People’s Choice: how Westpac and DDB added some humour to the banking landscape

After almost 1,000 votes, ‘Flatties’, the entertaining fish out of water tale that aims to show how Westpac can help customers into their own house, took out the StopPress/MediaWorks People’s Choice Award. And its ‘Start Asking’ campaign was also named in the top three. 

Concocted by DDB and shot by Prodigy’s Tim Bullock, ‘Flatties’ was the first product-specific ad after the launch of its new brand platform and Micheal Healy, Westpac’s portfolio director — brand and marketing, says the humorous approach has been very well-received, both by its staff and by its customers.

  • See all the StopPress/MediaWorks TVC of the Year winners here.  

Healy, who spent eight years at DDB and Saatchi & Saatchi before moving client side early last year, says banks are not traditionally renowned as very creative places. And they’re not particularly well-liked either. But it made a conscious decision to try and do some great work (and also create some great products), increase its likeability and “break out of the boring procession of carbon-copy communications”. 

The impact of a new ad campaign on staff is often overlooked, particularly in larger organisations like banks. But in the case of Flatties, he says it’s been fully embraced, to the point where staff from a few branches in the provinces brought in old milk bottles and created displays. One staff member even thanked Healy for “allowing us to be funny again”. 

“We maybe underestimated how much our staff would like it,” he says. “We constantly get asked what’s next. And it’s done wonders for the perception for marketing inside the business.”

Consumers have also responded well to the new, more whimsical tone of voice. Tracking results show that they are by far the highest of any campaign the bank has run and the executions with the lowest tracking scores are still higher than its previous best. 

“If you look at some of the tracking, we can stand next to that campaign and feel proud of it. It’s the highest level of awareness and attribution we’ve had with our comms for a long time and the build is far faster. Flatties is the highest of those. We’re convinced that although we don’t spend as much as our biggest competitor [ANZ], the quality of the work is offsetting that.”

These days it pays to back up awareness with practical information, and this realisation means the realm of content marketing is growing rapidly. Some have commented that the ads don’t actually show what Westpac can do to solve the issues it’s talking about. But a big part of the ‘Start Asking’ campaign was actually getting staff to answer customers’ questions and give advice, often through its YouTube channel. Healy says that has worked well “when that content has been encountered”. And it’s currently looking at ways to ensure it’s encountered more often. 

“We’re pretty proud of ourselves for not just forgetting about it,” he says. But as banking and banking products get more and more complex, marketing has a big part to play in simplifying that.”

One year on from the launch of the new framework, Healy says the business is far more geared towards doing a lot more creative work, and the executive team is very supportive of continuing down this track. 

DDB’s chief executive Justin Mowday says Westpac took a brave step with Flatties, taking on a tension point about getting into your first home, then allowing the agency to use hyperbole and humour to make it so likeable. 

He says Flatties is the highest rated TVC in the market according to Westpac’s AdPulse tracking by Camorra, blitzing the competition on cut-through, persuasion and likeability.

“In fact, creatively it’s the best performing TVC Westpac have ever run, and the ‘Welder’ and ‘Handouts’ TVCs are only just behind it. The country have really connected with our flatties. It’s great to see the combination of great storytelling and a compelling message be so effective.” 

DDB’s ‘Staying Up Late’ for McDonald’s was third in the overall TVC of the year competition, while Instant Kiwi’s ‘It Pays to Push Your Luck’ was voted the best campaign. 

“At DDB we strive to deliver remarkable work for all our clients, not just the odd one-off campaign, so it’s satisfying to see so much of what we do for our clients being consistently recognised at the top. We aim for our work to be populist, to connect to mass audiences. So congratulations have to go to Westpac, McDonald’s and NZ Lotteries.”

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