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Of Rorschach and “The Video”

I am here to confess my sins when it comes to the masterful CU Difference video that debuted last week courtesy of Larissa Walkiw, who is the Young & Free Alberta spokesperson. The video, which I first saw Thursday on the CU Brand Blog, is making big waves.

But an exchange on the CU Skeptic Blog yesterday has brought me in touch with a real problem with my personal reaction to this video, and my sense is that others might be falling into the same trap when viewing this terrific piece of work.

The problem? Essentially, “The Video” became a Rorschach test for what I think the movement lacks.

In looking at the video, I thought it had great potential as a CU viral campaign. In my fantasy, we’d take out the Common Wealth CU and Y&F references and throw this thing on out our web sites. And boy howdy, the young folks would literally melt down servers and bust down doors to join credit unions in response.

At long last, the average age of members would plummet, and the CU Nip Tuck we’ve all imagined would happen!

There’s just one little problem with my fantasy: this video is a specific marketing message that is intended for a specific audience … and that audience is living in a financial service system that is quite a bit different from the one here in the States. (Thanks to Tim McAlpine, I understand that now.)

Taking that thought just one step further – as a marketing message, there’s no way to know five days after rollout whether this video is effective. Unless I’ve missed something, it remains to be seen whether Common Wealth’s ultimate goal – to put fannies into the Young & Free Checking Account – will actually work out … and whether the video is helpful in achieving that goal.

So let’s take a step back here and take a couple of useful lessons from the video based on what we know:

First of all, Larissa is a very talented young woman, and a gifted communicator. But in our rush to praise her, let’s not deify her. There are other Larissas out there waiting to be discovered. All they need is an opportunity.

And that leads me to my second point: the true genius of the Young & Free Campaign lies in its risk. Think about it: Common Wealth literally handed the keys to their brand over to a 19 year old. How many credit unions CEOs, boards and marketers are willing to take that chance?

And perhaps that’s the real issue, and why so many seem to be Rohrschaching this thing. After all, it would be easy for Larissa & Common Wealth to edit their video to fit our perceived needs, but would doing so make our individual credit unions any more palatable to people 25 and under?


9 Responses

  1. My favorite ads of all time? The Miller Lite “Dick” commercials in the late 90’s. They pretended they handed off their creative to this wacky marketer named Dick, who ended up creating totally bizarre ads. One, that I remember vividly, was an ad in which a dude reads a beer cap that says “Twist to Open.” He promptly starts doing the twist to Chubby Checker’s song of the same name. Funny? Absolutely. Highly regarded ad? Award after award. Did they sell more beer? No. Actually, Miller’s market share went down during the campaign.

    The problem? The ads didn’t give consumers a compelling reason to pick their product over the competition. Entertaining doesn’t a successful ad make.

    Larissa’s video short is entertaining, both in its simplicity and its energy. It also communicates the Common Wealth Credit Union difference. The Young & Free Alberta campaign is brilliant (great job Common Wealth and Currency Marketing). It does what Miller could not do…it communicates an exact reason to pick the Young & Free account instead of falling for another institution’s giveaway tactic. We’re fooling ourselves if we think that specific ad can in itself lead the world’s credit unions to greener pastures. We are fools, though, if we don’t learn from the video’s beauty: simple, creative, compelling, direct.

  2. Jeff – Great post. The short answer to your last question is NO, a re-cut of this video is NOT the answer for any other CU. This IS the answer for Common Wealth CU because it fits into a broader strategic campaign. Common Wealth didn’t just randomly grab a 19-year-old member and say “make us a video”. With Currency Marketing and Tim McAlpine’s guidance, a contest was held where many worthy candidates submitted. Larissa was chosen after a lengthy process that validated and ensured that she was authentic and a worthy choice. (Props to Tim and the CU for doing that out in the open.) She made a video which fits HER credit union. She is an authentic voice for HER credit union. Yes, 95% of what she says works for other CUs, but the glory of the CU movement in North America and worldwide is that EACH credit union is different. EACH CU gets to decide what is in its own best interests, to find its own collective voice and spokesperson. To fit the unique marketplace/environment in which it finds itself. That’s why you can’t copy and paste a different CU name here and expect results. I wrote more about this individual decision-making as a comment to the CUSkeptic post that you reference.

