IDENTITY THEFT SOLUTIONS CAMPAIGN
Note: Also see essay for Citigroup Inc.
In fall of 2003 Citibank, a subsidiary of Citigroup Inc., the world's largest financial services conglomerate, set out to bolster its consumer divisions' "Live Richly" umbrella campaign with a set of television, print, and outdoor advertisements that introduced its new Identity Theft Solutions service for credit-card holders. The service was a timely response to Americans' growing fears about the crime of identity theft and was intended to distinguish Citibank from its consumer-banking competitors and to thereby build on the people-friendly image cultivated in previous "Live Richly" spots.
The idea of identity theft was inherently terrifying, but Citibank and its main U.S. ad agency, Fallon Worldwide of Minneapolis, wanted to communicate the potential severity of the danger posed to consumers without resorting to scare tactics. The resulting series of four television ads, which cost an estimated $750,000 to produce, featured ordinary, sympathetic characters who channeled, via lip-synching, the voices of the sinister but humorously intriguing criminals who had victimized them. This technique directly dramatized the idea of someone assuming another person's identity, and the wild disparity between the characters' appearance and his or her dialogue was both comical and disturbing. Print and outdoor ads similarly employed pictures of innocent-looking people juxtaposed with copy indicating the out-of-character crimes or debts for which that person was supposedly responsible.
"Identity Theft Solutions" was named Adweek's Best Campaign of 2003, and an individual campaign spot won a 2004 Emmy for Outstanding Commercial. Citibank's consumer divisions, and particularly its credit-card operations, sustained the parent company through extremely difficult financial times. The campaign ran through 2004.
Citibank hired Fallon Worldwide's Minneapolis shop to take over the brand's U.S. advertising in 2000, a move widely seen as an attempt to humanize its faceless corporate image. Fallon, a rising star known for its quirkiness, promised to produce ads that were "unbanklike," while still managing to live up to the challenge that, according to Adweek, Citibank had set: to "unite the varied and various elements of its consumer division—including banking and credit cards." The company wanted to distance itself from the financial-services advertising of the 1990s, which concentrated on wealth for its own sake, and Fallon helped the company do so by creating an umbrella concept titled "Live Richly," which focused on presenting financial well-being as a means to living fully rather than as the object of life.
Though the message "There's more to life than money" struck some observers as disingenuous coming from a bank, the campaign's theme proved well suited to an historical moment characterized by the dot-com crash, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and several high-profile corporate scandals. In this climate of widespread anxiety about the American economy and personal security, Citibank pinpointed a further danger to consumers—identity theft—and introduced a service to protect them from it.
As businesses relied more and more on computer technology, identity theft—the criminal use of an unwitting individual's private information to open false credit-card accounts, secure home and car loans, or commit other criminal acts—increasingly became an issue for Americans. Identity-theft complaints rose 73 percent between 2001 and 2002, and they continued to multiply in the years following. Further, the fear of terrorists using forged identities to commit crimes raised public awareness of the problem. Victims of the crime typically found themselves answerable for large sums of money owed, and criminal acts committed, in their names, and the process of rehabilitating their lives and credit histories was a daunting, months-long affair. Citibank accordingly inaugurated its Identity Theft Solutions service, a free benefit that provided customers with access to specialists who would, in cases of identity theft, help victims contact credit bureaus and police, help them monitor their credit reports, and otherwise be available for support and consultation until their individual cases were closed.
"Identity Theft Solutions" dovetailed with the larger "Live Richly" campaign, which targeted, in Citibank's words, "balance seekers" whose household incomes were between $60,000 and $100,000 a year. Fallon's Anne Bologna told Newsweek that Citibank defined balance seekers as "people who have always believed that money is not the end, but the means to an end," and company executives estimated that 90 million Americans fit this description. The initial phases of the "Live Richly" campaign had appealed to this audience by de-emphasizing the importance of money with messages such as "He who dies with the most toys is still dead" and "People make money. Not the other way around."
With "Identity Theft Solutions" Citibank wanted to communicate the urgency of the danger that gave rise to their new service while maintaining the lighthearted tone of the "Live Richly" campaign. It was important, in the company's view, to let potential customers know that identity theft could happen to them without simply frightening them. By making consumers aware of the danger and showing that Citibank alone had an answer to it, the campaign "was designed to be relevant, differentiating and a motivating factor for consumers to switch banks," as a company executive told Bank Systems & Technology Online.
Fallon's creative team satisfied its assignment using a simple, surprising, darkly funny vehicle: a drastic disconnect between a speaker's voice and his or her appearance. In television spots, for instance, a beer-drinking, middle-aged man sits in his easy chair while speaking, in the voice of a Valley girl, about a shopping binge during which he bought a $1,500 leather bustier that "lifts and separates." Showing a vividly real character inhabited by another fully developed character's voice served to illustrate with chilling but entertaining directness the phenomenon of identity theft. Print and outdoor ads used the same principle of juxtaposition, pitting a character's photographic portrait against drastically out-of-character copy.
According to U.S. Banker, between 2000 and 2003 retail bank advertising expenditures grew at unprecedented rates, primarily as a response to consolidation at the corporate level. Consolidation made for bigger advertising budgets, but as was the case with Citibank, many large financial institutions wanted to avoid being seen as inhuman monoliths. Several banking companies—including American Express and Capital One—ran memorable campaigns contemporaneously with the "Identity Theft Solutions" spots.
