Campaign: ‘Ask a Greater Customer’

Product: Financial services – home loans and investment accounts

Client: Greater Building Society

Agency: Internal team with support from Loud

The Greater Building Society is one of Australia’s largest building societies with 66 branches in regional NSW and on the Queensland Gold Coast. It has been operating since 1945 and steadily growing its branch network.

A large television advertiser, ‘The Greater’ has had a reasonable brand profile in its area of operations, particularly in its home base of Newcastle and the Hunter Valley. Despite being one of Australia’s top 500 companies, having assets worth more than $4 billion, and almost 250,000 customers, it was unknown outside of its area of operations.

During the global financial crisis, the major banks strengthened their already dominant position in the marketplace by swallowing competitors and capitalising on a mistaken assumption that they were safer than other financial institutions. 

With second tier rivals removed there was reduced competition and reduced choice for financial services consumers. There was also an opportunity for The Greater to fill that gap.

In its new business plan, The Greater determined it would step up to take on the major banks and be recognisedas a viable alternative to them. That included looking at opportunities to move into new areas.

The Greater’s business plan required a campaign to quickly raise its profile in its existing area of operations. The campaign also needed to help a virtually unknown ‘Greater’ to effectively ‘rise above the clutter’ if it moved into new markets.

While the campaign was initially about profile raising, it needed to be able to adapt to help sell The Greater’s products and services.

The Greater’s marketing team set to work developing a campaign. It determined that using a high-profile celebrity was one way to achieve its objectives quickly.

Rather than ‘celebrity slap’, ‘The Greater’ looked at celebrities that were unlikely to fall from grace and whose values matched its brand values.

Jerry Seinfeld was at the top of The Greater’s list. The Greater had used situational comedy in its advertising for a number of years. Seinfeld was seen as a family man, highly professional, smart, but also someone who was a bit cheeky and likes to have some fun. Research into people’s reaction to Seinfeld confirmed he was much loved by many and respected by many who were not fans.

Rather than ask Seinfeld to endorse The Greater, the campaign strategy was for Seinfeld to be himself, introducing the other stars of the campaign – The Greater’s customers. The team wanted to retain a successful aspect of The Greater’s previous campaigns, its use of customer testimonials.

The Greater predominantly used its channel of traditional advertising for the campaign. This was a broad campaign designed to reach all target markets (home buyers and depositors/investors). The Greater has used television advertising widely because of its cost-effectiveness in regional Australia. To maximisethe leverage of Seinfeld, radio and, to a lesser extent, print were also used.

Seinfeld also featured across all marketing collateral including brochures, ATM displays, direct mail initiatives and in-branch posters.

The opportunity was taken to revamp The Greater’s website, with a new look ahead of the planned introduction of new online savings products.

Five days prior to the commencement of the advertising campaign, The Greater announced its “Australian marketing coup of the century” – securing Seinfeld. This is something ING chose not to do when it signed comedian Billy Connelly. The Greater worked with its PR agency to maximisemedia exposure about the campaign.

It predicted that the story about Seinfeld, who had only appeared in advertising campaigns for two other companies (Microsoft and American Express), agreeing to help David (The Greater) take on Goliath (the major banks) would generate significant media and public attention.

The first four commercials were provided to media and placed on a new Greater YouTube channel. The following week a set of behind-the-scenes videos on the making of the commercials were promoted to launch The Greater’s revamped website.  

The advertising campaign commenced on July 12, 2009 with a 60-second launch commercial featuring Seinfeld pushing a shopping trolley down a street to set-up a stand-up stage outside a Greater branch. The classic Seinfeld skit ran for several weeks, but was quickly followed by commercials that introduced customer testimonials around The Greater’s key selling propositions – competitive rates, low fees, outstanding service and rewards (like free holidays). Seinfeld’s stand-up gags topped and tailed this message in a swag of commercials running continually in key markets. 

In 2010, the campaign moved to supporting the introduction of new products (a basic loan and new savings accounts), as well as an invigoration of The Greater’s standard variable loan. The Greater’s standard variable home loan comes with a free holiday. For a limited time, The Greater introduced a special holiday reward to Las Vegas, which included tickets to see Jerry Seinfeld perform.

Over the course of the campaign, competitions offering the same Vegas prize were also introduced in conjunction with local radio stations in key markets. That concept was extended by sending the breakfast team of a high-rating breakfast program in the major Newcastle market to Vegas for a week-long broadcast. It enabled The Greater to ‘own’ that program for the week. The competitions were all linked to advertising key products.

The campaign well and truly achieved its initial objective of raising The Greater’s brand profile.

The launch of the campaign gained national and international media coverage estimated as having an equivalent advertising worth of at least $2.5 million.

While social media was not a major feature of the campaign, The Greater’s YouTube site was the 25th most-watched channel in Australia in the days following the launch – a pleasing result for a corporate posting.

Pre and post-research by The Financial Research Group and Macquarie University shows that The Greater has achieved an increase in brand awareness of up to 19 percent as a result of the campaign. Research also shows that, in The Greater’s area of operations, its commercials have the best recall of any financial institution: Greater 23.7 percent, AAMI 13.2 percent, CBA 12.4 percent.

The campaign has started contributing to The Greater’s ongoing growth. Without pre-empting the full release of The Greater’s annual results in November, 2009/2010 has been a very successful year.

Between March 1 and June 30, 2010, when the campaign shifted to a more retail focus, The Greater outperformed the banks with higher lending aggregates. Reserve Bank statistics during that period show that The Greater’s credit growth has exceeded the average of the banks by approximately 10 percent (2.2 percent growth for Greater as opposed to the banks’ growth of two percent).

The Greater’s net loan approvals in 2009/2010 grew by 12.5 percent on the previous year, despite the dominance of the major banks and the impact of the global financial crisis on consumer confidence. This has turned around some decline in net lending approvals that has been experienced by many non-bank and other lenders.

In March 2010, The Greater commenced mobile lending services in Townsville. The Seinfeld campaign made it easier to enter a new regional market with no profile.

While there has been some feedback from people about The Greater using a US-based comedian, the level of satisfaction amongst members with The Greater remained unchanged from previous years. It achieved a 95 percent customer satisfaction rating in 2009, which included its highest ever “very satisfied” rating of 63 percent.

A second series of commercials has just been shot as part of the multi-year deal with Seinfeld. This series sees Seinfeld interact with customers in a completely different but funny way. A similar format is planned with a launch commercial, followed by a number of retail commercials top and tailed by Seinfeld.