    And btw, I’m not going out on a limb to say Larissa’s video is already a huge success. It’s truly an Instant Classic.

  3. Jeff, this is a great post.

    One thing I’d comment on: I think you left one side of the risk coin unturned. It wasn’t just Common Wealth that took a risk w/ its brand. Currency Marketing took a huge risk. After all, how many agencies would be comfortable letting some 19 year-old create content, when, up till now, that has been the job of the agency. If the agency isn’t going to create the copy, then — the logic might go — what do we need them for in the first place?

    That’s what I was trying to convey in the post I wrote about strategic enablement. It couldn’t have been easy for the agency to “let go” of the content, and prove its worth in some other way.

  4. @Matt – I agree completely that the beauty of Larissa’s message comes in its simplicity. And as Tim was able to illuminate, the message is honest and it makes a clear point without insulting the viewer’s intelligence.

    @Morriss – great point about the power of individual decision making at CUs! Hopefully, more credit unions will consider how to creatively communicate their own CU Difference.

    @Ron: Great point about the risk Currency took in this endeavor. There must have been so many reasons for CM not to suggest it, and for CW to say no to it. Thank goodness they both rolled the dice!

  5. Jeff, you are first class. This article really summed up all of the conflicting feeling that I have had as this has exploded over the past three days.

    I also want to thank you for covering Young & Free from day one. This means a lot to me.

  6. Great post Jeff!

    The reason this video won’t work as a CU wide advertisement is the same reason I don’t like the idea of a national ad campaign; every credit union is different, and if you’re going to do something nationwide, you’d better know that every credit union under that umbrella is living up to the claim.

    I love the video, and I’m sure it will lead many to Common Wealth CU. As far as using it to solve all our problems, there’s no chance. What we should be doing instead of copy and pasting and re-editing Larissa’s vid is taking a lesson from her and Common Wealth. It takes content that is tailored to your membership…just like a product or service.

  7. @Tim: It’s been fun to watch this unfold, and I salute your creativity, and Common Wealth’s boldness. Perhaps that’s the ultimate lesson that all credit unions can glean from Y&F – be bold, and think BIG!

    @Andy: Well said! It seems to me that national branding campaigns are by nature top-down propositions … so the end-product is about the “process” of getting it past hoops, hurdles and frankly, egos.

    If some sort of useful national campaign comes out of CUs, especially one that targets young people, I suspect it will have to be a bottom-up process to be effective. Whether or not that ever happens, individual CUs can sure learn from Y&F in the meantime.

  8. Alright CU Communicator – what are you doing wearing the “devil advocate’s” shoes anyway?….. (though I must say, nice fit!)

    I was very excited and impressed about the video – but less about making it a “catch-all grab-them-young’uns-on-YouTube” sneaky strategic campaign, rather just sooooo relieved & pleased that some credit unions are truly sticking their corporate necks out and trying something fresh.

    that being said, rather than just using this video as a catch-all on my CU site, I would use it as a starting point of conversation when I go visit those truly annoying teen-agers at my son’s high school Economics class – toss it out – discuss who did it and why – did they catch the message on the differences between cu’s & banks? – and (challenge time) can they do better?

    works much better than the ole, this is a check, this is a debit card, this is a credit score and you don’t have one, nanna nnanna boo boo, that we usually employ when chatting with the great unknown……….

    my twist on things……now give me back my shoes.

    Diva Deb

  9. @Diva Deb: As a League employee, you know I don’t get to wear your shoes very often. 😉

    I’m Fed-Exing them back to you now, and heading off to sing CU-mbaya for a little while. (*sniff*)

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