Case Study: Citibank “Live Richly” Ad Campaign

Founded in 1812 as the City Bank of New York, this urban merchant’s bank continued to expand and diversify its services over the next century. The bank changed its name to Citibank, N.A. (National Association), in 1976, following its parent holding company’s change to Citicorp. In 1998 Citicorp and the Travelers Group completed a $76 billion merger to form Citigroup, Inc. Citicorp was at the time the second-largest commercial bank, and Travelers Group was a leading international insurance/investment banking firm. The Citicorp-Travelers merger thus represented a new era of horizontal expansion. Citigroup then began an acquisition spree that included acquiring in 2002 Golden State Bancorp (the parent company of First Nationwide Mortgage and California Federal Bank), a move that added 352 branches and approximately 1.5 million new customers to Citigroup. By then the company was well on its way to having 3,000 bank branches and consumer-finance offices in the United States and Canada, plus an additional 1,500 locations worldwide.

The terrorist strikes of September 11, 2001, initiated changes in American opinions regarding finances. While Americans were left reordering their priorities to allow more time at home with family, Citibank was creating a ‘‘new standard’’ in consumer retail banking. ‘‘In a down economy people want to hear that money isn’t important,’’ said Al Ries, chairman of Ries & Ries, a marketing consultancy in Atlanta, Georgia. Though the market research for the ‘‘Live Richly’’ campaign had been completed prior to 9/11, Citibank, with its simple and reassuring ads, benefited from consumers fears of corporate layoffs and the stock-market instabilities of a down economy.

‘‘Live Richly’’ was Citibank’s first major advertising campaign since ‘‘The Citi Never Sleeps,’’ which ran in the 1980s and early 1990s. ‘‘The Citi Never Sleeps’’ was developed by ad agency Foote, Cone & Belding’s Chicago division and promoted individual banking products. In 1996 agency J. Walter Thompson followed ‘‘The Citi Never Sleeps’’ with an international campaign designed to promote Citibank’s international services, such as traveler’s checks and a global ATM network. The campaign sported the tagline ‘‘Your Bank, Your Money, Your World.’’

In 1997 Citibank shocked the advertising world by hiring yet another new ad agency, Young & Rubicam, and giving the agency responsibility for all its advertising and direct-marketing needs, in total worth an estimated $500 to $700 million. Prior to 1997 Citibank had divided its marketing assignments among several major agencies, which were blindsided by Citibank’s decision. In 2000 Citibank again shopped for a new agency. From seven contenders, Fallon Worldwide was selected.

Advertising Target

In order for Citibank to reach its goal of becoming a global brand with one billion customers by 2010, it needed to appeal to a broad population. The campaign aimed to attract middle-income consumers, some 90 million Americans, and intended to accomplish this by convincing them that Citibank understood their values. Specifically, Fallon targeted what it defined as ‘‘balance seekers.’’ Balance seekers were not driven by money but used it to fund parts of their lives that made them happy. According to Anne Bologna, director of planning at Fallon, the agency conducted more than 20 focus groups to better understand consumers’ relationships with their money. Bologna explained, ‘‘We found more than 90 million adults in this country are looking for balance in their lives. They’re not striving to become millionaires, and money isn’t their end goal. They view money as a tool to help them attain balance and live their priorities.’’ In addition to luring middle-income balance seekers, Citibank targeted young urban consumers, including the segment of the population labeled Generation X (people born between 1965 and 1980). Members of Generation X had a reputation for avoiding all things stodgy. Known for seeking alternative approaches to life, Generation X consumers after 9/11 seemed to assiduously avoid the corporate norm, opted for flex time, and often worked from home. Citibank hoped to connect with these consumers through humor and ‘‘un-banklike’’ advertising. In a 2001 press release Fallon Minneapolis president and executive creative director David Lubars commented, ‘‘Citibank’s new creative is a significant departure from advertising traditionally seen in this category. We’ve used humor and emotion in the ads to help Citibank connect with people on a more human level than is typically seen from a financial brand. The work establishes Citibank as a consumer ally and friend, not an institution.’’

Competition

Citigroup reportedly reaped $47 million in net profits a day in 2004 and ruled the financial-services industry. Competitors, among them JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Merrill Lynch, and Morgan Stanley, worked to chip away at Citibank’s market share. Though Bank of America fell behind Citigroup in the United States in terms of assets, it was the third-largest U.S. bank and boasted the country’s most extensive branch network. In fall of 2000 Bank of America launched a one-year, $100 million advertising campaign. It included television, radio, and print advertising and was introduced during the 2000 Olympic Games. Designed to strengthen the Bank of America brand and send the message that Bank of America could help customers grow financially, the campaign focused on two themes, ‘‘Grow’’ and ‘‘Why Not?’’ Bank of America marketing executive Barbara Desoer stated in a 2000 press release, ‘‘. . . our goal is to build and sustain awareness of what Bank of America stands for—a customer-driven company that provides innovative financial solutions through a variety of channels.’’

In 2001 Chase Manhattan and JP Morgan & Company merged to form JPMorgan Chase. By 2002 it was the nation’s second-largest financial services firm, and in 2004 it had sales of more than $56 billion. Also in 2004 JPMorgan Chase acquired Bank One, the sixth largest bank in the United States. JPMorgan Chase’s advertising consisted primarily of smaller, more targeted campaigns. In 2002, for instance, the firm unveiled a marketing campaign aimed at Hispanic consumers, and the following year its online investing arm, BrownCo, initiated a $10 to $12 million campaign to attract active traders.

