancelling traveler’s headphones — of zero help in a noisy plane because the “muffs” of the phones are wide open.

Each post shows the product, describes its “features,” and rates it with one star, and asks, if you wouldn’t settle for a one-star this or that, why would you settle for a one-star bank? Then it closes with the question, “How do you rate your bank?” and presents a five-star-rating panel, with the Ally purple “a” where a sixth star would appear.

“Ratings are the modern lexicon of digital brands,” says Brimmer. “It’s the way that we as consumers judge the brands that we’re going to let into our lives.”

These spots, such as the one designed above for Facebook, reflect Ally’s belief that plugging the same material into every social platform ignores the differences in how each connects with users. (An earlier effort called #Confessiongrams resides exclusively on Instagram, for example.)

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Putting Your Brand Out There to Be Kicked Around

Any bank or credit union that’s tried social media of any kind knows that this is not a risk-free form of marketing. In our hyper-sensitive time, a well-meaning tweet can not only go viral but be viral. Chase Bank went through some angst in that regard a while back.

Beyond that, nearly any platform provides a place where other denizens of social media can assault and insult your brand, poke holes in your promotion, and launch an all-caps hate-fest. The emotion level sometimes seen approaches white-hot.

Ally has its social team standing by to respond to complaints and worse on social, but Brimmer says times and technology have changed and financial brands must adjust.

“As brands in the past we had total control of the relationship with the consumer,” says Brimmer. “We pushed our way into their living room. Now, brands have to be invited in. And part of that means being OK with what’s going to come with the invitation.”

Brimmer says Ally has come to value much of the feedback. On occasion there is, she adds, “the oddball comment that doesn’t make any sense. That you have to just take with a grain of salt.” But more often these reactions help the bank learn what social media outreach consumers react to and what just sits there.

“That can lead Ally down the path of developing better communication that will resonate on a deeper level and make us a better brand,” Brimmer states. “So you have to take the good with the bad.”

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How Long Will Ratings Really Matter?

The idea of genuine user ratings and reviews has tremendous appeal. From restaurants to hotels to just about anything one can buy, guidance always helps.

But it’s that word “genuine” on which everything else hinges.

“You have to be a student, as a marketer.”
— Andrea Brimmer, Ally

In the last couple of years, investigative reports have uncovered ways that ratings have been gamed. On job hunting sites, for example, some companies stuff the ballot box to make them look like better employers, while their competitors try to stick it to them. E-commerce companies like Amazon have to police reviews to make sure “consumers” are real.

In financial services, many consumer-oriented rating sites acknowledge that some of the providers they rate may also be sponsors, but also insist that that funding has no influence on ratings and opinions.

“Ratings will evolve, like everything else,” says Brimmer. The most important takeaway right now is that Google, Amazon and others have fundamentally changed the way most consumers comparison shop.

“This has completely retrained our behavior as consumers,” says Brimmer.

The bigger lesson here, she says, is that “you have to be a student, as a marketer.”

And one point to pay close attention to, she elaborates, is that financial marketers should be looking at and learning from all kinds of companies, not just other banks and credit unions.

“I’m not competing against the customer experience that Chase has provided, nor Wells, nor TD,” says Brimmer. “What I’m competing against daily is the customer experience consumers have had with Apple, their cable company, with Google or Amazon. And I have to be able to relate to that customer and interact with them in a way that’s going to be consistent with what they’re feeling when they’re interacting with those other brands.”

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