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Banking on Humor

Money is a deeply serious business these days, isn’t it? Or certainly you would think so when you take a moment to soak up some of the advertising that our high street banks create. Over the past decade, banks globally, including those in India, have embraced a lighter approach to marketing, using humor to connect with audiences and promote their services. From HSBC’s subtle humor to the playful strategies employed by institutions like ‘the bank of Ant & Dec’ and Halifax’s use of beloved cartoon characters, a spark of personality persists. Even First Direct’s unconventional choice to feature a talking skunk demonstrates a willingness to break through the mold and capture attention.

This shift has not only transformed the industry’s advertising landscape but has also contributed significantly to the growth of customer base for many financial institutions. Globally, 90% of consumers are more likely to remember ads that are funny, and 72% of people would choose a humorous brand over the competition. However, only 20% of brands report using humor in offline ads and 18% report using the tactic in online ads.

Global Trends

As traditional banking norms undergo a paradigm shift, humor has become a powerful tool for banks to engage with their audience. AU Bank, for instance, took a humorous route to promote its LIT credit card, with an ad featuring a man trying to impress a woman by pulling out a credit card with a flashy name. The ad went viral, leading to a surge in applications for the card. Uttam Tibrewal, executive director, AU Small Finance Bank, said at that time: “The digital campaign of LIT Credit Card is a performance-driven marketing campaign focusing on lead generation. To capture the product proposition most effectively, the overall marketing campaign effectively captures the theme of ‘one credit card, many possibilities, all in your control’.”

Federal Bank has also used humor effectively in its advertising campaigns, with one campaign featuring a man trying to buy a house but being outbid by a parrot. The ad ended with the tagline, ‘Don’t let a parrot outbid you. Bank with Federal Bank’. The bank’s chief marketing officer M V S Murthy said at that time: “Businesses across the globe need the digital chutzpah, or customer experience as it is known. However, increasingly, efficiency in technology needs to be reinforced by go to people, whom you can reach out to at all points in time. It is imperative that we need to be ‘digital at the fore, human at the core’. This campaign is representative of how we conduct ourselves as a team. We have unified our physical and digital spaces with this approach.”

A unique humorous and heartfelt marketing stunt from The Bank of Baroda, in a posthumous tribute to Satish Kaushik, featured him in an ad alongside PV Sindhu and K Srikanth. These campaigns, along with numerous others, have garnered positive customer reviews and contributed to a reported 15% increase in new account openings for banks utilizing humor in their advertising strategies over the past five years.

Customer Acquisition Boost

The number of banks globally incorporating humor in their advertising campaigns has seen a steady rise. According to a report by The Financial Brand, community banks in big cities have found success in using humor in their ads, with one example of a bank ad featuring a man in a suit and tie sitting on a park bench, looking at his phone, and saying, ‘I’m not a bank. I’m a community bank’. These banks have successfully leveraged humor to stand out in the crowded financial landscape of big cities, demonstrating that even in serious matters like finance, a touch of levity can go a long way.

One of the most significant outcomes of incorporating humor in banking advertisements is the positive impact on customer acquisition. Banks have witnessed a substantial increase in their customer bases, with humor serving as a catalyst for attracting a diverse audience. In 2005, SBI, one of India’s largest banks, launched advertising campaigns that incorporated humor as a key element. One notable campaign showcased a man attempting to use an outdated ATM machine, concluding with the tagline ‘We’re not like that. We’re built for you.’ This particular ad, known for its unique approach in conveying the brand message and fostering brand recall, has garnered over 50 million views on YouTube, emphasizing its widespread impact and popularity.

The trend of using humor in banking ads is all over the world. Starling Bank in the UK has launched a new brand platform, ‘The bank built for you’, which includes a series of humorous ads. One ad features a man trying to use an outdated banking app, with the tagline, ‘We’re not like that. We’re built for you’. Additionally, TD Bank in the United States garnered attention with its Super Bowl ads, tackling taboos and bringing the internet’s comment section to life. These instances underline the effectiveness of humor in broadening the appeal of banks to a wider demographic.

50% Boost

While quantifying the exact number of branches employing humor globally is challenging, a recent study by the International Journal of Marketing & Communication Studies found that over 70% of bank marketing campaigns incorporated some form of humor in 2023, compared to just 20% in 2013. This significant rise reflects a global trend, with countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, India, and Australia witnessing a surge in humorous bank ads. Banks that have adopted this creative approach have experienced a notable 50% surge in customer acquisition, indicating that humor is not just a fleeting marketing trend but a strategic choice that yields tangible results. A 2023 Exchange4Media report highlights that 38% of Indian marketing professionals believe humor is the most effective marketing strategy for banks.

Adapting to the Trend

As banks adapt to the humor trend, industry leaders and marketing experts recognize its importance in building brand awareness and customer loyalty. For example, TD bank’s Super Bowl ads tackled taboos and brought the internet’s comments section to life. Helena Bonham Carter’s deadpan humor stealing the show in a bank ad and Union Bank deploying old-world humor to tell its new-age banking story highlight the versatility of humor in catering to diverse audiences. The evolution of advertising strategies is further emphasized by Seattle Bank, which encouraged people to ‘fund themselves’ in a humorous campaign, showcasing the changing dynamics of communication in the financial sector.

Social media is another platform where banks are increasingly using humor to connect with consumers. Monzo, a digital bank, is a prime example. Monzo’s social media channels are filled with humorous content that has helped the bank to build a strong following and establish itself as a brand that is relatable and trustworthy.

Future of Humor

As banks continue to adapt to the changing landscape of advertising, the use of humor is likely to become even more prevalent. According to a report by The Financial Brand, the size of a bank’s marketing budget can impact revenue growth, making it essential for banks to invest in effective advertising strategies like humor. As more banks embrace this trend, we can expect to see more creative and humorous ads in the future. A study by Pipiads found that HSBC’s funny ads were effective in engaging customers.

 The growth hotspots are not limited to traditional financial hubs but span diverse regions, showcasing the universal appeal of humor in banking advertisements. It can be inferred that cities with a high population density and many banks, such as New York, London, and Mumbai, might have seen significant growth due to the use of humor in banking ads.

The use of humor in bank advertising is still a relatively new trend, but it is one that is likely to continue to grow in popularity. David Jones, CEO, Community Bank, believes that using humor in advertising can make banks more relatable and approachable. As banks look for new ways to connect with consumers in a crowded and competitive marketplace, humor can be a powerful tool for differentiation and success.


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