Advertising Strategy

Citibank committed itself to the ‘‘Live Richly’’ campaign in 2001 by bolstering its advertising budget, increasing it to some $100 million; in comparison, according to Competitive Media Reporting, Citibank’s U.S. advertising budget for the first nine months of 2000 was only $14.6 million.

In creating the ‘‘Live Richly’’ campaign, Fallon Worldwide avoided typical bank stuffiness, and, according to Maggie Shea of Fallon, it also did not want to talk about consumers and their money in a ‘‘sappy way.’’ Instead Fallon worked to create an ‘‘emotional connection that felt fresh, modern, sophisticated and reassuring,’’ Shea explained to Adweek. Rather than focusing on milestone events such as buying a home, having children, or graduating college, this bank campaign focused on ‘‘the everyday role of money.’’

The six-week newspaper component, budgeted at just under $2 million, consisted of a series of simple and quirky ads. They appeared in 19 daily newspapers across the United States, including the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Miami Herald, and El Nuevo Herald, the Spanish-language edition of the Miami Herald. Initial ads were placed in unexpected sections of newspapers, such as the movie section and the comics. Larger, more detailed ads then appeared in main sections of newspapers for five weeks. Though newspaper advertising was thought to be old-fashioned by some in the advertising industry, it proved to be a key element in the ‘‘Live Richly’’ campaign. Fallon believed that newspapers had a dedicated readership and appealed to a wide variety of consumers. The agency estimated that 30 million consumers were exposed to the campaign through newspaper ads alone.

The print ads sought to appeal to readers on a human level. Lisa Seward, Fallon’s media director, noted in Adweek, ‘‘The banking category across the board is guilty, I think, of speaking to consumers as account numbers and not as people. So [with this campaign], we’re trying very hard to acknowledge customers as human, with human motivations.’’ One ad that ran in the comics section declared, ‘‘Sometimes wealth is having time to read these.’’ Other ads stated, ‘‘Sometimes wealth is buying the $6 popcorn and not obsessing over the fact that you just paid $6 for popcorn,’’ and ‘‘If you gave up your morning coffee for a year, you could make an extra mortgage payment. But man, you’d be grumpy.’’ Seward explained that the ads were not intended as attention grabbers. ‘‘They did pop off the page, but [they] were small and charming, in a quiet voice.’’

The television component of ad campaign focused on three areas: boosting the Citibank brand, pushing Citibank’s credit card division, and promoting local branch business. Acclaimed documentary filmmaker Errol Morris directed the brand-building commercials, which starred nonactors. One spot featured snippets of everyday life along with appropriate phrases—a child was swung around in the air by the father, accompanied by the text ‘‘Count your blessings’’; a teenager made silly faces, and the text on screen read, ‘‘Investments mature. You don’t have to’’; an older gentleman joyously played the trombone to the text, ‘‘Dirty, rotten, filthy, stinking happy.’’ All spots ended with the tagline ‘‘Live Richly.’’

Brief Citibank messages were shown on billboards, phone kiosks, bus shelters, subway stations, and construction bridges across six different cities in the United States. The slogans included messages such as ‘‘Healthy credit is good, but keep an eye on your cholesterol, too,’’ ‘‘Hugs are on a 52-week high,’’ and ‘‘The word ‘splurge’ loses meaning if it becomes a regular daily event.’’ In 2003, in order to fund $2 million in church restorations, the prominent Grace Church at Broadway and 10th Street in New York posted above its portico a huge billboard with the Citibank logo and its ‘‘Live Richly’’ slogan; the ad’s text read, ‘‘If happiness is just around the corner, turn often.’’

Citi Bank's Live Richly Ad Campaign

Not everyone found Citibank’s ‘‘Live Richly’’ advertising campaign to be charming and warmhearted. Some rejected as a ruse Citibank’s message that there was more to life than money. In 2003 the Rainforest Action Network, an environmental organization, launched a contest calling for fake advertisements that highlighted Citibank’s allegedly corrupt business practices and environmental and social destruction. Patterned after the ‘‘Live Richly’’ print ads, the submissions were posted on a website. Examples of fake ads included ‘‘Funny how nobody ever calls it forest destruction’’ and ‘‘Forest Destruction and Global Warming? We’re banking on it!’’

Outcome

Fallon’s Citibank advertising continued in this humorous and nonthreatening vein for the following five years. The ‘‘Live Richly’’ campaign’s ‘‘Tire Swing’’ commercial was named one of Adweek magazine’s ‘‘Best Spots’’ of 2004. Analyst Paul Jamieson of Gomez Advisors believed that Citibank’s ‘‘Live Richly’’ ads sent an attractive message to consumers, and he commented ‘‘What they’re really speaking to is what consumers desire these days, which has less to do with saving money and more to do with saving time. They’re saying: ‘Concentrate on the things that make life rewarding; we’ll take care of the complicated stuff.’ It’s a great message.’’ The advertising industry agreed, and ‘‘Live Richly’’ won a Gold EFFIE Award in 2002.

Reference: Encyclopedia of Major Marketing Campaigns. Thomas Riggs

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