Testimonials are common in marketing, but Huntington Bank aims to set itself apart with an uncommon approach to this genre.
It has launched a series of commercials — done by an Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker — that highlight the genuine connections between its employees and customers by letting them tell their own stories.
“My watch out for the team as we were developing concepts was that customer testimonials are deadly boring. I don’t care who your director is,” says Adam Ferguson, Huntington’s chief brand officer. “This is a format that’s been done ad nauseum since time immemorial.”
The Greenhouse, Huntington’s in-house agency, created the advertising campaign, called “Money’s Just the Start.” The underlying message is that humans helping humans solve financial challenges still makes a difference.
“The digitization of our society, while it’s convenient, has some blind spots.”
— Adam Ferguson, Huntington Bank
Huntington is up to 74% digital adoption as of the first quarter, but Julie Tutkovics, the chief marketing and communications officer, says this campaign illustrates how customers not only know their bankers, but have had personal interactions that made a difference in their lives. (Huntington, headquartered in Columbus, Ohio, has just over 1,000 branches in 11 states.)
The Real-Life Stories in the Huntington Ad Campaign
One of the first television spots in the campaign focuses on Veronica, who has three jobs. She works in a restaurant and a nursing home and owns her own food truck.
At 61, she decided she’d like to own her own home. So she asked a Huntington banker, Roger, whether she could do it. “He didn’t tell me, no, it’s not possible; he told me anything was possible. And that made me feel good,” Veronica says.
“We started going back and forth, me telling her a little bit about myself and she started telling me a little bit about herself,” Roger, a relationship banker, says in one version of the ad. He realized that her barbecue truck was the very one he’d often seen near his branch. (See Huntington’s longer version, “The Full Story,” here.)
Roger helped her with the mortgage, but it wasn’t an easy process. “If there was a bump in the road, we hit it,” he says.
“But they came through for me,” Veronica chimes in. “They’re like family to me now.”
Roger says, come spring, when the food truck is back out, he plans to get some ribs.
Another spot tells the story of Kitty, who initially came to Huntington after banking with another institution whose only advantage was being close to where she lives.
What really impressed Kitty, a woman blind since birth, was that a Huntington branch manager, Dani, came to her home and asked if she wanted to receive her monthly bank statements in Braille.
Later, when Kitty discovered an error, the staff patiently went through the statement line by line to resolve the problem.
Two female small business owners, Annie and Morgan, are featured in another spot in the series. They run GoNanas, which specializes in making banana bread.
They credit their Huntington banker, Dennis, with arranging the financing that made it possible to get their product into “our dream retailer.”
“I live vicariously through my customers, and it was incredible sharing in that victory with them,” Dennis says.
“Sounds like you made that victory possible,” a raspy voice from off-screen says to Dennis. “Oh, I had a little something to do with it,” he answers with an “aw, shucks” shrug. (See the bank’s full story video here.)
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Camera Work Meant to Maximize Human Connection
That raspy voice belongs to documentary filmmaker Errol Morris, who won an Oscar for “The Fog of War.”
Huntington flew all of the bankers and customers featured in the spots to Los Angeles for the film shoot, which took place in a bare-bones loft space. (The customers received actor’s scale in addition to having their expenses paid.)
They were interviewed and filmed in Morris’ unusual style, in which he conducts the interview from off camera.
Traditional interview formats — where the view cuts back and forth from a wide shot of the subjects with the interviewer, to tighter shots of someone speaking or the interviewer listening — bother Morris as people unused to being filmed tend to look at the interviewer instead of the camera.
Morris uses a process he calls “the Interrotron,” to create a sense that the subject is speaking directly to the viewer. The person Morris is interviewing sees an image of the filmmaker at nearly the same point where the camera lens is. So they are always looking at the camera, which helps create more of a connection with the viewer. Side shots are also included for the sake of variety.
The Greenhouse team selected the stories that are featured in the series, some of which they found through an internal social media network, Tutkovics says. Huntington employees use the network to give shout-outs to colleagues who go above and beyond. One such channel is called “Service Heart Stories.”
“All of the colleagues we identified for highlighting are incredibly humble people. They believe that they’re actually just doing their jobs.”
— Julie Tutkovics, Huntington Bank
Ferguson sympathizes with those who would just as soon not be filmed. “I don’t want to be on camera,” he admits. “It gives me agita.” He says the customers generally agreed to the filming because they wanted to do something for the banker who had helped them.
The tagline for the commercials is “Welcome,” which Huntington has been using to stress its inclusive policies.
(This advertising campaign follows one called “True Story,” which launched in late spring 2022.)
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The Targeting for Huntington’s Ad Campaign
The spots Morris filmed will be airing through the summer on broadcast, connected TV and streaming channels. But the content will likely continue to be used for a longer period of time in digital channels, such as websites, social media posts and more, Tutkovics says.
The length of the clips ranges from the tiniest slices of interview — six seconds that simply have the intros, “I’m _____ and this is my banker” — to longer versions about what the bankers did for them.
Where each spot runs will in part depend on the customers involved, but Tutkovics and Ferguson don’t want placement to be too targeted.
On the one hand, targeting can be efficient. “So much of the science of our marketing is centered around data and the ability to be really surgical in our targeting, in terms of the messaging and who we’re trying to reach,” Tutkovics says. Streaming services in particular lend themselves to targeting, not only by demographic data, but by psychographics, buying behaviors and search behaviors, she says. By hitting select channels, switching to Huntington can be encouraged.
On the other hand, a key message could get lost with targeting that is too tight. “There’s a sense of belonging that we want to communicate,” Ferguson says. So the bank also wants to air the spots in channels where the viewers are likely to be different from those featured in the stories.
“These stories need to be told,” says Ferguson, “and people need to connect with them.”