MEDIA: STRATEGY OF THE WEEK - FIRST DIRECT. First Direct has flattered its existing customers to lure new ones, Glen Mutel writes

Earlier this year, First Direct decided to entrust the fate of its brand to its customers, with a series of TV ads featuring the unscripted testimonies of the satisfied.

This week, the branchless bank will revisit this strategy with two new TV executions from WCRS. However, First Direct has also decided to venture beyond TV and is about to launch the biggest outdoor campaign in its history.

The company's media agency, PHD, has bought 216 96-sheet poster sites through the outdoor specialist Outdoor Connections. They will be on view across London, in locations such as the North Circular Road. First Direct expects the posters, 75 per cent of which will be illuminated, to achieve 56.2 million impacts during their run.

Although there is an obvious reason to launch a large-scale outdoor initiative as the country tries to make the most of the final few weeks of summer, there is also a cynical reason for the campaign.

"Basically, PHD got us an extremely good deal in, what is at the moment, a soft market," Matthew Higgins, First Direct's head of brand planning, says.

The posters, created by Story, promote First Direct's Offset Mortgage product. The minimalist executions feature a single sentence which urges the public to "join the better off set" before asking them "how much are you worth?".

The TV campaign, which went live on Monday with the first ad shown during Coronation Street, looks to reach customers in more regions than previous First Direct TV initiatives. Jo Ingram, the PHD media group manager, says: "PHD built a propensity model which tracked the TV uplift in response and mapped it."

This research showed the bank to have a much larger potential market in the North and the Midlands than it initially anticipated. This influenced the media buying. In the past, First Direct TV campaigns running on ITV would have only ran in London. This time around, the ads will also run in the Midlands and the North.

In addition, the TV ads will be shown on Channel 4 in England, five across the UK and on a selection of satellite and cable channels.

The posters and TV work will be accompanied by press and online ads as well as a direct mail campaign, which will reach 150,000 prospects in mid-September.

Direct mail, also created by Story, offers Offset Mortgage customers the opportunity to "join the better off set" in Monte Carlo with a week in a five-star hotel. A private jet will transport the winners there.

Across all media, the executions carry a phone number but Higgins is adamant that the campaign's main aim is to boost brand awareness, not solicit responses from Offset Mortgage prospects.

"The Offset Mortgage promotion is something we're doing as an extra but it's not the fundamental reason for the campaign," he says.

"We've always acquired a vast amount of mortgage customers through our current accounts. So although this is a product campaign, I would say it's more of a brand campaign."

To ensure that the campaign isn't entirely focused on the Offset Mortgage, the second of the two TV spots emphasises the company's traditional brand values. It features a vicar and his wife discussing the bank's friendly customer service and its ease of use.

The first ad, which broke this week, features a woman called Nicky Field from Kent, talking to a friend about her Offset Mortgage. Like the vicar, Field volunteered in response to an e-mail sent to her by First Direct, which urged satisfied customers to come forward and tell their story.

E-mails went to 20,000 First Direct customers. Given the amount of people it reached and the flattering nature of its content, surely this e-mail initiative is a valuable marketing tool as well as a casting one?

Higgins agrees, although he sees the e-mail more as a sign of First Direct's confidence in its customer relations.

"If most banks sent an e-mail to customers looking for endorsement, I doubt they would get much response," he says.

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