American Express had a long-standing reputation for innovation in advertising, and it continued to push the envelope with an online campaign featuring Jerry Seinfeld and an animated Superman in "webisodes" that were several minutes long. In them Seinfeld and Superman acted much like Jerry and his friends had in the sitcom Seinfeld, and an American Express card was always woven into the plot. The interactive American Express website included behind-the-scenes footage and photos of Seinfeld and Superman, and in 2004 the webisodes were picked up by the TV stations NBC and TBS.
Morgan Stanley, meanwhile, used offbeat humor in a campaign that dramatized just how committed the firm's financial advisers were to its clients. In one spot, a woman was shown cheering enthusiastically at a children's soccer game. When asked which child was hers, she explained that she was the financial adviser of one of the children's parents.
Capital One continued to run its popular "What's in Your Wallet?" spots, which promoted its "No-Hassle Card" and raised brand awareness to 97 percent, according to Advertising Age. Bank One launched its "Individual Answers" campaign, which showcased the personalized features its customers could access and ended with montages of individual faces and the assertion that no two people were alike.
Fallon's Steve Driggs told Adweek that the concept for the "Identity Theft Solutions" was inspired by stories of real-life victims of identity theft. Voice-overs for the original four TV spots were recorded prior to shooting, and the actors lip-synched the dialogue. The precisely calibrated lip-synching vividly illustrated the idea of one person inhabiting another's identity. The visible characters in each spot were easy for viewers to sympathize with, and the villainous voices, as Barbara Lippert wrote in Adweek, "stay away from stereotypical criminal situations and the usual thug voices we're used to seeing and hearing in police dramas and anti-drug commercials." In "Geek," for instance, a hip young African-American woman channeled a nasal, laughing male voice: "Firewall? Like that could stop me! Once I got her account number, I couldn't spend it fast enough: 64-inch plasma-screen monitor, 10 4.2-megahertz wireless routers, and 20,000 bucks to complete my robot. My girl robot. This is gonna be the best prom ever!" An announcer then said, as the Citi logo appeared onscreen, "Help getting your life back—that's using your card wisely," a message that underscored the human touch that Citibank had been cultivating for years. The tagline "Live Richly" was included under the logo, linking the new spots to the previously established umbrella campaign.
BEHIND THE SCENES
In addition to ordinary auditions for its "Identity Theft Solutions" spots, Fallon's creative team allowed itself some less traditional casting flourishes. For instance, a nosy neighbor kept pestering agency personnel on location during the New Jersey shoot for "Flaps," a commercial in which an elderly woman speaks in a gruff male voice about her fraudulent purchase of a pickup complete with "them mud flaps with the naked ladies on 'em." The filming crew responded by seamlessly incorporating the neighbor into the ad as the woman's husband. Unconventional casting had its hazards, however. When the team used a photograph of Fallon colleague Emily Frazee for print ads, some people in Frazee's hometown of Kahoka, Missouri, missed the point of the copy that stated that there were three warrants out for her arrest. About a dozen people became worried and called her parents, Frazee told Adweek. "Everybody thought I was in trouble."
Adweek reported that, in developing the print advertising, Fallon used an Episcopal church's directory to find faces that embodied the innocent look of someone whose identity had been stolen. Unable to secure the rights to use the actual directory photos, the creative team shot its own photos of one churchgoer, Jack Wiborg. The resulting image was of an affable, bespectacled, portly man with a double chin. Underneath the picture was copy that absurdly read, "I had $23,000 worth of liposuction." A Fallon colleague, Emily Frazee, was used as the model for the "innocent cheerleader" type Citibank had wanted for another print ad. The accompanying copy stated, "There are three warrants for my arrest. One of them involves smuggling."
In addition to being entertaining, the ads immediately "positioned Citi as an ally for cardholders in crisis," according to American Banker. The bank was not simply boasting about its size and status; it was offering a valuable service that distinguished it from other banks. The ads addressed a growing consumer fear and, in showing that Citibank cared about what was important to its customers, supported the "Live Richly" message.
A second series of three TV ads followed the initial set, introducing new characters and extending the lip-synching concept without substantial alteration. Other television ads used a different concept but a similar brand of humor in playing up the degree to which people had become afraid of giving out personal information. In one spot, a young couple in bed debated the merits of disclosing their names to one another, just before a nine-year-old boy leapt onto the mattress saying, "Hi Mommy. Hi Daddy."
Citigroup's consumer operations sustained the conglomerate during the time that the "Identity Theft Solutions" campaign aired, a time when the company's capital-markets divisions were facing notably inhospitable conditions. Added to a sluggish investment-banking climate were Citigroup's difficulties stemming from its role in the Worldcom scandal and from its publicized regulatory violations in Japan. Citigroup's consumer divisions grew vigorously, however, led by Citibank's credit-card operations, which were the primary beneficiaries of the "Identity Theft Solutions" message.
Adweek named "Identity Theft Solutions" its campaign of the year for 2003, citing "those wickedly funny juxtapositions, Fallon's seamless production and its simple but entertaining way of conveying a difficult message." American Banker also called the Fallon campaign one of the industry's best for that year. U.S. Banker noted the influence that the Citibank spots had on industry insiders: "Ad execs, brand consultants, and bankers all give Citi and its agency, Fallon Worldwide, kudos for the piercing spots." The print campaign was a finalist in the Magazine Publishers of America's Kelly Awards in 2004, and the individual spot "Outfit," featuring the man speaking in a Valley-girl voice, won the 2004 Emmy Award for Outstanding Commercial. Boards magazine named Fallon its Agency of the Year for 2004, drawing particular attention to its "Identity Theft" campaign.
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